In this day and age, outdoor space is more precious than ever. If you’re lucky enough to have a backyard, patio or balcony, not only can you beautify it with chic weather-resistant furniture or art, but you can also plant some gorgeous flowers — or even an herb garden.
When it comes to flowers, a lot of folks think they lack a green thumb. However, after speaking to two master gardeners, we’re here to tell you: It’s actually not as hard as it seems. As long as you pick the right blooms, of course. According to our experts, before you plant anything, make sure you’ll be around for at least three weeks to monitor your new plantings, since that’s how long it takes for them to get established — even these easy-to-care-for varieties.
“One of the biggest mistakes people make is thinking you can plant something and walk away,” says Brian Parker, senior merchant for live goods at The Home Depot. “The other is underwatering or overwatering, though in most cases it’s underwatering.”
An easy trick to find out if your plants need water is to place a finger 2 inches into the soil. “If it feels dry, it needs a shot of water,” he says. “After three weeks, the roots of most plants have started to reach into the ground and you’ll start to see some growth at the top of the plant. If it just sits there, it’s not established yet.”
If you’re new to the flower game, it may be a good idea to start with container plants instead of seeds, says Venelin Dimitrov, a senior product manager at the garden site Burpee. “It’s an instant setup, so it’s better for beginners,” he says.
To ensure the roots of your plants establish themselves, slightly break them up when you pull it out of the container, and add potting or garden soil, depending on whether it’s going in a pot or in the ground. “This helps the roots reach out to the new soil. Otherwise, they will stay right where they are in the original soil,” Parker says. “A 50/50 mix of the plant’s original container soil and the new soil is ideal.”
Wondering if it’s OK to interchange potting and garden soil? The only difference between the two is that potting soil lacks manure, so it’s preferable for pots, which tend to be placed closer to people. “Having manure in the garden soil is best for ground plantings,” Parker says.
The following is a sample of the best flowers for beginners to plant, no matter where you live, as well as all the supplies you’ll need for a lush, beautiful garden.
Rio Dipladenias or Mandevillas ($12.99 for two red plants; etsy.com
This gorgeous flower is red, pink or white, blooms in the sun or shade and is extremely drought tolerant, so you can go on vacay and not worry about it. Plant it as an annual in cold climates and a perennial in warm climates. (Perennials will come back year after year, while annuals must be planted anew each time.) “It’s great in the landscape as a groundcover, in a hanging basket or in a patio planter, hence its reputation, ‘Relax with Rio,’ ” Parker says.
Sunpatiens ($25 for five plants; etsy.com)
This new breed of impatiens, shade-loving plants known for their extreme drought and disease resistance, will grow just fine in the sun or shade and come in a variety of vibrant colors. “They make a terrific landscape plant because they will grow up to 2½ feet tall and wide with lots of green foliage,” Parker says.
Calliope Big Red Geraniums ($8.95 for two plants; etsy.com)
This hybrid combines the pretty trailing habit of an ivy plant with the huge, deep red blooms of a zonal geranium. It thrives in full sun and heat, so use it as a perennial in warmer climates and an annual in colder climates.
“Its growth habit makes it ideal for a large landscape, where it can grow up to 6 feet all around, but it will also work well as a hanging basket and in mixed planters,” Parker says. This super versatile plant is easy to care for. “Just nip the dead blooms and it will keep on going,” he says.
Geraniums like this also come in a gorgeous vibrant pink.
These beautiful, fan-like flowers are real head-turners, thanks to their deep burgundy color and velvety texture. “They’re almost indestructible because they have no real insect enemies,” Dimitrov says. “They can withstand heat, humidity and wet conditions. In fact, I think they’re one of the most underutilized flowers.”
There are dozens of varieties, ranging from tall and spiky to even some that look like an elegant fan. They’re great for cuttings, too, and they look amazing when clustered together in a vase.
Begonias (starting at $11.75 for 250 seeds; etsy.com)
Despite their relatively small size, begonias are showstoppers. In addition to bright flowers in pink, red and white, their showy leaves are often rippled and have splashes of colors, too, so even when they’re not flowering, they’re still beautiful.
These annuals prefer partial shade and indirect sunlight, which means you can enjoy them indoors as a houseplant or outside in a patio or garden. Whichever variety you choose, begonias are among the easiest plants to maintain, making them perfect for beginners.
These trumpet-shaped flowers come in a wide variety of colors and patterns — even stripes — and they’re particularly great in borders or containers. Most current varieties are hybrids that can grow up to 2 feet tall and 3 feet wide. They like full sun and well-drained soil (just make sure it never gets soggy). Pinch or shear dead blooms, a practice that’s known as deadheading, and they’ll continue to bloom.
This evergreen plant maintains its pretty green leaves throughout the year, even if it blooms best during the warmer months. The blooms are actually little clusters of flowers in yellow, orange, white, red or purple, and most have a light citrus scent that classifies them as a fragrant plant. Their vine-like branches make them a great choice for hanging pots and flower boxes, where they tend to trail over the side. These drought-tolerant plants need plenty of sun, and attract both hummingbirds and butterflies.
Zinnias, another sun-loving plant, bloom no matter how hot the climate. Known for their bright, bold colors, there are many varieties, each with their own characteristics. The one thing they all have in common is the minimal care they require.
These drought-tolerant annuals don’t require much watering — in fact, soil that’s too moist will cause mildew, so these are perfect for beginners. Both dwarf and tall varieties make them great border plants, but they’re just as happy in containers if placed in full sun.
These cheery plants look like bright little yellow and orange pom-poms. They adapt to a wide variety of climates and can grow just about anywhere, so long as they’re placed in full sun. They tend to bloom nonstop until the first frost, especially when deadheaded. Keep them well watered when they’re establishing, perhaps every two days, then taper once they’re on their way. Disease-resistant, they look great in borders and containers, and can be trimmed for vase cuttings, perfect for a summer garden party.
Some plants perform exceedingly well in specific climates. Depending on where you live, these showstoppers will add an extra touch of garden magic to any landscape or patio.
Often massed, these perennials have an extra-long blooming season, making them a favorite of gardeners throughout the Northeast. With golden petals shooting out from a dark cone, they’re instantly recognizable. Plant these drought-tolerant flowers in full sun for maximum impact. Their abundance of flowers and size — up to 2 feet tall in some cases — makes them perfect cutting flowers, too.
A clump-forming perennial, Shasta daisies have white petals that shoot out in every direction from a yellow center and flower profusely, making them great cutting plants. Its long blooming period (June through September) and high drought tolerance make this sun-loving plant a favorite of the mid-Atlantic region. Shasta daisies are a great choice for attracting bees, butterflies and even birds.
An evergreen perennial with big, trumpet-like blooms, the tropical hibiscus will do well in full or partial sun. Blooms last only about a day, but flowers are produced constantly, so you’re never without pretty flowers from summer through fall. This plant gets pretty thirsty, which makes it great in the Southeast, where spring and summer rains tend to be abundant, but if there’s a dry spell, you’ll want to water it daily to keep it from drying out.
With its bright blue hue, the Texas bluebonnet is perhaps the most famous species of lupine and the official state flower of Texas, though it grows well throughout the Southwest, as long as the temperature stays above 10 degrees. They don’t require fertilization and they’re extremely drought tolerant, but they do best when grown from cuttings, as seeds can take a while to germinate. Plant them in a sunny, dry spot in your garden. They look especially beautiful in raised flower beds and containers, though in Texas you can see entire fields of them.
These fragrant flowers are happiest with their heads facing the sun and their roots nestled deep in cool, moist soil, which is why the Northwest is a perfect region for them. With clusters of flowers in a variety of colors, these climbing plants can reach up to 8 feet and have a cottage charm to them that makes them a favorite among gardeners. Water them regularly, fertilize monthly and prune several times a week to keep blooms going from summer through fall.
Native to the prairies of the Midwest, this drought-tolerant and deer-resistant plant blooms from June through September and is known as a magnet for butterflies. In fact, it’s considered a host for the monarch, queen and gray hairstreak butterflies, in particular. It grows best in full sun but will accommodate partial shade.
Mountain states: Poppies ($3 for 100 seeds; etsy.com)
This colorful annual requires full sun and moist soil, but the reward is a blanket of delicate blooms in peach, gold, white, red and salmon that’s perfect for even the chilliest hardiness zones. Delicate in stature, poppies attract birds, butterflies and bees. Plant in full sun, keep the soil well drained and you’ll enjoy blooms from late spring through summer in some areas.
Great Lakes: Hollyhocks ($3 for 25 seeds; etsy.com)
They may look like they belong in the tropics, but this perennial can withstand even the harshest winter. With flowers in yellow, red, pink, purple and white, hollyhock grows up to 8 feet, so it’s best to plant them in clusters in full sun — this way the tall stems can support each other. Expect blooms, birds and butterflies from July to September.
Sol 72 Dontae 4 ft x 1.5 ft Cedar Wood Raised Garden ($51.99; wayfair.com)
Ideal for backyards or patios, this planter is the perfect size for a beginner’s garden.
Winston Porter Lesher Self-Watering Railing Planter ($43.99; wayfair.com)
And if you’ve got a great balcony, this planter will do the trick, too.
Miracle-Gro Premium Potting Mix ($4.49; target.com)
If you’re choosing to grow your flowers in pots or planters, this soil mix is a mainstay.
Miracle-Gro Garden Soil All Purpose ($3.88; homedepot.com)
And this is what you’d use if you’re planting directly in the ground.
1 Gallon Novelty Watering Can Green - Room Essentials ($5; target.com)
And if you want a nice garden, you’ve got to get a watering can.
Note: The prices above reflect the retailers’ listed price at the time of publication.