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3 Tips to Make Your Spring Flowers Look Prettier: Spring Bulb Garden Design!

3 Tips to Make Your Spring Flowers Look Prettier: Spring Bulb Garden Design!

You want your spring flowers to look pretty, but what’s the best way to design them?

How do you make the biggest impact?

Great questions!

In this week’s post, you’ll find 3 simple tips for spring bulb garden design. Use these tips when you plant your bulbs in the fall, so you can get a pretty look in the spring.

Plus, I’ve included a bonus tip on bulb planting… because gardening in the high-elevation West is an adventure, y’all!

For this article, let’s say you want to plant spring flowers in selective places in your yard.

For example, you want to plant them along a walkway or add pops of color through your garden.

We’ll assume you DON’T want to fill an entire garden bed with a mass planting of bulbs. (Your design approach will likely be different for a mass planting.)

I want to share upfront: Gardening is personal.

It’s your own form of artistic expression.

So, if you prefer to do something different than what I’m suggesting, do what makes you happy!

Okay, let’s jump into these tips on spring bulb garden design.

Design tip #1: You can create visual interest when you plant bulbs in small groups.

Translation: It looks really pretty!

For most plants, you dig a hole, and you place 1 plant in the hole.

But spring flowers can look lonely or feel out of place when you see a single flower only.

Instead, you can make a bigger impact with your spring flowers when you plant them in small clusters or groups.

And hey, we want some “wow” factor!

This means you’ll place a number of bulbs in a hole — rather than just 1 individual bulb per hole.Spring bulb garden design tip: Plant your daffodils and tulips in a clump or group.
Pretty, yellow and red tulips planted in a cluster or clump for bigger impact.

Design tip #2: Flowers look really good when they’re planted in odd numbers.

They look really good in sets of 3, 5, 7 or 9 plants.

This is known as the “rule of odds.”

Think of it as a helpful guideline, rather than a “you must do this” rule.

But it’s the same principle that’s used in many forms of art and design — from photography, to interior design.

Odd numbers create visual interest. They look good to our eye.

Why? Because:

  • Odd numbers look natural.
  • They feel more dynamic. (They aren’t too matchy-matchy to lose our interest.)
  • They don’t compete for our attention, which can happen with even numbers.
  • They give us repetition, but with variety.

Spring bulb design tip: Spring flowers look pretty when planted in odd numbers.

So, what does this mean for your garden?

Spring flowers look great when you plant them:

  • In an odd number of groupings
  • With an odd number of flowers in each group

When you plant your bulbs, dig a wider hole. Place more than 1 bulb in the hole.

Here are common questions that come up about this:

  • “What if I have an even number of bulbs?” If you’re buying a package of bulbs, you’ll often end up with an even number, like 12, 20 or 50 total bulbs. Do your best to achieve odd numbers where you can, but it’s 100% okay to plant an even number of bulbs in 1 or 2 holes.
  • “What if I don’t have that many bulbs?” Try small groupings of 3 to 5 bulbs. They should still look good.
  • “How far apart do you place the bulbs in the hole?” It varies by plant. Generally, you want to give the bulbs some space, rather than having them touching each other. With tulips, for example, you may want to space your bulbs 2″ to 5″ apart in the hole.

Design tip #3: Plant the same colors together for big pops of color.

Let’s say you’ve purchased several colors (or “varieties”) of spring flowers.

You can create vibrant pops of color when you group the same colors together.
Examples of spring bulb garden design: Tulips in pretty groupings for big pops of color in Colorado and Utah gardens.

This means you may want to plant 1 color per grouping.

For example, let’s pretend you bought pink tulips and white tulips:

  • Group the pink tulips together.
  • Put the white tulips in different clusters.

You can still plant the different clusters near each other for pretty variety!

(If you’re doing a mass planting and filling an entire garden bed with bulbs, you may want to mix all the colors together. It depends on the look you’re going for.)

BONUS tip #4: Be careful planting bulbs in hot spots in your garden.

We’re gardening at elevation in the intermountain West. This means that the sun is very intense on our flower plants — especially in certain parts of our yards.

Let’s say you want to plant your spring flowers along a sunny, south-facing or western-facing structure (like a wall, fence or building).

The temperatures can get hotter here than other parts of your yard.

In garden lingo, this is known as a “heat sink.”

Think of it like a little micro-climate in your yard.

Sometimes, this can create tough conditions for your flowers.
Design tip for bulbs: Be careful planting them along walls or fences because they may want to emerge early in the spring

So, what does this have to do with your bulbs?

When you plant your bulbs in these hot spots, your bulbs may think it’s time to get the party started earlier in the spring.

The ground may warm up faster.

Your flowers may want to emerge too early.

They become vulnerable to freeze damage.

If your flowers are getting ready to bloom and the temperatures plummet for a few days, it can nip your flowers’ buds for that year.

Some years, you may not have an issue.

But other years?

You may need to babysit your plants.

I had purple allium planted along a sunny, south-facing fence.

We had a bad year of freeze damage. The allium had brown leaves and shriveled up buds. I realized I should have taken extra steps to protect them.

You’ll have less work if you avoid planting bulbs in these hot spots.

Related tips that may interest you:

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5 Helpful Tips for Buying Spring Flowering Bulbs in the Fall

5 Helpful Tips for Buying Spring Flowering Bulbs in the Fall

Let’s say you’d like to grow pretty spring flowers in your garden, like tulips or daffodils.

Awesome! These spring flowers grow from bulbs that you plant in the fall.

Here are a few examples of spring flowering bulbs:
Examples of spring flowering bulbs: Crocuses, Muscari (Grape Hyacinths), Daffodils and Tulips.

In this week’s tip, you’ll get 5 helpful tips for buying spring flowering bulbs.

Tip 1: The best time to plant spring bulbs is when your weather starts to cool.

Generally, it’s a good idea to plant your bulbs when temperatures start to cool off — but there’s still time before the ground freezes. That way, your bulbs have time to establish their roots.

(Yep, bulbs have roots!)

For example:

  • The best time to plant bulbs in Colorado’s Front Range is usually late September into October.
  • In northeastern Utah and western Colorado, the timing is often October into early November.

The timing can vary slightly from year to year. If you’re getting blazing-hot temps and it still feels like summer, it may be too early to plant your spring flowering bulbs.

So, what does this tip have to do with buying spring flowering bulbs?

It’s common to buy bulbs earlier than they should be planted. Simply put them in a cool, dry place until you’re ready to plant.

Tip 2: Spring flowering bulbs often start appearing in stores in August and September.

When you're buying spring flowering bulbs, you'll find a variety of packages.
Typically, you can buy spring flowering bulbs from:

  • Local garden centers
  • Online retailers like High Country Gardens (they often have unusual bulbs)
  • Costco and similar retailers
  • Home improvement stores

Are you looking for unique bulbs or spring flowers that are showstoppers?

Sometimes, you can find bulb sales at your local botanic gardens. For example:

These dates may not help you this year, but make a mental note for next year!

Do you live in Idaho, Oregon or Washington? These states have restrictions on where you can buy some types of bulbs (like allium bulbs). You can get the scoop in this publication from the University of Idaho Extension.

Tip 3: Spring flowering bulbs are sold in different types of packages.

You can buy bulbs as:

  • A pre-assembled package (sometimes with several types of flowers)
  • Individual bulbs you can choose from open containers

Buying a pre-assembled package is easy.

You just pick the bag of flowers you want and go!

The tradeoff is that you may not be able to tell whether you have healthy bulbs in your package.

If your package contains several types of flowers, it’s normal for each type to be bagged separately. That way, you’ll know which flower is which. You can be more intentional in how you design the spring bulbs in your garden.

In the photo below, you’ll see two types of daffodil bulbs that were included in the same package.
When buying a mixed package of spring flowering bulbs, each variety is typically bagged separately.

At local garden centers, you can sometimes pick individual bulbs.

Why would you want to choose each bulb individually?

  • You can be picky and look for healthy bulbs.
  • You can choose as many bulbs as you like.

The downside is this approach can take longer.

Plus, you have to trust that the right bulbs are in the right containers.

If someone picked up a bulb and put it back in the wrong place, you may not be able to tell … until that flower comes up next spring.

(Hooray for surprises!)

Tip 4: Here’s how to choose healthy bulbs, so you aren’t wasting money on duds.

Think of a flower bulb as a battery. It stores energy for the plant. Ideally, you want the bulb to be fully charged (totally hydrated), as big as it can be, and in good condition.

With that in mind:

  • Choose the heavier bulbs. You want the bulbs to feel heavy in your hand. Hold a few, so you can get a sense for which ones weigh more than others. If a bulb feels light, it’s probably dehydrated. Don’t choose that one. (Keep in mind, some types of flowers have small bulbs, so “heavy” is relative.)
  • Look for the biggest bulbs of the bunch. Yep, size matters in most cases. There is a correlation between the size of the flower and the size of the bulb.
  • Don’t mind the papery skin — it’s good for the bulb! Bulbs have a brown, papery skin on them, kind of like an onion. It’s called a tunic. The tunic is good for a bulb. It helps keep moisture in the bulb.

  • Focus on the bulbs with minimal blemishes. If the tunic has fallen off (it happens), look at the condition of the bulb underneath. Ideally, the bulb should look smooth, creamy and firm. If the bulb has nicks and blemishes, is turning brown, is shriveled, or looks moldy, it’s a good idea to skip that one.

These tips are helpful when you’re picking individual bulbs.

But you can also use them to inspect bulbs that come in clear or semi-clear packages. You can pick out the best bag of the bunch.

Tip 5: Spring flowering bulbs bloom at different times.

You may want to choose bulbs that bloom at different times of the spring.

That way, you’ll have longer-lasting color.

Usually, you can find the description of when the bulbs will bloom on the package. I’ve included a few examples below, so you can see what I mean.

By the way, this approach can help you with our wacky spring weather too.

Let’s say you get freezing temperatures in the spring that ruin some of your blooms.

If you have flowers that bloom at different times, you may still get color from your other spring flowers.

It’s like you’re hedging your bets with Mama Nature.

Ah, the joys of living in the intermountain West! 🙂

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“When Should I Empty My Flowerpots?”

“When Should I Empty My Flowerpots?”

In the fall, one of the questions that often comes up is:

“When should I empty my flowerpots?”

There are different schools of thought on when to empty your flowerpots, so I’m going to share several options.

That way, you can decide which makes the most sense for you.

#1) Empty your flowerpots when you’re ready

I have a neighbor who has a gorgeous container garden every summer.

Typically, she reaches a point in the early fall when she decides:

“I’ve had enough.”

She’s over it. Her flowers still look good, but she’s ready to be done with watering and deadheading. She wants to empty her flowerpots while the weather is still nice.

You may feel guilty about pulling your flowers out early.

Heck, you may feel guilty about pulling your flowers out anytime!

But chances are, you’ve planted “annuals” in your flowerpots.

Annuals are designed to go through their full life cycle within 1 year.

So, it’s 100% okay to empty your flowerpots if:

  • You reach a point where you’ve had enough OR
  • You want to do your fall chores before it gets too cold

Your flowers are nearing the end of their life cycle, and the killing freezes ARE coming…

You may just be beating Mother Nature to them.

#2) Empty your pots when your flowers stop looking good due to frosts and freezes

(This is what I do)

The majority of the flowers in your containers can’t survive freezing temperatures.

This means there’s a point when the flowers in your containers will get nipped by cold temperatures and die.

I used to think that 32 degrees was the milestone for everything. In grade school, that’s when we’re taught that water freezes, right?

But it turns out flowers have different levels of resistance to frost and freezes. Some flowers thrive in chilly temps. Others? Not so much.

Pansies and violets are cold-tolerant flowers that are resistant to freezing temperatures

Pansies and violets are “cold-tolerant” flowers that are resistant to freezing temperatures.

So, how will you know if your flowers have frozen and are dying?

If your flowers have been nipped by a frost or a freeze:

  • Your flowers will often change colors. You may see them turn brown, black, gray or a yellowish cream.
  • They may go limp.
  • They may shrivel and dry up.
  • Sometimes, they’ll get mushy.

They’ll no longer look right, and it’s their way of telling you:

“Hey, it’s time to dig me out of your flowerpot!”
Dead flowers in a pot - these flowers froze and have freeze damage

If you have frosts or freezes in your forecast and you don’t want your flowers to get nipped, check out 6 ways to protect your flowers from frost and freezing.

#3) Empty your pots BEFORE you start getting consistent freezes and/or snow

So, let’s say you’re having a busy fall. Your plants have frozen and died, but you haven’t had time to empty your flowerpots yet.

You may want to think about emptying your flowerpots BEFORE you start getting consistent freezes or snow.

Here’s why:

There are some types of flowerpots — like terracotta pots, ceramic pots and even concrete flowerpots — that can chip, crack or crumble over the winter.

Check out the photo below for an example of what flowerpot freeze damage can look like.
This is what freeze damage to flowerpots looks like. The side of this flowerpot fell off.

To protect the container itself, it helps to:

  • Empty out the dirt (or “soil” in gardening lingo) and the dead flowers before you start getting consistent freezes and snows
  • Move your empty pots out of the elements if possible — ideally, you’d store them someplace that stays above freezing (like an attached garage)
  • If that isn’t possible, turn them upside down or cover them to help keep them moisture out

If you leave the soil in your containers and moisture gets in the soil, the soil can freeze and expand, damaging your pots.

Some flowerpot surfaces can hold moisture too, like clay terracotta.

I learned this the hard way with a terracotta pot during one of my first winters in Colorado. The pot was empty, but the terracotta was damp with moisture.

The moisture froze, and one of the pots cracked, crumbled and fell apart.

Whoops.

With all this said, I have friends who leave the soil in their flowerpots over the winter in Colorado.

They’ve NEVER had issues with their pots breaking, and they have glazed ceramic pots that, in theory, should be vulnerable.

This is just a matter of your risk tolerance for your flowerpots.

#4) Dig out your flowers if you want to put something else in your flowerpots

If you don’t mind leaving your flowerpots out, you can turn them into decorative planters during other parts of the year — especially if they’re in a spot that’s protected from the elements.

For example, you could:

  • Replace your summer flowers with fall flowers, like the mums in the photo below
  • Put pumpkins, gourds or decorative branches in your flowerpots in the fall
  • Spruce up your containers with evergreen bows or other festive adornments in December
  • Fill them with flowers in the spring that like chillier weather (like the pansies pictured earlier on this page)

Before you empty your flowerpot, consider adding colorful fall mums, like in this blue flowerpot

There’s no rule that says you can only use your flowerpots during the summer!

If this sounds like too much work, then of course, you don’t have to do it.

Just know you have options!

Related topics that may interest you:

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Popular Spring Flowers for Western States… You Plant in the Fall

Popular Spring Flowers for Western States… You Plant in the Fall

It may seem like a strange time to chat about spring flowers…

… when we have pumpkins and Halloween decorations appearing outside the grocery stores.

But if you’re interested in growing spring flowers…

Autumn is the ideal time to plant spring bulbs in most parts of the West.

For example:

  • In most elevations of Colorado, the ideal times to plant spring bulbs are late September and October.
  • In northern Utah, the ideal times are usually October and early November.

Yep, you plant these flowers in the fall — not the spring!

Weird, right?

Okay, technically, you plant their bulbs.
This is what tulip bulbs look like

Think of a bulb like a battery for the plant.

It stores energy (food and water) for the flower.

It may seem counter-intuitive that you plant spring bulbs in the fall, but:

  • Bulbs need to go through a cold period, so they can come up and give you big, showy color in the spring.
  • They also need a little time to establish their roots before the ground freezes.

Here are 3 popular spring flowers for western gardens.

These spring flowers offer beautiful pops of color.

Plus, they’re low maintenance.

And friends, we are all about low maintenance!

Once planted, these flowers can return year after year with minimal effort.

Tulips
(officially, Tulipa)

This is what tulips look like. They come in a WIDE range of colors.
This is what colorful tulips look like -- they come in many pretty colors

Tulips bloom in the spring, but not all at one time.

There are early, middle and late spring tulips.

This means that some start blooming earlier than others.

The package of bulbs you buy or the signage at the garden center should tell you when the tulips will bloom (early, middle or late spring).

That way, you can pick bulbs with the bloom at different times, so you can get longer-lasting color.

Tulips like sunny conditions and soil that drains well.

If you have a damp spot where water sits in the ground or if your soil is dense clay, it’s probably not the best place for tulips.

What’s dense clay like, you ask?

Imagine sticking your shovel in the ground, and the soil sticks to your shovel like bubble gum to a shoe.

When clay soil is damp, it’s sticky, heavy and dense. It’s tough for water to drain.

Tulips don’t mind if the ground is on the dryer side during the summer, which is good for our semi-arid summers in the West.
A tulip is a pretty spring flower for western states like Colorado and Utah

In my opinion, the biggest downside to tulips is…

… that animals LOVE them.

Deer, rabbits, squirrels, voles. Take a number!

In my back garden, squirrels decapitate my tulips every spring, just as the petals are opening.

I’ve tried a variety of suggested remedies, from animal-repellent sprays to cayenne pepper. (Seriously.)

The only thing I’ve found that works is to fence the tulips off.

Not the prettiest look, ahem.

So, if you have critters, you may want to check out the other spring flowers below.

Daffodils
(officially, Narcissus)

These are daffodils. They come in colors like yellow, white, orange, peach or pink.
This is what yellow daffodils look like

Typically, daffodils prefer sunny conditions and soil that drains well.

You may be able to get away with a partially sunny spot, but your daffodils may not bloom as well.

They prefer moist (but not wet) soil.

If the ground is too wet, daffodil bulbs will rot.

Daffodils are not only beautiful, they’re also resistant to many animals.

YESSS!!

Normally, deer, rabbits and other rodents avoid daffodils. That’s a plus if you live in an area with your fair share of critters.

(Daffodils can be toxic to dogs, so keep that in mind if you have fur babies.)
Creamy white tulips with an orange center

Allium
(commonly known as Ornamental Onion)

Allium flowers add a hint of whimsy to your garden. They look like giant lollipops!
Purple allium are spring flowers that look like round balls

They’re one of my favorite spring flowers.

You can find allium flowers in purple, white and even blue.

Yes, BLUE!
Blue allium flowers add a hint of whimsy to your garden and such fun, round shapes!

Similar to tulips and daffodils, allium will give you the best show when you plant them in places in your garden that get a lot of sun.

And like the other spring flowers we’ve discussed, allium flowers bloom at staggered times.

Allium are related to onions.

In fact, they’re commonly referred to as “ornamental onions.”

Deer are not big fans of these plants.

Rabbits tend to avoid most allium as well.

When allium flowers are done blooming, you may see gardeners spray-paint the finished blooms.

Check out the photo below for an example.
Painted allium: After allium stop blooming, you can spray paint the blooms

I think this is a fun trick to highlight the colorful, round shapes after the flower petals fall off.

You also can just snip off the dead blooms. That way, the plant can focus its energy on recharging its bulb for next season.

IMPORTANT TIP if you live in Idaho, Oregon or Washington!

Your states have special restrictions on buying bulbs like allium flowers. The University of Idaho Extension has a helpful publication explaining the special rules for Idaho.

Do you live someplace with really cold winter temperatures?

Some types of tulips, daffodils and allium do better than others in frigid temperatures.

If you have a mountain garden or you live someplace with really cold winters, make sure the bulbs you’re buying grow well in your “plant hardiness zone.”

Not sure what a plant hardiness zone is? Get the scoop here.

Related tips that may interest you:

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How to Choose Fall Flowers That Last Longer: 3 Simple Tips

How to Choose Fall Flowers That Last Longer: 3 Simple Tips

When you’re strolling through the garden center or dashing into the grocery store and all those pretty flowers are smiling up at you, it’s hard not to choose the showiest flowers you see.

“Well, helloooooo there.”

But if you’d like your fall flowers to last longer, hold up!

There are ways to choose flowers that last longer… and hint, this means resisting the urge to buy the flowers that look the prettiest.

TIP 1: Look for the flower plants with a lot of new buds (rather than just open blooms)

Do you see the yellow mum plant below?

The flowers have opened and are gorgeous.

But because these flower blooms have already opened, they likely won’t last as long when you get them home.

They’ve already used up some of their bloom time.
Avoid buying flowers if the plant has a lot of open blooms but no buds.

Instead, look for plants that resemble this second set of mums (below).

Do you see how this plant has lots of new buds?

These flowers should last longer for you when you get them home because these flower blooms haven’t opened yet.
Look for flower plants that have a lot of new buds.
How to choose mums if you want them to last longer

You can use this tip when buying annuals OR perennials

I use this tip when I pick annuals (the one-season flowers) for my flowerpots in the spring and in the fall.

I also use it when buying perennials (the flowers that come back every year) for my garden.

If you want your flowers to last longer, it helps to look for plants with new buds. They don’t always look the prettiest in the store, but that’s just because they haven’t fully opened yet.
Plants with new buds last longer in their color.

But what if you aren’t sure what color the flowers are going to be?

Great question!

Sometimes it’s hard to know what the color is when the flowers haven’t opened yet.

Tip #2: There are several ways to figure out flower color

  1. Look for any open flowers on the plant.
  2. Check the plant tag to see if the plant tag lists the color. Sometimes, the flowers have the color in their name or in the photo on the tag.
  3. You can check the nearby plants. If the same type of flower has already opened, you can see the color.

A mum plant with a lot of new buds.

Tip #3: For many flowers, their blooms don’t last as long when it’s hot

Where I live in Colorado, we can get heat waves well into the fall.

It may be the same where you live too.

If you want to buy fall flowers — like mums — and you want them to last as long as possible, you may not want to buy them the week that blazing hot temperatures are in the forecast.

Those flowers tend to go through their blooms quickly when it’s hot, meaning they won’t last as long.

Just a lil’ something to think about!

Hey, want more color from your flowerpots?

Heck yes!

Discover the 3 biggest reasons the flowers in your pots will stop blooming… and how to easily get new buds in as little as 7 days.

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What to Do With Old Potting Soil (the Dirt From Your Pots)

What to Do With Old Potting Soil
(the Dirt From Your Pots)

What can you do with the dirt in your pots after your flowers have died?

You have a few options for what to do with old potting soil!

Let’s assume, for a sec, that your plants were healthy at the end of the season.

If yes…

Here are 4 things to do with old potting soil:

1) You can put the soil in a sealable container. Store it for next season.

Where to store used potting soil - old garbage cans work well for the dirt

An old garbage can works well because the lid creates a good seal and the wheels make it easier to move.

But any type of storage container that you can seal should work.

The nutritional value is gone from the soil, so you wouldn’t want to use it on its own next season. But next year, it’s possible to thoroughly mix it with fresh ingredients — like new potting soil or “compost.” (Compost is a mix of organic materials used to improve soil.)

This approach allows you to re-use some of your old potting soil.

Why use a sealable container?

It helps keep insects from laying their eggs and/or overwintering in your soil (yep, it happens), and it keeps your soil a little cleaner. It’s also just an easy way to store it.

2) You may be able to take used potting soil to a yard waste drop-off program.

Many cities offer “leaf and yard waste drop-off” programs in the fall. They’re a great way to dispose of the materials from your flowerpots, like your dead flowers and old soils. And the materials you drop off will be used to create compost, which is good for our soils and plants.

The companies that do commercial composting have machines that can heat the soil and leaf material to very hot temperatures, so the compost can be safely used next year.
Leaf and yard waste drop-off

To see if your city offers this type of program:

  • Look on your city’s website OR check nearby cities. Some cities only make these programs available to their own residents. But other towns make their leaf and yard-waste drop off services available to anyone.
  • Search for words like, “Leaf drop-off,” or, “Yard-waste drop-off.” Often times, these programs aren’t advertised as composting programs.
  • Read up on what’s allowed for yard waste. Dead flowers are usually allowed, but make sure they’ll take your used potting soil too. I usually take the potting soil with me and ask when I get there. (I’ve never had an issue, but I imagine it can vary by city.)
  • Follow the instructions for the drop-off. For example, you may be asked to put your yard waste in brown composting bags. They look like tall paper bags. The instructions should tell you where to find composting bags, like a local hardware store. Or, the instructions may say you can bring your yard waste in any type of container. They’re just going to have you dump it out — as was the case in the photo above.

3) You can add the old soil (and flowers) to your own compost pile.

Home composting is a topic for another time. But just know it’s another thing you can do!
Dirt and flowers in a compost bin

4) You can mix old potting soil into your flower garden beds or spread it lightly across the top.

The dirt from your flowerpots isn’t adding anything beneficial from a nutritional perspective. Over the summer, all the good stuff left the soil with each watering.

But we have such tricky soils in the Rocky Mountain region — like clay and sand. The potting soil may help improve the texture of your soil in the ground. That can lead to better water drainage for your plants, so they have happier roots.

And hey, it beats putting the soil in a landfill.

Here are a few tips:

  • It’s easiest to mix old potting soil into the ground in areas that don’t have plants.
  • If you’re spreading a thin layer of potting soil on top of the ground near plants, lightly spread it in the areas between plants, but keep it away from the “crowns” of your plants. (The crown is where a plant’s stem comes up from the ground. It’s where the stem and roots connect to each other.)
  • If you’re going to mix the old soil into the ground near existing plants (like “perennials” — the plants that return each year), be careful where you dig. You don’t want to disturb their roots.

You can sterilize your old potting soil to minimize insect and disease issues

The University of California Extension has helpful tips on how to heat up your potting soil to the right temperature. Scroll to page 5 of their PDF to get their tips for sterilizing old potting soil.

What if your flowers had disease issues at the end of the season?

Then, put ALL the contents from that flowerpot in the trash — including the potting soil.

Disease can carry over from one year to the next in both the soil AND on the flowerpots themselves.

If you had diseased plants, it’s a good idea to sterilize your flowerpots, so you can keep next season’s flowers from getting sick. You can find out how to sterilize your flowerpots here.

If there were any disease or insect-related issues in your flowerpots, there’s a chance you may accidentally spread these issues to next season’s flowers. That’s what we’re trying to prevent.

“Can I leave the dirt in my flowerpots until spring?”

Yes, but there are advantages to emptying your pots in the fall:

  1. You can participate in yard-waste drop off programs in the fall, as we’ve chatted about above.
  2. You’ll have less work in the spring and can focus your energy on planting.
  3. You’ll lower the chances of your pots breaking over the winter. If your potting soil has moisture in it and it freezes in your pots over the winter, it can expand and damage your pots. You can learn more about flowerpot freeze damage in: “When should I empty my flowerpots?”
  4. You don’t have to worry about insects laying their eggs or overwintering in your flowerpots.

Cheers to you for exploring what to do with old potting soil and finding ways to use it in a productive way!

Related tips that may interest you:

6 Ways to Protect Your Flowers From Frosts and Freezes

6 Ways to Protect Your Flowers From Frosts and Freezes

You know you’ve entered the “joys of western gardening club” when …

It feels like summer one day… and the next day you’re bracing yourself for frosts, freezes and snow.

(I’m not crying. I have something in my eye.)

If you’d like your annuals — your one-season flowers — to stay alive, it’s helpful to find ways to protect them from Mother Nature’s cold snaps.

So, in this article, you’ll find 6 ways to help protect your tender flowers from frosts and freezes.

You’ll also find a tip to help protect your trees and shrubs, which can be vulnerable to sudden cold spells too.

Do you have to do anything when a frost or freeze is in the forecast?

In the spring, it’s a good idea protect your newly-purchased flowers, especially your summer annuals. (These are your tender flowers that grow for one season only and don’t like frost.) That way you don’t have to buy replacement flowers!

If you’re reading this article in the fall, nope, you don’t have to do anything. You can sit back and see what Mother Nature throws at you, especially if you’re ready for your flower season to be over. But if you’d like your flowers to last a little longer, it helps to protect your plants.

Here we go!

Protecting your sensitive plants is about finding ways to keep them warm

When you see your neighbors frantically covering their tender flowers, what they’re trying to do is keep their plants warm.

If you can keep your plants just 5 degrees warmer than the cold conditions around them, it often can make a big difference for your plants.

So, what generates heat around your flowers?

  • Your dirt (“soil” in garden lingo) can generate heat. It can warm up during the day and help offer heat at night.
  • You also can add place things in your garden that can create heat, which I’ll chat about later in this article.

As you look for ways to protect your flowers, ask yourself:

“Is what I’m doing going to help generate or retain heat around my plants?”

If it’s not, skip it and look for another option.

Here are 6 ways to keep your flowers warm

1) Thoroughly water the soil around your flowers in the ground
(This is important for your trees and shrubs too)

If watering feels counter-intuitive when we’re talking about freezing temperatures, I’m with you.

But watering your soil before a freeze can actually help warm your plants.

And remember, heat is the goal here.

Moist soil can keep the surface air around your flowers up to 5 degrees warmer than surrounding temperatures.

Why?

Because moist soil retains heat better than dry soil.

It helps to water during the day, so the soil warms up and any water that splashes on your plants has time to dry before temperatures drop.

Tip: Wet leaves, flowers and stems freeze more quickly than dry ones.

When you’re done watering, be sure to unscrew your hose, so you avoid any issues with pipes freezing and breaking.

Because we’re trying to remove headaches, not create them, am I right?

Tip: Watering is important for your trees and shrubs before freezes too, particularly in the fall. Scroll to the end of this article for more on watering your trees.

2) Move your pots of flowers to a warmer, protected area

I know some flowerpots are too heavy to move, but move what you can.

An attached garage or a mud room can work well as a temporary holding space when temperatures dip.

If you can’t bring your containers inside, even moving them to a dry, covered area on a porch or deck may help.

I would try to put your containers right next to your home out of the wind, and look for a spot where the walls may radiate some heat. Depending on how cold it’s going to get, you also may want to add on tip #3 below.

Keep in mind, cold air sinks and warm air rises, so avoid moving your pots to the low spots in your yard.

3) Build a “tent” around your flowers

This one sounds a little complicated, but let’s keep it simple.

Here’s all you’re trying to do.

You’re covering your flowers with a cloth fabric to keep the heat in, but you’re staking the fabric up (the best you can) so it doesn’t touch your plants.
Frost flower protection: A cotton sheet tent over tender flower plants in preparation for a frost and freezing temperatures The photo above may look like at an attempt at a spooky Halloween display, but it’s actually an impromptu tent for my tender flowers.

I used 3 shepherd’s hooks as my frame. (They’re the hooks I normally use to hang pots of flowers.) I hung cotton sheets over them. Then, I used safety pins, clips and wood boards to “close” the tent and keep the heat in.

To create a tent, you can use:

  • For your frame: Metal rods, tomato cages, lawn furniture, shepherd’s hooks for hanging flower pots, etc. Get creative!
  • For your cover: Woven cloth fabrics like old bed sheets, pillow cases, towels, a lightweight picnic blanket… basically, the items you want to donate from your linen closet. You also can use “garden fabrics,” like a commercial-grade landscape fabric or heavier types of “floating row covers” (which are fabrics used in vegetable gardening). I would look for garden fabrics at local, independent garden centers and online.
  • For your clips: You can use safety pins, binder clips from your office, plastic clips, etc.

If you want to keep it really simple, I’ve given you a pre-made tent option at the end of this section.

So, why does using cloth fabric matter?

It all comes back to heat.

Woven cloth fabrics offer better insulation than plastic materials, and they don’t conduct the cold like plastic does.

Ideally, you want to extend the tent all the way to the ground.

I’d extend your tent all the way to the ground (even over a flowerpot), so you can capture the heat from the ground.

Pin or clip the fabric together to keep cold air out and warm air in. If you have gaps in your tent (even down at the ground), you’re losing heat.

If possible, try not to let the fabric touch a plant:

  • For one thing, this helps keep the warm air circulating around your entire plant.
  • Just as important, if wet fabric touches your plant, you may accidentally cause the damage you’re trying to prevent. (This shouldn’t be an issue if you’re using that garden fabric known as floating row cover. It’s an exception.)

If this sounds like too much work, there are pre-made frost protection tents for your plants.

You can see an example in the photo below.
Pre-made tents made of commercial-grade landscape fabric to protect plants during frosts and freezes

Search online for phrases like:

  • “Plant protection tents” or
  • “Pop-up plant protectors”

These tents quickly pop up. They’re easy to use. And because they flatten up when you’re done, they’re easy to store.

4) Avoid using plastic sheets to cover your plants, unless you have no other option

Why?

Because plastic doesn’t have the insulating properties of woven fabric.

Plus, if plastic is touching your plants, it can conduct the cold and contribute to the damage you’re trying to prevent.

But if you don’t have other options, make it work, baby! It can be better than nothing.

Just prop it up, so it doesn’t touch your plants.

5) Place empty containers over tender plants to trap warmth from the ground around your plants

You can use boxes, buckets, recycling bins, garbage cans, empty flowerpots and other containers. Generally, these devices work well if you’re going to get snow because they’re unlikely to collapse under the weight.
You can use garbage cans and buckets as frost covers

Sometimes, it’s hard to get these containers to sit perfectly flat on the ground.

If you have any gaps where cold air can get in and warm air can escape, look for ways to fill the gaps (like sticking old towels into any open spaces).

Just remove these covers during the day when it warms up.

6) Get creative with ways to generate heat around your flowers

You may see your neighbors filling milk jugs with hot water or placing warm bricks near their plants.

Both options can create warmth in the shelters you’re placing around your plants.

It’s like a little campfire for your plants.

All these methods should work well for brief temperature dips

But if you’re going to get an arctic blast (especially one that lasts a few days), you may need a stronger heat source or you may want to try doubling up on the methods above.

Let’s chat for a sec about your trees and shrubs

At our lower elevations in states like Colorado, we can get temperature swings that are really hard on our trees and shrubs.

When temperatures plummet in the fall, your trees and shrubs don’t get the chance to ease into dormancy.

These plants haven’t had a chance to gradually turn the water in their veins into “antifreeze” yet.

Even when we aren’t facing big temperature swings, our trees are often drought-stressed.

And “stressed” is not the way you want them entering winter!

It can help to give your trees and shrubs a deep, soaking water before a freeze too

If you have a newly-planted tree or shrub, water the root ball area.

Otherwise, soak the ground around the outer circumference zone of your tree (out where the branches of leaves end), rather than soaking the trunk area.

This outer area is known as your tree’s “drip line,” and it’s where your tree’s roots are actively absorbing water.

Going from a beautiful garden to a freezing mess stinks, but it’s part of gardening life in western states like Colorado, Utah and Wyoming

If you think it’s tough to be a gardener here, remember it’s even tougher to be a plant. 🙂

But you’ve got this.

If you want to protect your tender flowers and keep them alive, I hope these tips help you feel more confident in what you’re trying to do!

To learn which flowers are more vulnerable than others to cold temperatures, check out how frosts and freezes affect your flowers.

Do you have friends who may want to protect their flowers too?

Sharing is caring. Please share this article with them.

“Can I Change the Flowers in My Flowerpots for Fall?”

“Can I Change the Flowers in My Flowerpots for Fall?”

I used to think that once you planted your flowerpots, that was it. Your flower babies were in there for the long haul.

But I’ve come to appreciate that you can swap out the flowers in your pots.

It’s like changing your wardrobe for the seasons.

If you want to change the flowers in your flowerpots, you can — especially in the late summer to early fall. You can change just one flower. Or, you can change them all.
This flowerpot didn't have enough color.
So I changed the flowers in my flowerpot, adding in Black Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia).

Why would you change the flowers in your pots?

There are all kinds of reasons.

Let’s say:

  • You want to spice up your flowerpots for a new season — like transitioning from spring to summer, or summer to fall.
  • You have an empty gap in your pots. Some of your flowers didn’t fill in quite like you thought they would.
  • You’d like to add in more color.
  • You have perennials planted in your flowerpots. They’re done blooming for the season. (Perennials are the flowers that can come back each year, but often bloom for a short amount of time.)
  • There’s a flower in your flowerpot that doesn’t look so good or it may have died. (No judgment! It can happen to gardeners of all levels.)

Late summer to early fall can be a good time to add in new flowers

As we transition to fall, one of my favorite flowers to add to my flowerpots is Black Eyed Susan.

(This plant goes by many names, including Rudbeckia and Gloriosa Daisy.)

You can find it in a lot of pretty colors, as you can see below.
There are many pretty colors of Gloriosa Daisy flowers to add to your flowerpots.

Black Eyed Susans give flowerpots a bright pop of color. They can bloom for a long time.

Best of all, these flowers feel like fall — like a Sunday drive to go leaf peepin’ or the sweet smell of mulled apple cider after a trip to the pumpkin patch.

Give your flowerpots a fresh look for fall

If you’d like to freshen up your flowerpots for fall, you can pop in flowers like…

  • Black-Eyed Susans (aka, Gloriosa Daisies)
  • Mums
  • Ornamental Peppers (they have pretty purple leaves)
  • Ornamental Cabbage
  • Pansies
  • Violas

You can see examples of all these flowers below.
In the fall, add in Black Eyed Susans or mums to change the flowers in your pots.

Ornamental pepper and ornamental cabbage are great flowers to add to flowerpots in autumn.

Change up your flowerpot look with pansies and violas in the fall. They like cooler weather.

Helpful tips if you change the flowers in your flowerpots

1) Keep your new flowers well-watered

Flowers — like Black Eyed Susans — tend to like A LOT of water when they’re newly planted in flowerpots, especially in our late-summer heat.

You may need to water your pots more than you have been doing.

Keep your eye on your newly-planted flowers. They can get droopy or crispy quickly.Keep your newly planted flowers well watered if you change your flowers.

2) Keep your eye on temperatures

Many fall flowers are “cool weather” flowers.

They’re happiest when our days and nights start to cool down.

This means you may want to hold off on planting flowers like Pansies, Violas and Ornamental Cabbage until temperatures start to cool off.

For example, Pansies tend to be in their happy place when daytime temps are in the upper 50s and 60s, and nighttime temps are in the 40s.

3) Look for plants that have new buds on them (meaning all the flowers haven’t opened yet)

This is one way to ensure that you’ll get longer-lasting color from your new flowers.

If you’d like to see photos of what I’m talking about, check out these 3 simple tips to pick fall flowers that bloom longer.

Related topics that may interest you:

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Flowers That Can Struggle When Planted in the Fall (in Colorado, Wyoming & Similar States)

Flowers That Can Struggle When Planted in the Fall (in Colorado, Wyoming & Similar States)

What NOT to Plant in Fall Gardens

Early fall can be a good time to plant perennials in many places in the intermountain West. (Perennials are your flowers that return year after year.)

But as I’ve learned the hard way in my Colorado garden…

There are some flowers you may not want to plant in the fall in Colorado, Wyoming and similar western states.

Some plants need a little more time for their roots to get established before winter.

Here are a few examples.

Native western salvias (Salvia greggii) do better with spring planting.

Native western salvias occur naturally in Texas, New Mexico and the Southwest.

You may see popular ones at the garden center called ‘Furman’s Red’ and ‘Wild Thing.’
Salvia greggii is an example of a flower not to plant in a fall garden. It prefers to get planted in the spring.

Native western salvias thrive in hot and dry climates, so they grow well in our summers at our lower elevations.

These showy flowers are drought tolerant, long blooming and a favorite among hummingbirds.

So many reasons to love them!

But native salvias can be fickle in our winters.

It’s best to plant them in the spring or early summer (like May or June), rather than in the fall.

That way, their roots can get a running head start into autumn and winter.Plant Salvia greggii in the spring, not the fall, in western states like Colorado and Wyoming.

Avoid planting “marginally hardy perennials” in the fall.

What’s a marginally hardy perennial?

It’s a plant that won’t come back if it gets too cold or if it can’t handle winter conditions where you live.
Marginally hardy perennials often can't candle the extreme cold or tough winter conditions where you live.

Usually, these plants are better off when they’re planted in the late spring or early summer. That way, they have ALL summer to get established in your garden.

This gives them a better chance of surviving their first winter.

Here’s a simple trick to tell if a perennial is marginally hardy >>

The pink flower pictured above is known as Gaura or Wandflower (Gaura lindheimeri). I LOVE this flower plant, but it’s marginally hardy in my garden along the Front Range of Colorado.

Some years it comes back. Some years it doesn’t, and I have to replace it.

Because I know it’s marginally hardy in my garden, I wait until spring to plant it. I don’t plant it in the fall. That way, it has as much time as possible to get established before winter.

In general, don’t plant evergreen trees in the fall. Spring is a better time.

While we’re on the subject of “what not to plant in the fall” in states like Colorado and Wyoming, add evergreen trees to your list too.
Don't plant evergreen trees and shrubs in the fall in states like Colorado.

Evergreens (aka, “conifers”) are your trees that have needles. They don’t go dormant in the winter. This means they don’t go into hibernation mode like your trees that lose their leaves. They are awake and “ever green” through the winter.

Evergreen trees need to be well watered over the winter.

They’re also vulnerable to our tough winter conditions — like our drying winter winds and our big temperature swings — because they aren’t dormant.

It’s best to plant your evergreen trees in the spring, so their roots have more time to get established before winter.
Evergreen trees and shrubs prefer to be planted in the spring in Colorado, Wyoming and similar western states.

Keep in mind, these are guidelines, rather than rules.

We may get a mild winter, and your plant babies may be fine.

But if you’d rather not risk it, then just wait until late spring to plant the flowers and trees in this article.

Imagine keeping money in your pocket because you don’t have to replace dead plants! 🙂

Related tips that may interest you:

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