Conventional gardening practices often result in flower gardens that look good but take a toll on environmental health; this leaves most gardeners relying upon a witches' brew of pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, and soil-altering chemical fertilizers. The good news? You can have a beautiful organic flower garden that looks great and actually improves the environment around you.
The Hippocratic oath in medicine, "first, do no harm" also applies to organic flower gardening. Healthy soil is alive with an incredible population of microorganisms. Some harm will come to those organisms when you dig a garden bed. If you have several months to prepare your flower garden bed in advance, consider no-till or lasagna gardening. Lasagna gardening is the method of layering organic materials in your garden, which will eventually cook the soil down, enhancing nutrients for plants. This no-dig practice eliminates any soil disturbance.
When plants are thriving, they need far fewer inputs from you and will have fewer insect and disease problems. How do you get flowering plants to thrive? Plant them in the right place. It sounds simple, but many gardeners break this rule. There are many ways to assess your planting area. Here are two steps you can't skip:
Determine how many hours of sun your planting area gets per day. Plants that like to grow in full sun will need 6 to 8 hours of full sun per day. Plants that prefer part sun may thrive in 4 to 6 hours of sun; part-shade plants will do well in a bit less sun, or in filtered sun, while some plants prefer full shade. Do your research online to determine which plants are appropriate for the amount of sun or shade your organic flower garden will receive.
Soil Test and Drainage
Do a soil test at home or through a local agricultural extension—it's cheap, it's easy, and instructions are often online. You will get useful information that can help you choose plants that will thrive in your organic flower garden. Some plants prefer acidic soil; others like alkaline soil. Some plants like clay soil, which holds a great deal of moisture; some plants require fast-draining soil like sandy soil. Use online plant databases to determine which plants will work in your particular soil.
Your organic flower garden can be formal or naturalistic. It's up to you. Do you prefer larger groupings of the same plant in neat and tidy patches, or more of a natural flower garden where different plants are interspersed? A looser aesthetic can be less work and may have a more beneficial impact on the environment. Many flowering plants will reseed, providing a source of seed for the birds; however, this process may place plants where you didn't intend. It's okay to sit back and enjoy the show!
When selecting flowering plants, include plants that bloom throughout the growing season—in many parts of the U.S., this means spring through fall. Not only will you appreciate organic flowers throughout the season, but challenged pollinators will benefit from a continual floral buffet.
You can create your organic flower garden with seeds or live plants. Seeds will be cheaper, but require more work. Choose non-GMO seeds that are certified as organic. Give a big "thumbs-up" to native flowering perennials that have evolved in your area, are well-adapted, and support your ecosystem. Native seeds can be found online.
It can be difficult to find live plants that are certified as organic. Organic plants are more costly for growers to produce, and certification is expensive, so the supply is limited. Ask your local nursery or garden center for organic plants—demand will increase supply. And, be prepared to pay more for organic flowering plants—they are worth the extra cost.
If you have done your homework and matched the right type of plants to your garden conditions, you don't have to worry about using lots of fertilizers and soil amendments in your organic flower garden. The occasional addition of compost and/or compost tea is often enough to keep soil biology thriving which, in turn, helps keep plants thriving. Some flowering plants, like those found in prairies, actually dislike fertile soil and will flop if the soil is too rich.
A soil test will determine if you have significant deficiencies or imbalances in your soil that require an amendment. If needed, choose organic fertilizers and organic amendments instead of fertilizers with synthetic chemicals that can be detrimental to your organic garden.
A healthy organic garden has a robust population of insects—most of which are benign or beneficial. It is estimated that only 10 percent or fewer of the insects in most gardens are harmful pests. The dangers of synthetic pesticides are well-documented—these should not be used in an organic garden; however, even some organic pesticides can actually be quite harmful to sensitive creatures like bees. Read the label well before using a solution in your organic garden.
Before reaching for an organic pesticide, first determine if you really have a pest problem at all. That damage you see might simply be a monarch caterpillar eating the leaf of a milkweed plant—the food it needs to become an adult butterfly.
Keep pests in check naturally and organically by attracting and supporting the beneficial insects that prey on them. "Natural enemies" like lady bugs, predatory wasps, lacewings, and assassin bugs are nature's pest control. Provide them with the plants they love, such as yarrow, goldenrod, sunflower, golden Alexander, dill, fennel, mint, and more.
Enjoy your organic flower garden throughout the year by creating dried floral arrangements. Traditional arrangements might include dried lavender, rose, chamomile, or globe amaranth. Or, go local with a dried bouquet of flowers indigenous to you area like dried native sunflowers, anise hyssop, bee balms, and yarrow.