Nothing caps off a beautiful yard like an exquisite flower bed, but don’t be tempted to jump in and try on flower bed ideas without considering the basics. Professional landscape architects always start with soil and drainage considerations in order to guarantee the best results when they bring their flower bed ideas to life. If you fail to take this step, you could end up with a swampy mess after the first rain or a barren mound of dirt where nothing will grow despite your best gardening efforts.

Flower bed ideas: soil considerations
When evaluating the soil conditions of a flower bed there are two major considerations to keep in mind: how porous the soil is, and the PH level.

When evaluating the porosity of soil the two most common types of soil you will run into are clay and sandy loam. Although there are many different variations based on combinations of these two soils, most often you will find that your flower bed soil will fall into one of these categories.

The best way to test what type of soil you have is to press together a handful of moist soil from your flower bed. If it sticks together and clumps, it has a high clay content which is not the most favorable environment to nurture a flower bed. If it breaks apart and crumbles this is a good sign and an indication that the clay content is low.

Clay soil is denser and doesn’t absorb water like sandy loam. As a result, if your soil has high clay content it is best not to leave sprinklers on as long when watering because the water will simply run off and not be absorbed. The best practice for watering a flower bed with a high clay content is to break up the watering into 2 equal segments which are each half as long. For example, if you were going to water for 20 minutes, break this up into two – 10 minute segments at different times of the day to maximize absorption into clay soil.

Sandy loam is a soil type that is most common in California. One of the ways you can tell if you have sandy loam is after a 15 minute rain you will see that the water has absorbed into the flower bed. On the other hand, if the clay content is high, you would have run off.

Next you will want to check the PH level of your flower bed. Get a good PH test kit from your local nursery or you can find a wide selection of PH test kits on

If it turns out that the soil in your flower bed is acidic you have two choices: work with the soil, or neutralize it with gypsum. If you decide to work with the soil you will want to look for plants that like acidic PH such as, azaleas, camellias, rhododendrons, and hydrangeas. See below for instructions on neutralizing with gypsum if you decide to go that route.

If you have highly alkaline soil your options are limited as to what will grow in your flower bed. Pine trees and mountainous trees will thrive in alkaline soil but most plants and flowers will not take in water or fertilizer in this environment. What you want to do is neutralize the soil with gypsum.

Neutralizing flowerbed soil with gypsum and other nutrients: the landscapers secret for a beautiful flower bed
Gypsum is a mineral that plays a variety of important roles in your garden soil. First, it can help to loosen up clay soils to help improve air and water penetration. Next it can aid in minimizing salt damage to plants. It can also promote root growth by repelling the small insects that feed on fragile plant roots and maximize the beneficial effects of fertilizer. You can click here for an excellent organic garden gypsum to try.

You will also want to include mycorrhizal inoculums to your flower bed along with organic gypsum. The addition of this beneficial bacteria will make roots grow twice as long for healthier plants and longer lasting blooms. Here is an excellent mycorrhizal inoculums mixture to try.

One last way to loosen soil with a high clay content is to add organic matter to your soil. Of course plants need nutrients to grow, but what is not as well known is that for a long-lasting growth cycle and healthy flowers you will want to have two different types of fertilizer in your soil.

Steer manure is an excellent source of nutrients and it is picked up very quickly by the plants because it is already broken down by the digestive process of the steer. Unfortunately since it is already broken down, it will only last three to four months before it’s nutrient value is dissipated. For longer lasting nutrient value your fertilizer should include organic matter in addition to steer manure. Organic matter breaks down slower and will provide highly beneficial nutrients to your flowers for years. Kellogg brands makes an excellent organic matter grow mulch that will keep your flower bed healthy for years and you can find this product in your local nursery.

Flower bed ideas: drainage considerations
Most plants need good drainage to thrive and when you are planning your flower bed ideas, here are a few pointers to follow.

Start by noticing where your flower bed will be located. Will it be at the bottom of your property? Is your entire property at the bottom of a hill? If so, consider incorporating French drains into your flower bed ideas in order to channel excess water away from the flower bed. A French drain is simply a trench dug around the flower bed that can be filled to ground level with fragments of brick, or rocks. Ideally this drain will lead away from the house and away from the flower bed to keep water from pooling in either area.

Another rule of thumb that professional landscape architects employ is the 5% drainage rule. This rule simply implies that you should have a 5% grade leading away from the house and or flower bed to avoid pooling water. In general, you should never plant in standing water unless you are growing rice or swamp foliage. What this looks like in practice is for every 100 feet in distance, the level of the soil should fall by 5 feet. This will produce a 5% grade and provide adequate drainage for your flower bed.

So always remember to start any new flower bed project by reviewing the soil and drainage guidelines in this post. If you follow these guidelines you will ensure that your flower bed ideas turn out just as beautiful in real life as you had planned them on paper.