Master Gardener Logo

Cass County Extension

Cass County Logo

Flower Bed Planning

General Planning Guidelines

1. Landscaping including the use of flowers should compliment not compete with the home for attention. e.g. Avoid very colorful island flower beds in the front yard.

As a general rule, flowers should be restricted to the rear of the home, the outdoor living space, or the service area. It's best not to have flowers in the public area but a planter box or an area in the foundation planting can be used for flowers. Use just one type and color of flower planted in mass in these areas. Color in harmony with the house can give a pleasing contrast, but the color should not be so vivid or dominant as to draw attention away from the house.

2a. Flower Bed-- Designed to stand by itself. Usually can be seen from all sides, so taller flowers are placed in the center. If accessible from both sides, may be 10-12 feet in width.

2b. Flower Border-- Flowers planted in front of a shrub grouping, fence, or other background. Generally the taller flowers are planted in the back of the border with the shortest in front. Occasionally a taller plant such as Baby's Breath can be planted among somewhat shorter plants. This imparts a sort of airiness and informality to the garden. Limit the border to 5-6 feet in depth. Borders are often planted in the corners of a backyard or along the edge of the yard.

2c. Cut Flower Garden-- Provides flowers for indoor arrangements or cut flowers. The flower itself is of primary importance. Garden need not look good at all times. Plant in the service area. Flowers can be planted in rows.

3. Curved flower bed are usually more restful to the eye than a sharp, angular pattern, and preserve an informal effect. Straight, angular lines are usually uninteresting and monotonous because they are repeated in walks, houses and property lines. Backyard corners can be "rounded out" with curved planted areas.

4. Use a few bold curves in designing a border, rather than many short "wavy" curves. Keep the flower border in proportion to the rest of your landscape. e.g. a 2 foot deep flower border against a 10 foot deep shrub border would be out of proportion as would a 10 foot deep flower border against a brick wall. Usually the shrub background or fence should be 1 times as high as the bed is deep. Small flowering trees can be used in the center of the outcurve for accent and height.

5. A border planting in a corner should be designed so that the incurve is located at the corner. The incurve is the focal point of the planting. Locate the flowers in the incurve with fine textured shrubs behind as a background. The shrubs in the outcurve should be coarser in texture than those behind the flowers.

6. The background should help "show off" the colors of the flowers. It is a common mistake to plant flowers without a background. Most of the flowers show up better with a dark background. Light backgrounds cause flowers to lose much of their effectiveness. Green foliage of shrubs and evergreens makes an excellent background.

7. The edge of the flower bed or border should be maintained cleanly to contrast sharply with the lawn and form a strong, dominate line and pattern. An edging of bricks or similar material laid flat and flush with the lawn is acceptable. The ultimate in tackiness is a row of painted stoned in front of a bed or border.

8. Color Arrangement: Color must be pleasing to the eye. The color wheel is a good guide for obtaining pleasing color combinations. Red, yellow, and blue are the primary colors, and orange, green, and purple are the secondary colors. Red, orange, and yellow are warm colors. Blue, green and violet are cool colors. A warm color is always opposite a cool color on the color wheel. Colors opposite each other on the wheel are complementary or contrasting colors. The purest or strongest of these complementary or contrasting colors create a gay, lively effect e.g. the yellow of snapdragons with a blue delphinium.

Colors can be used to create an illusion. Cool colors recede, while warm colors advance. If you have a short yard use cool colors to the rear to make the yard appear deeper. If you have an extremely long, narrow yard, use strong, warm colors to the rear to make the yard appear shorter.

White and yellows are not effective in full sun light since they tends to produce a glare. In shady areas these colors should be used freely. In areas of deep shade, colors which posses a high degree of luminosity (orange & scarlet) show up better than yellow or white.

Use white, pink or light yellow flowers in areas illuminated at night. Light colors will show up under outdoor lighting. Plants with silvery grey foliage also show up well in night light

Suggested color combinations include:

-with scarlet and buff
-with white and yellow
-with orange and scarlet
-with yellow or orange of the same shade (use sparingly)
Violet, purple or magenta
-with shades of blue
-with shades of red
-with yellow or yellow-green foliage
-with whites and yellows of the same shade
Red and Scarlet
-with dense green backgrounds
-with white or clear blue for sharp contrast
-with shades of red-violet and red-orange
Pink (tint of red)
-stronger if interspersed with white
-goes well with other colors of the same shade
-with darker colors (reds, browns and bronzes)
-with turquoise blue
-with purple flowers and bright green foliage
-with creamy white or yellow.
-with blue of same shade
-with white (use sparingly)
-small amounts will liven up cold, heavy plantings.
-foliage color must be secondary to flower color and be carefully chosen to intensify the color of flowers in front of it
-yellow-green or blue-green foliage does not go well with blue or yellow flowers
Grey & Silver Foliage
-used to lighten heavy or monotonous masses of dark green as well as heightening the effects of distance
-ineffective when dotted among bright colors but effective if used in mass
-most effective with light tinted flowers
-softens cool colors and strengthens warm colors.

9. Basic Flower Forms: Flower forms are a basic design element. The three major classifications are the spike form, the round form, either with individual flowers or flower clusters, and the intermediate shapes. Examples of the spike form include delphinium, lythrum, and snapdragon. The marigolds, ageratum, geraniums, peony, oriental poppies and dahlias exemplify the round form. Bearded iris is considered intermediate.

In the flower border, the spike-form flowers are used as an accent comparable to the pyramidal form of evergreen in the landscape. Used flagrantly, they become a disturbing force that may break up the entire composition. If you do not use the spike form at all, however you can run the risk of monotony and lack of interest.

10. The spacing of plants is important in flower border design. Some types spread rapidly and need frequent division, while others do not need to be divided for several years or more. Keep some space between groups and between plants within each group to avoid over crowding and to give form to the border. Consider leaving areas for planting groups of annual flowers. They may start blooming in early summer and some will bloom until the first frost. Generally they have a much longer bloom period than perennials. Using annuals in a bed or border also makes it easier to change colors and texture. As a general rule of thumb when doing a mixed border or bed is to use two perennials for each annual.

11. Flowers in the flower border should not be planted as individuals. Using flowers as plant groups and masses will give a far more pleasing effect. Colors should also be planted in groupings rather than in a patchwork quilt fashion.

12. Drawing up a plan:

a. Draw the bed or border to scale on paper.

b. Locate your border or bed in a sunny spot or one that receives at least half a day of sun. Beds or borders in the shade are difficult to design because of the limited number of flowers which will do well in that type of a site.

c. Lay out the boundaries of the border with smooth flowing curves (when it comes to actual creation of the border this may be easily done using a garden hose as a guide). The narrowest parts of the border should be no less than 3 feet from front to rear, but wider parts may be 5 to 6 feet in depth.

d. Next divide the border into fourths of the total length; if the order is extremely long (60 feet or more) you may prefer to divide the length into sixths or eighths. Each section of the border so formed must be considered individually but also in relation to the rest of the border. In locating the various flowers that you will plant see that some early, some midseason, and some late blooming types are found in each section of the border. If you follow this method of checking, no great part of the border will be completely without bloom at any time during the season. Grouping of annual flowers will make this task easier to accomplish.

e. Determine how many plants of each type are needed. Flowers which produce large plants or clumps e.g. peonies etc. may be used individually. Other plants are best used in groups of three or six. Six lone daisy plants in the border may appear lost and insignificant while a clump of six at one point will be a real contribution to the border.

Todd Weinmann, Extension Horticulturist & Master Gardener Coordinator
Phone: (701) 241-5707

Go to Perennial Flowers

Go to Horticulture Page