How To Create A New Garden Bed

Preparing a new garden bed is not just a matter of digging and planting; a bit of hard work in the beginning will pay off for years to come.

Whether you want to grow vegetables or decorative plants, unless you're fortunate to have a plot or land cleared and prepared already, you'll need to start from scratch and make a new garden bed. It's not just a matter of digging and planting; a bit of hard work in the beginning will pay off for years to come.

First, carefully select the location. Maybe you have a specific area in mind that needs landscaping or want to choose the perfect spot for a vegetable garden. You'll need to consider the amount of sun the area will receive: keep in mind that a sunny spot in early spring may be shaded later when leaves grow on the trees. Vegetables need full sun and if trees or buildings block the sunlight, you'll need to select plants that do well in shade. A raised area will warm up faster in the spring and is useful for germinating seeds; a lower "valley" area will stay cooler. How wet is the area? Some plants won't grow well in soil that stays soggy. If the plants you want to grow need to be watered often during hot weather, it's helpful to have the garden near a water source. An area near your house will be less likely to get neglected later in the season. Be sure to determine the location of underground pipes and wires. A few phone calls can save a lot of trouble later.

When you have selected the area, use a sheet of graph paper to determine the size you'll need. Consult gardening references for space requirements of the plants you want to add. Do you want a graceful curve, or a square-edged garden bed? A garden hose is useful for marking the border of curved beds.

You'll probably need to remove the grass from your garden area. There are three basic ways to do this, depending on how soon you want to plant. One way is to apply an herbicide to kill the grass but if you do this, you'll have to wait a year to plant. Another, more environmentally friendly method is to cover up the garden plot to kill the grass by blocking light. You can use several layers of newspaper, black plastic, or a heavy layer of mulch. Again, you'll have to wait about a year before the grass is gone. If you're in a hurry, though, there's no alternative but to get in there and dig out the sod.

Unless you're clearing a large area, the easiest way to do this is simply to remove the layer of sod with a square-edge shovel. Cut into the sod at the edges of the garden to define the area; you can then remove the garden hose. Carve out a square in the grass, and then push the shovel in between the layer of grass and the topsoil. Try to keep it level and remove the least amount of dirt as possible under the grass. A sod cutter is useful for larger areas and may be rented from a tool rental shop. Place the cut sod into a wheelbarrow and use it to cover bare areas in your yard (water after placement), or add it to a compost heap.

Preparing the soil is the next step. Get out that shovel, and push it in about a foot deep. Pull up the soil, turn it over, and break up the clumps. Repeat this process through the entire garden bed. When finished, add soil amendments. Depending on the type of soil in your garden, you'll want to add peat moss, sand, compost, manure, or other materials to improve the texture and drainage. This is also a good time to add fertilizer; follow package instructions carefully. At this point, you may wish to rent a tiller to fully aerate the soil and mix in the soil amendments, but if your garden bed is small, simply repeat the process of digging with the shovel. Finish by using a dirt rake to smooth and level the soil.

You may wish to add a border to define the edges, keep grass from migrating back into the garden, and make mowing and trimming easier. Possible edging materials include plastic edging, bricks, concrete blocks, or landscape timbers. (Don't use treated lumber, especially for edible crops; harmful chemicals could leach into the soil.) It's best to set the edging material into the soil rather than simply laying them on top. Dig a trench around the border of the garden and set the edging material into the trench; then fill in the dirt around it. Compact the soil around the edging material to make it firm.

You're now ready to plant! If you're landscaping an area, it's helpful to place the plants in their intended spot while still in pots. This will help you determine if the plan that looked good on paper will work, before you begin digging. Follow planting instructions for each particular plant, and water within an hour of planting. Unless you're germinating seeds, you'll probably want to add mulch. Mulch helps to conserve soil moisture, block weeds from growing, and makes the garden more attractive. Don't skimp on the mulching material; a two-inch layer is ideal.

If you've followed these instructions, you'll be the proud owner of a brand new garden bed that will continue to nurture plants for years. Maintenance should be easy if the preparation was thorough: remove weeds as they appear and add a new layer of mulch as needed. In future years, repeat digging, adding soil amendments and tilling before planting.

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