Tips for Preparing a Planting Bed
by Michael J. McGroarty -
are preparing beds for landscaping around your house this
article should simplify the process for you. I say that
because of everything that is written about this subject,
some of it is accurate, some of it is just plain wrong, and
much of it is much more complicated than it needs to be. I
like to think of myself as simple Simon. I find the easiest,
yet most effective way to do things, and they work.
assume that the area where you are planning your bed is now
planted in grass. How do you get rid of the grass? Chemicals
or no chemicals? Chemicals are easy, so weíll look at the
chemical method first.
favorite chemical for killing grass and weeds is RoundUp,
and used properly it is effective. Rule number one: Read the
label on the package, and mix the chemical exactly as
recommended by the manufacture. Rule number two: Assume that
every plant that the RoundUp touches is going to die. It is
a non-selective herbicide.
first thing you need to do is mark out where your planting
bed is going to be. Spend some time on this step. If you are
landscaping around your house, give careful consideration to
what is going to be planted in the bed, and then decide how
large each plant is going to be when fully mature. You can
keep plants trimmed to a certain size, but be realistic when
you make these estimates. Trust me when I tell you, this is
the number one mistake made by Do-it-yourself landscapers.
People are just afraid to make those beds large enough.
Typically, a bed should never be narrower than 42Ē, and
corner beds should be 12í in diameter. Islands. If you make
those little tiny island beds that I see everywhere I am
going to come over to your house and snap you with a wet
towel! The island bed in your front yard should be 20í to
40í long, and a minimum of 12í in diameter on at least one
end. The easiest way to mark out your planting beds is to
buy a can of marking paint at the hardware store. Unlike
most spray paint, this only works when the can is inverted,
and it is designed specifically for painting lines on the
ground. They even have cans that spray chalk instead of
paint. Iíve always used the paint, it holds up better if it
you have the outline of the bed established and marked, mix
up some RoundUp and spray all the grass and weeds inside the
bed area. Do not put RoundUp in a sprayer that you intend to
use for other purposes. You need a sprayer that is dedicated
for the use of herbicides. When applying the spray, be very
careful not to let the spray drift onto the grass and other
plants that you do not want to kill.
minimize spray drift, adjust the spray nozzle so the spray
pattern is narrow and the droplets are larger. A wide, fine
spray pattern is sure to drift outside of the intended area.
Also keep the pressure in the sprayer quite low. Pump it
just enough to deliver the spray. High pressure causes the
spray to atomize and drift. Apply just enough spray to wet
the foliage. If you have liquid dripping off the blades of
grass, you are applying too much. More is not better.
sprayed, be careful not to step in the area that has been
sprayed. Many a people have had golden foot prints across
their lawn because they forgot and walked through what had
is the difficult part, and the part that many people do not
get, so pay close attention. The only way that the RoundUp
can possibly work, is if you leave it alone. Did you get
that? Once you apply the RoundUp, donít do another thing
with that bed for 72 hours. Thatís three very long days. I
know youíre anxious, but this is the price you pay for not
RoundUp is a systemic herbicide, which means that it has to
be absorbed by the plant, then trans located throughout the
plant. It takes three days for that to happen. If you go
digging and chopping, you might just as well skip the
spraying step. Go build a compost bin while youíre waiting.
three days the weeds and grass are going to look as healthy
and happy as ever. Donít let em fool ya. Theyíre as dead as
dead can be. Providing the RoundUp didnít get washed off by
rain within the first 24 hours of the waiting period. Now
you can dig and chop to your heartís content.
However, the only digging that I do is to go around the edge
of the bed and strip the sod back about 15Ē. Just peel off
about 1Ē and flip it into the center of the bed. This makes
it easier to edge and mulch the bed if you get the sod out
of the way. Now for the non chemical method.
out the outline of the bed as described above. Strip the sod
back 15Ē, just like above. Since you arenít using any
herbicides I would dig down about 1-1/2Ē when removing the
sod from the edges. Take the sod you stripped back and lay
it in the center of the bed upside down and pack it down
firmly. Now take newspaper or brown paper grocery bags and
cover the entire bed area. Use 9 layers of newspaper. No
matter what method you used, chemical or non chemical, you
are now ready to fill the planting bed with topsoil.
to 12Ē of good rich topsoil in the bed. Make sure the soil
is higher in the back, closest to the wall, so the water
drains away from the building. If you are creating an island
planting make the center of the bed the highest point. Make
sure the topsoil you buy is well drained and rich in organic
matter. Buying topsoil is a tricky game, youíve got to be
careful and shop around. Topsoil is one item that you do not
want to order over the phone, sight unseen.
is what you are looking for when buying topsoil:
Topsoil that is rich in organic matter will be very dark in
color. If the soil is light in color it is probably just
fill sand. The other thing youíve got to watch for is how
well drained the soil is. Topsoil that has a clay base is
poorly drained and sticky, and your plants will not be happy
at all. They might even die if they are too wet. Once a clay
based topsoil dries out it gets very hard.
most topsoil is run through a screener to remove the clumps,
rocks, roots, and sticks. There is nothing wrong with buying
unscreened topsoil, especially if youíve visually inspected
it, and have found it to be of good quality. Actually,
really good topsoil shouldnít have to be screened, but there
is little of that quality topsoil to be had.
you visit the yard where the soil is stock piled, scoop up a
handful of the topsoil and run it through your fingers. If
it seems to be grainy, it is probably good soil. But if it
appears to tiny round balls, that can be smashed between
your fingers, it is probably a clay based soil that will
trap water during rainy seasons, and get as hard as a rock
when itís hot and dry.
attention to how the soil is screened. Some machines just
shake the soil over a set of screens to separate the debris,
and others actually shred the soil. If the soil needs to be
shredded, you donít want it. Look closely at the pile that
the raw soil is coming from. If the soil in the raw pile is
as hard as a rock, thatís what the screened soil is going be
once you get it in your beds. If it appears to be fairly
loose, itís probably good soil.
6-8Ē of topsoil in your beds. You are now ready to plant.
Did you notice that I didnít get into rototilling and all
kinds of extra work. Nor did I suggest that you add bone
meal or any of those other goodies that the garden centers
sell. I skipped the part about checking the Ph too. Ph is
important, but Iíve found that good topsoil almost always
has a suitable ph.
got a confession to make. In almost 30 years of growing,
planting, landscaping and the like, Iíve never tested the ph
of the soil on any project that I was working on. Is that
smart? I donít know, but Iíve been successful in my efforts,
and I have landscaped several hundred homes and grown tens
of thousands of plants.
something to think about. What Iím really trying to say is
donít get caught up in too many details, and be careful who
you take advice from at those garden stores. Many of those
sales people were flipping burgers last week.
Michael J. McGroarty is the author of this article. Visit
www.freeplants.com and sign up for his excellent
gardening newsletter, and grab a FREE copy of his
E-book, "Easy Plant Propagation"