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Past Articles Library | Gardening Design | How To Prepare A Garden From Scratch

How To Prepare A Garden From Scratch

Whether you are preparing to garden for the first time or are simply expanding your garden, there is a good deal of work to be done before you can plant anything there.  However, the task need not be overwhelming if you follow the steps one by one.

  1. Decide what you want to grow in this garden bed.  Your new bed’s ideal location will depend on what you want to grow.  For example, almost all vegetables need a good six hours of sun.  The same amount of sun will burn up your shade garden plants.  If you want to grow both types of plants, you will have to prepare two different beds to accommodate the difference in sun preference.
  2. Look carefully at the land you have decided to place the bed on.  Does it have drainage problems?  Then a raised bed would be indicated to make sure the water will drain before it causes root rot in your plants.  On the other hand, if the soil is always soggy, you can plant a nice bog filled with plants that require a lot of water.
  3. If you are going to build a raised bed, there are lots of instructions on the internet.  Use untreated wood or one of the plastic planks so no toxins will leach from your wood or plastic into the bed.  This is especially critical for beds that will hold vegetables or fruit.  Fill the raised bed with half garden soil and half finished compost.  Mix them well so that the entire bed is a mixture of compost and soil.
  4. If you are not building a raised bed, you will need to remove the grass that is currently covering the bed.  The best way to do that is to dig it out with a shovel.  However, as that is extremely time consuming and difficult, you can spray the grass with Glyphosate.  This is the generic term for RoundUp, a herbicide that will kill most plants. When you purchase the glyphosate, make sure that it does not have a pre-emergent added to this or your garden won’t grow.  Make sure that you only get the glyphosate on the things you want to kill.  It usually takes two applications two weeks apart to really kill the grass.
  5. Once the grass is dug out of the bed, or poisoned until it is dead, you will need to till the soil to a depth of six inches.  Now that the grass is dead it can be tilled under without a problem.
  6. Once the bed is tilled, cover the entire bed with three inches of compost.  Till this in until it is mixed evenly with the soil.  Do this at least one week before you plan to plant your bed.  This will give everything a chance to settle.
  7. You will need to gather a soil sample and send it to the soil lab in your area.  You can get the soil sample bag from your county extension agent along with directions for taking the sample if you live in the United States.  Your agriculture advisor should have them in other areas.  Make sure you do one soil sample bag from each bed you have prepared.  If you have multiple samples, write down what bed will be growing what plants.  The reports come back with only the sample number on them, you will need to consult your list to tell what report goes with what bed.  If you mark on the sample what plants will be growing in that soil, you will get recommendations specifically for those plants.  Since vegetables need more nutrients than flowers, marking the samples is important.
  8. Your soil report will come in two weeks or so in the United States.  When you receive it, there are some things you need to pay special attention to.  The levels of Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium are important, as are the micro nutrients in the soil.  The pH is also important.  There should be some recommendations on these items of how much of each of the three major nutrients you need to add to your soil.  It will also tell you how to adjust the pH of your soil if necessary.
  9. Add the amendments that the soil report recommends to your bed.  Till them in down to six inches so they are in the root zone of the plants.  This helps the plants take advantage of the nutrients you have placed there.
  10. Now you are ready to decide what you will put in your planned bed and where each plant will grow.  The easiest way to do that is to get some graph paper and mark on the first page all of the plants you want to put in your new bed. Be sure to draw them to scale so you will know how much room they need. Put the plant name on each drawing.
  11. Cut out the scale models of how much space you want for each plant. 
  12. Draw a scale model of your new bed.
  13. Arrange the plant graphs in the graph of your new bed.  This will give you an idea of what will fit where.  Make sure you place plants that need about the same amount of sunshine and water together.  You don’t want to plant a shade lover in your vegetable garden or a drought tolerant plant next to one that needs lots of water.
  14. Now you are ready to do the actual planting.  Transplant the plants into each space you made on your graph. 


When sowing seeds or transplanting plants, make sure you do so with the last frost date in mind.  You don’t want to go to all this work and have a late frost undo all of it.  Of course, some seeds and plants need to be planted in autumn, so it may take a while to get the bed fully planted, but that is part of the fun of gardening -- planting each thing in its season.


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