What to do when preparing garden beds

Published 10:35 am Wednesday, August 24, 2011

by Randy Moore

Now that the weather is cooling down and we all feel more comfortable getting back out in the garden, it is time to think about those new garden beds we have been dreaming about.

Preparing a garden bed is the most difficult part of gardening, but at the same time, the most important.

Just like so many things, successful gardening stems from preparation. Site location is the first step and will determine whether you are going to have a shade garden, sun or a combination of both.

Plant selection, or at least an idea of what you are going to be growing, for example, vegetables, shrubs, trees, perennials, annuals, or herbs. Remember vegetable gardens need six to eight hours of sun daily.

The next step is to determine what kind of look you want. Is it going to be formal with geometric lines or informal with curving lines? Once the design is chosen, lay it out either with stakes and twine for a formal garden, or a garden hose works best for the curved lines of an informal garden.

Start digging where the edges are going to be. Then using a sod cutter, shovel or rototiller, remove the grass and roots. Now that you have exhausted yourself, grab a drink, take a break, and think about what amendments you are going to need.

How do you determine this?

Take a soil test. Don’t be afraid of this step; it truly is one of the most important and the easiest way to determine what nutrients are needed for your particular site. Soil sample packages can be picked up at any Virginia Cooperative Extension office. Just follow the directions, and in a couple of weeks, you will have the information needed to amend your soil properly for what you are planning to plant.

This is an important step to know so that your soil is ready for the plants you are planting. If you are going to plant acid loving plants, you need to know that there is enough acidity in the soil to let them thrive and vice versa for alkaline loving plants or any other nutrients for the plants you are going to be growing.

Another method is raised beds. Start by cutting the grass to an inch or less. After your bed material is assembled, whether it is wood, stone, or any other material, spread a layer of garden cloth, a layer of thick moistened newspaper, or a single layer of cardboard.

Then put down a 6- to 8-inch layer of coarse builders sand, followed by 6 to 8 inches of topsoil, a layer of 2 to 3 inches of compost or 1 to 2 inches of manure or peat moss. Mix all this together and take your soil sample for PH and nutrient testing.

However you prepare your beds, remember your soil test because happy healthy plants start with the roots. Happy roots, happy plants, happy gardening.

RANDY MOORE owns Avant Landscape Design in Courtland. He can be reached at AvantDesign11 @yahoo.com.