How To Prepare A Garden Bed For Planting Vegetables

How To Prepare A Garden Bed For Planting Vegetables

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Divide perennials. Clear and mulch perennial beds

Existing perennial beds can be cleared of old plant debris and mulched to prevent weed growth. Perennials are easiest to divide when emerging shoots are only 2 to 4 inches tall. Early perennials like asparagus should have last years’ stalks cut at ground level and put in the compost. Prepare new beds for perennial flowers by spreading a 6-inch deep layer of organic matter (i.e. peat moss, compost, rotted manure) and work in deeply. Plants growing in deep, rich soil are less likely to suffer from summer drought. Mulch should be applied around, but not over the sprouting root mass of each plant.

Last years’ stalks are cut down in perennial

Last years’ stalks are cut down in perennial asparagus beds, and mulch is kept low to enable new shoots to emerge without obstructions.

Step 5: Planting

Holes are dug & the planting begins. I believe in enriching the soil with composts only but when it comes to annuals, I use fertilizer too. The blend we use is 2 parts rose & flower food, 1 part alfalfa meal & 1 part composted chicken manure – all organic of course. We use a tablespoon or 2 per plant depending on the root size.

How To Prepare Soil For Planting Vegetables

When you have an existing garden plot, preparing a garden bed for planting vegetables is pretty easy.

One of the community garden plots we rented last year was used before, but it was neglected until we adopted it.

The plot was pretty clean but was partially covered by a thin layer of weed seedlings, and the grass was creeping in all around the edges. Below are the steps I took to get this neglected garden plot ready for planting.

Related Post: How To Make A Raised Garden Bed Using Concrete Blocks

Before preparing soil for vegetable garden

Before preparing soil for vegetable garden

More Posts About Growing Vegetables

Share your tips for how to prepare soil for planting vegetables in the comments below.

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Turn the Soil  

If the soil in the flower beds is compacted and heavy, it’s advisable to turn the soil with a shovel to loosen it. Make sure to mix in the compost when turning the soil. This will improve the soil profile and help new plants grow better. You don’t need to dig a foot deep; 2-4” is usually just fine. After this step, it should be a little easier to plant your new flowers in the loosened soil. They’ll also do better throughout the growing season because the roots can spread out more easily through the loosened soil. 

Step 2: Removing, Dividing Pruning

The unwanted perennials, annuals from the previous season & weeds get removed.

Perennials to remain get divided & moved to other beds. The remaining perennials & roses get pruned & cleaned up.

Clear Any Leaves and Debris  

The next step is to continue clearing the planting beds. A rake is handy for culling any debris or twigs that have accumulated. Use a blower to remove or dislodge an excessive amount of leaves that may have piled up over the winter months. Blowing the leaves out of the beds and onto the lawn will make them easier to rake up and bag. Once you’ve cleared out all the leaves and debris you can assess the soil to determine if it’s suitable and ready for planting.    

How to Clear an Overgrown Flower Bed

1. Pull Out the Weeds

To prepare your flower bed for new plants, you must clear and deeply cultivate the existing planted areas. To get control over short weeds, use a garden trowel – a shovel with a flat, pointed blade – to dig up the roots of the weed. Taller weeds can usually be pulled out by hand, and a trowel can help you free the roots from the ground. Make sure to clear out any leaves left behind, as they can further spread weed growth.

2. Clean Out Existing Plants

2. Clean Out Existing Plants

Once you’ve cleared out the weeds, roots and other debris, clean out old perennials. If you’re starting fresh in your new DIY flower bed, you can give the perennials away or dispose of them. If you’re not ready to say goodbye to your perennials, but it appears they’ve outgrown their space, dividing and replanting the sections in a new location will help them rejuvenate. You can save perennials to replant by dividing and potting them.

Follow up by using a weed killer on the newly cleared out soil. When you’re redoing your flower beds in the springtime, applying an herbicide after you’ve pulled weeds will set your garden up for success the rest of the year. Use caution when choosing a weed killer if you are planning to reseed your lawn, as it could interfere with grass growth in the surrounding area.

3. Prep the Ground

Once weeds and old plants have been cleaned out of the bed, rake through the soil to prepare your flower bed for composting. Soil should be smooth for the next steps, so it’s important to remove any rocks or gravel. If there are a lot of rocks in your soil, you may need a rototiller to remove them all. Learn more about how to remove rocks from soil and the tools you’ll need to do it.

4. Add a Layer of Compost

To enrich the soil and see more fruitful plant growth, lay a 2 to 3-inch layer of compost on the flower bed and turn into the soil with a shovel. Adding organic matter, such as compost, leaf mold, peat or manure, provides the soil with essential nutrients for your plants. Make sure you’re working with moist soil and turning over from about a foot deep.

For the truly sustainable gardener, learn how you can build your own homemade compost bin.

5. Remove Yard Waste to Start Fresh With Your New Flower Bed

When you’ve finished clearing your overgrown flower bed, you’ve likely accumulated a lot of yard waste from the weeds and plants you’ve torn out, as well as from excess soil and compost. You should haul all your landscape debris away from the newly cleared area in a wheelbarrow prior to building a new flower bed.

From a seasonal refresh to a complete garden overhaul, we’ll help you find the right yard waste disposal option for landscaping projects of all sizes.

How to Plant Spring Seedlings Seeds

If you have some experience gardening then you know that some vegetables are best planted as plants (or seedlings) and some grow better when they’re sown as seeds.

If you’re not sure whether you need a seed or a plant for the vegetables you’re growing, this article breaks it all down for you: How to Know When to Sow a Seed or Plant in Your Garden.

How I prep a garden bed depends on what I’m planting in it and what the weather has been in my garden. Let’s start with how to plant a seedling, otherwise known as a baby plant.

How to Plant a Seedling in Your Garden

How to Plant a Seedling in Your Garden

I have two ways for you to learn how to plant a seedling:

You can read this article which takes you through the eight steps I use for planting every time: 8 Steps to Expertly Planting a Seedling.

Or watch the accompanying video that I filmed in my garden demonstrating planting a seedling in real-time. The video talks a bit more about how I don’t dig or flip any of my soil before planting. I simply pull the mulch aside and plant. So easy!

How to Sow Seeds in Your Garden

In the article I wrote about above regarding planting seedlings, I show how I usually leave the mulch in place when I’m planting a seedling instead of taking it off the garden bed.

When you’re planting seeds you’ll want to approach it a little differently by removing the mulch that’s covering the garden bed before you get started planting.

This is a case where it’s okay to have some bare soil in your garden for a short period of time while you’re waiting for seeds to germinate.

I think the best way to learn how to plant seeds is to watch me actually do it in my garden in the accompanying video. I explain how to prep the soil, figure out the spacing, and more.

Watering Newly Planted Seeds & Plants

Watering Newly Planted Seeds & Plants

Once you have your baby plants and seeds tucked into your garden don’t ignore them! When they’re young they can be vulnerable, so you’ll want to offer them some extra loving care, especially with watering.

Newly planted seedlings don’t have an established root structure yet, so it’s going to be more difficult for them to forage for water in the garden soil.

You should be paying attention to the weather after planting seedlings. If you’re getting regular spring rains like my garden does Wisconsin, you might not have to water much.

But, if it’s unseasonably hot after you plant them, or there’s an extremely windy day, go out and give them some extra water while they’re working hard to settle into your garden.

Newly planted seeds need even more attention than

Newly planted seeds need even more attention than seedlings. In order for them to germinate, you must keep them evenly moist for anywhere between 5-21 days depending on the vegetable you planted. Some seeds germinate much more quickly than others.

I suggest watering newly planted seeds every 1-2 days depending on the weather. On a day where your garden receives rain, you won’t have to water. If it’s hot and sunny water you should water more frequently.

Because seeds are so small you only need to keep the top few inches of soil moist for them to germinate.

Once they’re established, most vegetable plants only need about 1 inch of water per week, but this definitely depends on what kind of soil you have and where you live. Read more: Secrets to Watering Your Vegetable Garden the Right Way.

When I used to have a plot in a community garden,

When I used to have a plot in a community garden, every spring I noticed my fellow gardeners spending lots of unnecessary time prepping their spring garden beds for planting.

This does not have to be your gardening reality!

If you create a garden with permanent beds and paths and keep it weeded and mulched throughout the year, you’ll be able to waltz into your garden in spring and just start planting. No hours of weeding, bed layout or soil prep needed.

Building a New Flower Bed Step by Step

1. Add New Soil

Prior to planting your DIY flower bed, it’s important to lay a good foundation for the flowers to grow. If you visit a local garden supply store, a landscape expert may be able to recommend what kind of soil is right for your garden.

Lay down a layer of garden-specific soil about 6 inches deep and spread it across the bed, working it in with the compost you added earlier to help boost the nutrition and quality of the new soil. Once finished, give your bed 30 to 60 days to settle before planting.

Work with soil when it’s damp, but not wet. Digging soil that is too dry is difficult and can be harmful to the dirt, and soil that is too wet will clump when turned over.

2. Plant and Mulch the Flower Bed

Armed with our garden design tips from above, you can confidently bring your DIY flower bed sketch to life.

When arranging and planting your groups of flowers, consider how they’ll look from all angles around your home. This may include arranging them from shortest to tallest or putting color groups together. This is the step where you can really show off your landscape style and boost curb appeal.

If you’re replanting potted perennials, make sure to place them at the same soil depth they were at before. New plants should be placed at the same soil depth they had in their nursery containers. Any damaged roots or leaves should be trimmed before planting.

After planting, remember to water your plants until there are small puddles around their bases. Spread a thin layer of mulch throughout your flower bed to help retain soil moisture and prevent weed growth. However, mulch should never touch the plant stems, as it can kill them.

“I like using the stuff labeled ‘garden compost’ at our local yard products center. It’s black (instead of orange like bark dust), and feeds the soil as it breaks down, providing all the nutrition these shrubs will need.”

Jami Boys | An Oregon Cottage

3. Clean Up the Yard

As you wrap up your DIY flower bed project, determine how much yard waste you’ll be disposing of. The disposal solution you would need varies based on how large the job is, whether you’re redesigning a flower bed and removing dirt or removing multiple trees and shrubs from a big yard.

For a small seasonal refresh and weed removal, you can likely bag up the debris and use your city’s curbside service. If you’ve done a landscaping overhaul after clearing your overgrown flower beds, you may consider renting a dumpster to remove your yard waste. This allows you to clean up at your own pace, while getting rid of all your yard debris at once when the project is complete.

About the Author

About the Author

Greg Seaman Originally from Long Island, NY, Greg Seaman founded Eartheasy in 2000 out of concern for the environment and a desire to help others live more sustainably. As Editor, Greg combines his upbringing in the cities of New York, Boston and San Francisco with the contrast of 31 years of living ‘off-grid’ to give us a balanced perspective on sustainable living. Greg spends his free time gardening, working on his home and building a wooden sailboat with hand tools.


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