Preparing a Garden Bed

To properly prepare a planting bed, mark the flower bed boundaries with pegs and string for straight edges and with a garden hose for curved lines. Cut through the sod along laid-out lines with a spade. Remove the sod from the entire bed. If the area is rocky, remove as many stones as possible as you dig.

If the soil is sandy or loamy, you may be able to rototill the soil rather than hand turning it. Clay and rocky soils require hand digging first. For a small planting area, dig and break up the soil by hand or with a spade.

After the soil is turned, rototilling will be possible. (Rototillers can be rented by the day, and it's often possible to hire someone to come and till by the hour, if you don't have a tiller of your own.)

Use pegs and string to make the boundaries of your flower bed.
© 2006 Publications International, Ltd.
Use pegs and string to make the boundaries of your flower bed.

Next, spread the necessary fertilizer, soil conditioners, and pH-adjusting chemicals over the area. Tilling is easy once the soil is turned. You should be able to till more deeply the second time; ideally, you want to loosen and improve the soil to a depth of more than 6 inches.

Turn and loosen soil by hand with a spade where the area is too small to require a rototiller. After this initial treatment, fertilizers, soil conditioners, and pH-adjusting chemicals will be added at different times of the year for best results.

Now is the perfect time to install some kind of mowing strip around the garden bed. Patio squares or slate pieces laid end-to-end at ground level will keep grass and flowers from inter mixing. Other options include landscape logs, poured concrete strips, or bricks laid side-by-side on a sand or concrete base. The mowing strip must be deep and wide enough so grass roots cannot tunnel underneath or travel across the top to reach the flower bed, and the top of the strip must not extend above the level of the adjacent lawn.

If possible, allow the soil to stand unplanted for a week or more. Stir the surface 1 or 2 inches every three to four days with a scuffle hoe or cultivator to eradicate fast-germinating weeds. This will make your weeding chores lighter during the rest of the season.


Double-digging garden beds to make high-performance gardens for deep-rooted plants such as roses and perennials is a tradition in many beautiful British gardens. The average rototiller works the soil only 8 or 10 inches deep and won't break up compacted soil below. Double-digging will.

Double-dig a garden bed intended for deep-rooted plants such as roses.
© 2006 Publications International, Ltd.
Double-dig a garden bed intended
for deep-rooted plants like roses.

Double-digging requires a bit of a stiff upper lip because it
takes a lot of manual labor. Do a little at a time so you don't overdo it, or hire a professional landscaper if you have health restrictions.

Start with vacant soil that is stripped of grass and other vegetation. Beginning at one end of the garden, remove a strip of soil a spade's length deep and a spade's width wide. Put it
in a wheelbarrow. Use your shovel to turn the soil below it (likely to be one of the heaviest parts of the job) and break it

Another (sometimes easier) option is to jab a garden fork (like
a big pitchfork) into the hard lower soil and rock it around until the soil breaks up. If organic matter is needed, you should add it to the lower level at this point.

Do the same thing to the second strip of soil next to the first row. But turn the surface topsoil into the first trench, adding organic matter as desired. Then loosen and amend the exposed subsurface soil. Continue filling each trench from the adjacent row and loosening the soil below. Fill the final strip with the soil from the wheelbarrow.

Raised Beds

Time-Saving Tip
Pile dug-out earth on a tarp instead of on the grass when digging a hole for planting or excavating a garden pool. You can easily drag away any excess soil, and you won't have to rake up little clods trapped in the turf. Don't waste that soil. You can use it to build a waterfall beside the pool or to fill a raised bed for herbs or vegetables.

Raised beds are a good choice where soil is either of particularly poor quality or nonexistent. Constructed of pressure-treated wood, reinforced concrete, or mortared brick, stone, or blocks, these beds can be of any length, but should have a soil depth of at least 6 inches to allow good root penetration.

By filling some beds with a rich loam mixture and others with a sandier, well-drained mix, it's possible to provide the ideal soil requirements for a wide range of plants. This may seem a
costly solution in the short term, but the beds will last for years and prove well worth your initial investment.

In vegetable gardens, simply mound up planting rows 6 to 8 inches high and 2 to 3 feet wide. (You can walk in the paths beside the planting rows without compressing the raised soil.) Set permanent and decorative gardens in handsome raised-bed frames built of timbers, logs, rocks, or bricks, which can vary from 4 inches to 4 feet high. Don't hesitate to ask for professional help with big building projects, which need strong structures if you want them to last.

If using pressure-treated wood, do not grow herbs or vegetables in your raised beds, as toxins may be present.

A raised bed garden is a good alternative where the soil isn't usable.
© 2006 Publications International, Ltd.
A raised bed garden is a good alternative where the soil isn't usable.

No matter what type of garden bed you're planting, adding mulch is not only a nice decorative element but is also great for keeping weeds out and moisture in. See the next page for tips.