Image Gallery: Green Living

Water will help you grow a lawn.
Water will help you grow a lawn.
See more green living pictures.

In this article, we'll show you how to start and grow the lawn that's right for you.

We begin with suggestions for how to plan a landscape and lawn, including sketching out a map of how you will use the space available. You'll want to consider what activities you expect to take place on your lawn and plan accordingly.

We'll show you how movement enhances every lawn and landscape. Follow these tips and plan for the movement of light, wind, water and traffic across your lawn. We'll also show you how lawn accents can attract visitors and add charm to the landscape.

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Plant and grass selection is as important as any other step in creating your lawn. You'll want to select grasses, foliage, ground cover and other plants that suit your climate and soil conditions. Our recommendations for grass selection will put you on the right track in selecting for soil moisture, light availability, and expected growth heights. You may want to use various ornamental grasses to accentuate your lawn -- we'll show you how.

With your planning done and plant selections complete, you'll need to choose the method you'll use to start your lawn. We've provided helpful advice on using seed, sod, and plugs, including the benefits and possible drawbacks of each method.

Lastly, we'll show you how to cultivate and propagate ground cover to complete your lawn.

On the next page, you'll learn about preparing for lawn design.

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Preparing for Lawn Design

The best lawns fit seamlessly into a home's landscape. A careful design can make sure your lawn perfectly supports the other elements of your home's surroundings.

Any beautifully designed landscape may be attractive to view, but if it doesn't accommodate the needs of the people who use the property, the landscape design is not practical. Before making a plan for your space, discuss with the members of your household the needs and plans for use of the landscape.

With a sketch pad, carefully plot the relationships between indoor and outdoor space in a landscape design picture.
With a sketch pad, plot the relationships between indoor and outdoor space in your landscape design.

Make a list of desired functions before making the actual plan. The following functions are some that you may want to consider: sitting/dining area, clothesline, barbecue, dog pen, wind protection, vegetable garden, compost, lawn recreation, children's play area, and firewood storage.

Draw a simple sketch showing the general location of the elements needed in relation to the house and one another. For instance, if an outdoor eating area is needed, sketch it near the kitchen, and firewood storage should be convenient to the door nearest the fireplace.

The relationship diagram will help you in the beginning steps of putting a plan together. In addition, decide the level of maintenance you are willing to meet. Your plan should reflect the amount of maintenance time you're interested in spending in the yard and garden.

If your house is visible from a road, you have a public view area. Think of your house, or front door, as the focal point of a picture. You'll want to frame the view, to draw attention to your house. Typically, foundation plantings are set at the base of the house to create a transition between the house and the landscape. Foundation plantings can be a simple mix of small evergreens and flowering shrubs, ornamental trees, ground covers, and herbaceous plants. Consider shade when choosing trees; deciduous trees will shade the house in the summer while allowing sunlight in during the winter. Be sure to screen service areas -- trash cans, laundry lines, and the like -- from the public area.

You'll want to develop other sections of your landscape for outdoor living. You may decide to incorporate a service area -- toolshed, doghouse, clothesline, potting area. It should be convenient to the house yet tucked away from public view and private entertaining. If children will be using the landscape, plan for a children's play area: A swing set and sand box may be in your plans. You'll want this area set aside but in full view for easy supervision. Separate the children's area from the eating and entertaining area with a low border, and you'll get a feeling of separate outdoor rooms.

A private entertaining and eating area is among the most common space needs of a well-planned landscape. Design it as you would a comfortable room in your house. The size of the area should be determined by the number of people who will be accommodated. A patio or terrace with adjacent lawn for occasional spillover works well. Privacy from neighbors as well as shade can be achieved through the proper selection and placement of screening materials and a canopy of trees.

Create a Functional Sketch

When you plan for outdoor activities and traffic patterns, related functions should be grouped together. For example, parking and entrance to the house go together. With a sketch pad, carefully plot the relationship between the indoor space -- windows and doors -- with the outdoor space -- public, private, and service. From the list of functional areas you need, designate space to accommodate each function in your landscape design picture.

On the next page, we'll show you how to create the plan for your lawn.

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Make a Lawn Plan

A lawn plan, which can be a simple assessment of your landscape needs, is your first step in planning your property. Make a list of the features you want to incorporate into your design for growing a lawn. Then you can begin to find the room for it all and start putting the elements in place.

Get inspiration from public gardens.
Get inspiration from public gardens.
  • Draw a map of your property and decide where the new beds and plantings will go before you start buying and planting. The map needs to be to scale -- an exact replica of your property in miniature. Many landscape designers use a scale in which 1/4-inch on the plan equals one foot in your yard. This scale usually provides enough room to show considerable detail but is likely to require the use of oversized paper so everything will fit on one sheet for a complete landscape design picture.
  • Measure the yard using a measuring tape (50-foot lengths work well), and sketch the perimeter on graph paper. Draw in existing trees, shrubs, fences, and other features you intend to keep, using an overhead view. Make some copies so you can experiment with designs.
  • Then pencil in possible bed outlines and imagine how they will look. Once you've decided on the location of the beds, pencil in the plants you want to add (at the proper spacing) and get an accurate count of how many plants you'll need before you start shelling out any money.
  • Plan the shape of the lawn, which is usually the biggest feature in a yard. The lawn's shape is more important than the shape of the beds. If it's designed with straight or gradually curving lines, the lawn can make a pretty picture and remain easy to mow. Avoid sharp turns, wiggly edges, and jagged corners, which are irritating to the eye and extra work to mow.
  • Take photos and photocopy them. You can shoot the entire front yard or backyard, the plantings around the house's foundation, or individual gardens. Enlarge them on a color copier, if one is available. Then you can sketch in prospective new plants and get an landscape design ideas of how they will look. Winter is a great time to do this. Although the yard may be dormant, you won't forget how it usually looks.
  • Borrow ideas from neighbors' gardens. There is no better way to learn what grows well in your area. You can also get great garden landscape design ideas from other people. Remember, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
  • Visit public gardens and nurseries with display beds for inspiration. These professionally designed gardens may have the newest plants and creative ideas for combining them. Look for gardens about the same size as your yard so you can apply what you learn directly.

Lawn Traffic Flow Design

The purpose of paths, walks, and driveways is to direct and safely move traffic from place to place. The heavier the traffic, the sturdier, wider, and more permanent the path should be. Make entrance walks comfortable enough for at least two people to walk abreast (a minimum of four feet, five is better). Service and rear-entry paths should be three to four feet wide. Garden paths should be designed so visitors feel comfortable on a stroll through the garden. Stepping-stone or mulch-covered paths allow easy access to corners of the garden during maintenance. All paths should be flush with the ground for safety. Make sure steps and grade changes are stable, safe, and well-lighted.

In the next section, you'll learn about the importance of movement in your landscape garden.

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Movement in the Landscape Garden

These flowers sway gently in the wind.
These flowers sway gently in the wind.

When designing how your lawn will fit in with your landscape garden, consider the position of sunlight and shade at different times of the day and different times of the year is an important piece of information. You'll need a basic knowledge of the movement of the sun in relation to the garden's features. Understanding this movement will help in deciding the placement and choice of plants. The sun rises north of the east-west line in the summer, exposing all sides of a house to a certain amount of sunlight. It's high in the sky, producing short shadows from buildings and plants. In the winter, the sun rises south of the east-west line, producing long shadows from structures and plants.

Choose plants that will best suit the natural effects of exposure. The sun can have different effects throughout the day. The introduction of shade provides relief for plants and daily movement of color and mood. A plant needing full sun may do well even if it is shaded for a few hours in the late afternoon, but a shade-loving plant might burn if it receives a few hours of sun during the afternoon.

A garden in the morning has characteristics that may not be evident during the later, shady hours. During a summer day when the sun is rising, parts of a shady garden may light up with sunlight and then give way to dappled shade as the sun rises higher in the sky. Plant and construction materials appear to take on different textures as the angle of the sun changes. Sun and shade are constantly changing patterns, changing the feel of the garden from hour to hour and season to season.

People are attracted to movement in the garden. Water cascading into a pool, for instance, always attracts attention. Grow plants that will attract visitors: Butterflies and hummingbirds are among the easiest and prettiest guests to entice. You'll have to allow some natural food for the caterpillars and plenty of flowers that provide nectar for hummingbirds, but the activity in the garden is wonderful.

Water gardens attract attention in a landscape garden design.
Water gardens attract attention in a landscape garden design.

Use plants to accentuate the movement of the wind as it blows through the garden. Plants with paper-thin leaves flutter like birds, creating interest through movement. Many plants -- particularly ornamental grasses with flowers and seed heads high atop tall, slender stalks -- produce a quiet rustle with seed against seed creating a natural wind chime. Summer breezes add romance to a garden, carrying the fragrance of phlox or moonvine through the air. Scent is one of the garden's most subtle delights. As fragrance drifts through the garden, the garden visitor will feel inspired and refreshed.

In the next section, you'll learn about how to add lawn accents to your landscape.

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Including Lawn Accents

A birdbath will attract visitors to your garden, adding color and life.
A birdbath will attract visitors to your lawn, adding color and life.

Add lawn accents to spruce up a yard that has no flow. If there is one thing that quickly adds a focal element plus lots of movement to a garden, it is a birdbath, whether it sits on the ground or on its own pedestal. You may already have an object around the house that makes an excellent bathing bowl for birds. A large terra-cotta flowerpot saucer, about 18 to 24 inches wide and an inch or two high, works well when filled with fresh water.

To birds, it is like a puddle, and they like that, because they can tell it's not too deep. They also like to perch on the rim. Your birdbath should be set on a paved terrace or other area you can see from indoors, so you can enjoy the splashing and carrying on and keep track of who flies in for a bath or a drink.

Be sure to change the water once a day to keep it clean and to prevent mosquitoes from breeding in it. Why not use the old birdbath water on a deserving plant?

In the next section, you'll learn how to choose lawn grasses and foliage.

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Choosing Lawn Grasses and Foliage

Use these charts to help you select plants for your annuals garden that have colorful foliage, fruits, or seedpods. These grasses, bushes, and foliage bearers can add to you annuals garden.

The first chart indicates appropriate soil moisture levels, the second chart indicates appropriate light levels, and the third chart indicates expected height of each plant.

Annual

Dry Soil

Average Soil

Moist Soil

Alternanthera

x x

Amaranth, Globe

x x

Asparagus Fern


x

Basil

x

Begonia, Tuberous


x x

Burning Bush

x x

Caladium*



x

Castor Bean


x x

Cloud Grass

x x

Coleus


x x

Dracaena


x

Dusty Miller

x x

Geranium, Ivy-Leaf


x

Geranium, Other



x

Geranium, Zonal



x

Golden Top

x x

Impatiens, New Guinea


x x

Job's Tears

x x

Gourds


x

Love-in-a-Mist


x x

Moses-in-a-Boat


x

Ornamental Cabbage, Kale


x

Ornamental Corn


x x

Ornamental Peppers


x

Perilla

x x

Polka Dot Plant


x

Quaking Grass

x x

Snow-in-Summer

x x x

Wheat Grass

x x

Wild Oats


x



*Bulb

Annual

Full Sun

Part Shade

Full Shade

Alternanthera

x

Amaranth, Globe

x

Asparagus Fern

x x

Basil

x

Begonia, Tuberous


x x

Burning Bush

x

Caladium*


x x

Castor Bean

x

Cloud Grass

x

Coleus


x x

Dracaena

x x

Dusty Miller

x

Geranium, Ivy-Leaf

x x

Geranium, Other

x

Geranium, Zonal

x

Golden Top

x

Impatiens, New Guinea

x

Job's Tears

x

Gourds

x

Love-in-a-Mist

x

Moses-in-a-Boat

x x

Ornamental Cabbage, Kale

x

Ornamental Corn

x

Ornamental Peppers

x

Perilla

x

Polka Dot Plant


x

Quaking Grass

x

Snow-in-Summer

x

Wheat Grass

x

Wild Oats

x

*Bulb

Annual

Under 12 Inches

12-24 Inches

Over 24 Inches

Vining

Alternanthera

x


Amaranth, Globe



x

Asparagus Fern


x

Basil


x

Begonia, Tuberous


x

Burning Bush


x

Caladium*


x

Castor Bean



x

Cloud Grass

x


Coleus


x

Dracaena


x

Dusty Miller

x x

Geranium, Ivy-Leaf



x

Geranium, Other


x

Geranium, Zonal


x

Golden Top

x


Impatiens, New Guinea


x

Job's Tears



x

Gourds




x

Love-in-a-Mist


x x

Moses-in-a-Boat

x


Ornamental Cabbage, Kale


x

Ornamental Corn



x

Ornamental Peppers

x x

Perilla



x

Polka Dot Plant


x x

Quaking Grass

x


Snow-in-Summer


x

Wheat Grass



x

Wild Oats


x



*Bulb

These cultural recommendations are intended to suggest the average conditions over a wide geographic area. It is important to be aware of local requirements.

Plant white flowers and green flowers in the annuals garden alongside ornamental grasses and foliage.

In the next section, you'll learn how to use ornamental grasses in your lawn.

For more information on lawn care and related topics, try these:

How to Use Ornamental Grasses

Ornamental grasses can make your lawn unique, and allow you to opt for the level of care and maintenance you can provide.

Using Ornamental Grasses
Ornamental grasses add grace to any garden. With their array of colors, textures, and sizes, ornamental grasses add year-round interest. They even become animated when wind weaves in and out of their leaves. Only your imagination limits their use in your garden. Whether as a specimen or a massed planting, grasses can be used for screening, accent, focal point, or to frame a view. Since grasses are found over the entire earth, you're certain to find a variety to suit your decorative and cultural needs.

Ornamental grasses, shrubs, and border plants can be mixed together effectively.
Ornamental grasses, shrubs, and border plants can be mixed together effectively.

As with turf grasses, ornamental grasses are categorized as cool-season grasses and warm-season grasses. Many ornamental grasses are perennials, but some are so tender they're treated as annuals. Cool-season grasses actively grow during the cool parts of the year; some even stay green throughout the winter.

Before the warm-season grasses begin to show much life after dormancy, cool-season grasses burst into quick, lush growth. They bloom early in the season. When frost comes, the foliage and seed heads turn a bright golden tan and continue to offer a fine display through winter.

Warm-season grasses remain dormant through the winter. When the weather and soil has warmed up sufficiently, they grow rapidly. Warm-season grasses are best left alone except for an annual cutting back at the end of winter. They thrive on hot, long days and, once established, are tolerant of drought conditions. Most require a long growing season to flower in late summer and autumn, when many garden perennials have ceased blooming.

Ornamental grasses are also grouped as to how they grow. Some grasses form dense clumps, others spread by stolons or rhizomes. Clump grasses are easiest to use unless you have unlimited space to allow the grass to roam.

Clump grasses will stay where you plant them, but give them ample space to grow. Determine each variety's space needs and expect a properly tended grass to mature in three years. Grasses that spread will quickly invade the space of other nearby plantings unless they are planted in an area where you can contain their growth.

Ornamental grasses require little maintenance. Most varieties prefer well-drained soil in full sun; some varieties tolerate partial shade. Fertilizer needs are low; over-fertilization results in tall, lush growth that may require staking. Enjoy the grasses throughout the winter season; they add interest when nearly everything else is dormant.

In late winter, cut the grasses down to allow for new growth, but be careful not to cut too low since damage to the growing shoots may occur. Two to six inches, depending on the size of the grass, should be sufficient.

A garden pathway edged with ornamental grasses is peaceful and inviting.
A garden pathway edged with ornamental grasses is peaceful and inviting.

Designing with grasses is easy. Use small grasses as edging plants; they're often hardier than many commonly used edging plants. Try planting a bank with two or three varieties of grasses; use taller varieties behind shorter ones to create a feeling of depth. Grasses mixed with perennials tie materials together during interim periods when one season's blooms have finished and the next season's blooms have yet to begin.

Ornamental grasses are an excellent choice for an unusual ground cover. They have appeal throughout the year, and there are many varieties to choose from.

Ornamental grasses also serve as effective screens from early summer through winter. Choose varieties that will grow to at least eye level. Space the plants so they will form an impenetrable mass at maturity. Mix in evergreens to form a deep screen for all seasons.

Any single, large ornamental grass can be used as a specimen plant. Use grass as a focal point in an open garden, or use a giant variety to break up expansive spaces. A single, fine-textured upright specimen breaks the monotony of a flat, coarse-textured planting.

Grasses are also well suited to container growing, as long as they receive the moisture and nutrients necessary for continual growth. Some ornamental grasses are invasive in some regions. Check your state's weed list before you plant.

In the next section, you'll learn how to plant a lawn from seed.

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How to Plant Lawn Seed

Whether you're planting a lawn that's new or renovating an old one, some important elements should be considered before just throwing some grass seed around. The type of lawn seed you choose is very important, and planting it properly is the only way you'll have a healthy lawn. You'll also want to keep pests away from those growing green blades. Read on to learn dozens of helpful tips.

Starting a Lawn from Seed
First, decide what type of grass you want to grow. Most lawn grasses are cool-season grasses that green up early and may go semi-dormant in hot, dry summer weather. Warm-season grasses such as Zoysia green up later but sail through the hottest summer weather.

There are basically two types of lawn grasses; those that bunch and those that creep. Bunching-type grasses spread slowly outward from new shoots at the base of the plant. Creeping grasses, as most lawn varieties are, spread by sending out rhizomes or stolons -- stems that creep along or just below ground level, forming a new plant at the tip.

Both grasses form thick mats if they're properly cared for. Creeping grasses form a better turf for high-traffic areas. You'll also have to consider the climatic zone you live in. Not all varieties will grow under all conditions.

Next, have your soil tested. Inform the soil test lab which type of grass you intend to grow, and they will recommend what soil amendments may be needed. Add lime and fertilizer if called for by the soil test report.

Grade the soil; level hills, and add top soil to low spots. Don't use subsoil on the top surface; turf grasses need a well-drained soil for roots to grow. Construction debris under the surface prevents roots from growing deeply, creating dead spots in the lawn. Cultivate the soil thoroughly, and remove rocks, roots, clods, and debris. Use a garden rake to fine-grade the area and roll the soil lightly to prevent uneven sinking. If you're renovating small patches of an old lawn, follow the same steps on a lesser scale.

Once the soil is graded, you're ready to sow seed. Sow cool-season grass in the early fall so the grass will have four to six weeks to establish before frost. Spread the seed with a hand spreader at the recommended rate found on the package.

Use a garden rake to gently work the seed into the top 1/8 inch of soil; seed that is planted too deeply will not germinate. Roll the area with a lawn roller to ensure good contact between the soil and the seed.

Using clean, weed-seed-free straw, lightly mulch the seedbed, light enough that half the soil is left exposed. The straw will help shade the soil and your seedlings, preventing them from drying too quickly.

Keep the top layer of soil evenly and constantly moist. Heavy watering with a sprinkler is not useful because seed will easily wash away. Water with a fine spray several times a day until the seedlings become strong enough to withstand regular irrigation.

In the next section, you'll learn how to use sod to start a lawn.

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How to Install Sod

The quickest way to establish a new lawn is by installing sod, which is commercially produced turf. It is available in cool-season and warm-season varieties. Sod is harvested and sold to be planted as an immediate lawn.

Roll new sod with a lawn roller to ensure roots come in contact with the soil.
Roll new sod with a lawn roller to ensure roots come in contact with the soil.

To lay sod, remove all lumps and be certain the soil is perfectly smooth. Bumps and holes are difficult to repair after the sod is established. Unroll strips of sod and tuck them into place. Without stretching or overlapping the rolls of sod, piece them together like a puzzle. Cut irregular pieces with a spade or knife.

Fill in any visible joints with topsoil, making the final grade 1 inch lower than the grade for seeding. Roll the new lawn to ensure close contact between the roots and the soil. New sod needs regular watering until the roots are so well established that you can no longer pick up the pieces of sod.

Cool-season sod can be installed any time of the year that the ground isn't frozen. Warm-season sod should be installed in spring or summer.

In the next section, you'll learn how to grow a lawn from plugs.

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How to Plug a Lawn

Rapidly spreading lawn grasses -- such as Zoysia and Bermudagrass -- are easily established by planting pieces of sod, or plugs. The best varieties of most warm-season, spreading grasses are available only in vegetative form: sod, plugs, or sprigs.

Plant pieces of sod, or plugs, 12 inches apart.
Plant pieces of sod, or plugs, 12 inches apart.

Prepare the soil as you would for seeding a new lawn. Purchase high-quality plugs of a variety of turf that suits your climate. A plug is a 2x2-inch piece of sod of a spreading grass variety. Plugs are planted individually 12 inches apart during the warm season. With proper care, the plugs take root and rapidly spread by rhizomes or stolons.

Use a 1x12-inch board to space plants 12 inches apart. Using the board as a guide, plant a row of plugs flush with the soil level; tamp each plug tightly into the soil. Start the second row 12 inches away from the first row. Keep the lawn watered until it becomes well established.

Sprigs are pieces of sod that have been shredded into 1- to 3-inch pieces of rhizomes. Sprigs are planted either by hand or by spreading them onto the bed and gently cultivating them into the top inch of soil. Each piece of rhizome will root into the soil and send up new leaves and rhizomes in a short time.

In the next section, you'll learn how to plant ground covers.

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How to Plant Ground Covers

A healthy ground cover should establish a strong root system.
A healthy ground cover should establish a strong root system.

Planting ground covers is a fulfilling way to utilize all of your garden space.

Ground-cover plantings should be evenly thick. It helps to set plants in place at regular spacing in the first place. Begin by preparing the ground as for any garden bed. Then use a wire or string grid with regularly spaced openings at three-inch intervals (or other size if appropriate) to help you distribute the plants. For easier, trouble-free planting, consider the following tips:

  • Use landscape fabric instead of plastic to reduce weeds in large plantings. Landscape fabric has pores that allow free air and water movement a big advantage over impenetrable plastic. Lay it down before planting and then cut holes in the fabric. Plant your ground cover in the holes. When covered with mulch, landscape fabric prevents light from reaching the soil, which will stop the sprouting of most weed seeds.
  • Hold barren soil in place with burlap when planting ground cover on a slope. This will prevent erosion while the ground cover is getting established. You should pin the burlap securely into the soil so that it won't slip off when rain makes the soil heavy and wet. Cut modest openings in the burlap and plant one ground cover in each.

Once the ground cover establishes a strong root system and is able to secure nearby soil from erosion, you can gradually enlarge the openings and allow it to spread until it fills out the slope.

  • Set ground cover plugs in place using a wire grid stretched over the bed for fast, easy planting. The regularly spaced openings will help you to coordinate spacing without a measuring tape.
  • Help ground covers spread by layering stems as they grow. Layering encourages stems to root while still connected to the parent plant.
A Gift of Ground Cover

Ground covers spread fast. People with established gardens often have ground cover to spare, because it needs thinning or trimming.

See if a neighboring gardener or even a groundskeeper at the park will fill a big plastic trash bag with starts of wild ginger, epimedium, or pachysandra for you. It will save you some serious money, compared to buying flats at the garden center or hiring a landscaper to do the job.

Ground covers such as pachysandraare easily rooted simply by covering barren portions of the stem with soil and keeping them moist.

For harder-to-root ground covers such as wintercreeper, you can remove a small piece of bark from the bottom of the stem and treat the opening with rooting hormone before covering the stem with soil.

  • Spread netting or old sheets over ground covers during autumn leaf drop. It can be difficult to rake leaves out of thick ground covers, and allowing the leaves to sit and mat on the ground-cover bed creates unhealthy conditions. But planning ahead to catch leaves as they fall allows you to gather up all the leaves in one easy move and keeps the ground cover uncluttered.
  • Rejuvenate winter-burned ground-cover plantings by mowing. If a cold winter causes broad-leaf evergreens to grow brown and unsightly, don't give up hope. There is a good chance that the roots are still alive and will send up fresh green growth come springtime. Mowing off the old leaves gives the new leaves plenty of space and keeps the bed tidy.

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