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December 16, 2017  |  Login
Getting Ready for Bed: Preparing Your Garden
By Bill Marken & The National Gardening Association
 

“Dig a ten-dollar hole for a ten-cent plant.” That old gardening expression is a great way to look at soil preparation for annual flowers. You can spend loads of money on fine geraniums or the newest petunias, but they’ll grow like ragamuffins if the soil is shabby. The opposite is also true: Plain-Jane annuals can blossom into real knockouts when grown in truly superior soil.

Dealing With Delinquent Damage

If you go to dig your flower bed and find that the soil is damp and swampy even though the rest of the yard seems dry, you may have a drainage problem Sometimes, you can correct a drainage problem by aerating the soil and adding organic matter, but you probably should look elsewhere for a place to grow flowers. Bad drainage means that the roots of any plants that do grow there are deprived of air and exposed to excessive amounts of water, instead. Very few annual flowers are willing to put up with this kind of abuse. One notable exception is the cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis). It grows naturally in and around bogs and similar wet spots and requires constant moisture.

The best solution for wet or poorly drained soil is a raised bed. Raised beds can be as simple as mounds of soil that are 6 to 8 inches above the surrounding soil level, or they can be more complex affairs, utilizing boards, stones, or similar materials to make a soil-retaining border. (Click here for more on creating raised beds)

Making The Bed Your Flowers Will Lie In

Before you dig in to your gardening project, get all your materials together — soil amendments, fertilizer, digging tools (shovel, digging fork, and a dirt rake or hoe), work gloves, a garden hose, and perhaps a wheelbarrow or garden cart, if you plan to do some really serious digging.

  1. Mark off the area you want to dig, as shown in the image below.

    Marking off the area you plan to make into a flower bed keeps you from getting carried away with your digging.
    Marking off the area you plan to make into a flower bed keeps you from getting carried away with your digging.

  2. Start at the edge of your bed with a flat-tipped spade and skim an inch or two below the surface, stripping off the sod as shown in the image below.

    Skimming off the sod and setting it aside helps keep grass and weed roots from resprouting and taking over your garden.
    Skimming off the sod and setting it aside helps keep grass and weed roots from resprouting and taking over your garden.

  3. Use a shovel or digging fork to turn the soil.
    Lift up a spadeful of soil and drop it back onto the ground upside-down. Pull out weeds that come loose and toss them into a pile. If your soil changes color and becomes very hard just a few inches below the surface, you have hard pan. (Click here for advice on dealing with hardpan)
  4. Using a hoe or rake, hack away at the big clods to break them up, pulling out weeds as you work.
  5. Pour on your soil amendments and fertilizer.
  6. Dig through the bed again with your shovel, working in the amendments and fertilizer.
  7. Rake over the bed vigorously with a stiff-tined rake to break up clods.
    Rake the bed, so that it has a level top and slightly sloped sides. If you like, you can make a little lip around the top inside edge to help hold water, at least until the lip washes away.
    If you have a dog or cat who’s been watching from the sidelines and is poised to continue cultivating your bed as soon as you go inside, sprinkle the surface lightly with cayenne pepper. One sniff is all it should take to make them change their minds.  ....read more
 
 

 

 
 
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