Bed Expansion Project

maple_grove_gwSeptember 16, 2012

Thought I'd share a project I've been working on. Rather than install a new bed, I thought I'd enlarge an existing bed. It will house a number of conifers and maples presently residing in containers. The motivating factor is that, this is probably one of the most sheltered locations I've got. Residing on the northeast side of the house, and sheltered by an ell comprised of house and garage, wind is negligible and sun well controlled. If you look carefully you can see the confines of the bed prior marked by the presence of mulch and plants.

I hit the bed up with Preen and will let it settle in over the winter, and I'll plant in early April. I had 8 yds of topsoil for the job, and some of the excess was used to bulk up a bed at the border of the property.

The trick in these jobs was to bring the soil up to where I expect the roots of existing plants end in order to avoid burying them, and as they continue to grow they can extend into the new soil.

Comments and suggestions are appreciated.


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gardener365(5b Illinois USA)

Looks fine to me. I'd put mulch over it to help hold it in place.

Congrats on the start of a new garden area.


    Bookmark   September 17, 2012 at 7:29AM
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Thanks Dax. Good idea about the mulch - I was considering whether to put down now (to stabilize the bed) or wait (for easier planting in spring).

Ah, the lengths to which we who are cursed with clay soil must go...

When I was moving this soil around, I was pondering the nature of this silly situation. Builders' practice is to sell of the topsoil to maximize profit. When my house was constructed in 2004-5, my builder sold my topsoil to the garden center and I'm left with this awful subsurface clay. Now every time I'd like to create a bed, I have to go to the garden center and buy back my own topsoil. Well, not the exact same soil of course, but the point is the inefficiency of the system. How much energy was spent, and how much $ did the builder really make anyway? I wish they had given me the option of keeping my topsoil for some fee. If you think about it, it's pretty funny the way the topsoil is carted around in the name of profit. Then there's the unnatural look of the raised beds.

If I ever look to buy another house (unlikely), the condition of the native soil will be a top consideration.

Thanks for looking all. I'll update this thread after planting in the spring.


    Bookmark   September 17, 2012 at 9:25AM
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whaas_5a(5A SE WI)

Would be nice to a see a columnar plant near the electrical box for some vertical interest. If it needs to be shade tolerant your choices will be limited. Although, Sugar maple has some nice cultivars that would do nicely.

Perhaps you get some nice shade from those trees but personally I'd cut them all down and start fresh with a mix of intermediate conifers and trees that will be properly pruned by you.

Expanding a bed is always rewarding. Looking good so far.

Believe it or not, it might be easier to plant and navigate in the bed after its mulched like Dax mentioned. Sure you'll be spending time pulling mulch back but that beats walking in mud and having run off if any storms roll through between now and spring.

    Bookmark   September 17, 2012 at 10:16AM
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Looks great Alex ! Ditto on the mulch...It wont take much to rake some back for planting. Edging and mulch will help alot when any harsh rain events happen.

    Bookmark   September 17, 2012 at 10:37AM
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Very nice area and well thought out; I hope you are not offended, but the rocks (IMO) should be laid flat to avoid the tombstone effect that I can't shake from my mind when I look at them.


    Bookmark   September 17, 2012 at 12:28PM
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botann(z8 SEof Seattle)

I agree jonny, flat, not upright. The rocks should also be grouped in an outcropping on the point, as that's where where it would occur naturally if you think of the lawn as a body of water.

    Bookmark   September 17, 2012 at 12:57PM
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I was hoping someone would have something to say about the rocks. Just had a feeling there was room for improvement without knowing exactly why or how. So the recommendations are to group the rocks together where the bed is widest, and to place them on their sides. Thanks Jon and Mike, your advice is appreciated. I plan to try out a number of Abies selections in this, my most sheltered area, so the tombstone look would probably be appropriate. But in the interest of esthetics I'll move them next weekend, along lines of your recommendations. I've still got a little extra soil, and will be able to fill in the holes.

Thanks also Dax, Will and AL. Three votes for better to mulch now, sounds like it's time to track down some of the pine bark nuggets I want to use in this area.

Though I would like to move the dogwood, I have a little agreement with my wife specifying that it stays put. It's a great tree ('Appalachian Spring') but my concern is that it's a little too close to the house. It's been growing like a champ, ~1.5 ft./yr. The wife is usually not much concerned with the garden, but she greatly values "privacy" on the deck. Hopefully once the new additions gain some size, I'll be able to get away with removing it. :0) Also I'd like to graft it first since it would be a shame to lose it altogether. The other plants are fair game. Something's going to have to go in the corner since it's getting too crowded down there. The scraggly looking tree against the wall is my Acer campestre 'Carnival', which loses most of its leaves by late August. There's something that doesn't work about white variegation against a white house. Anyhow, I've been trying to train it flat against the wall; this is not the best time of year for judging the effect.

Will, I was also thinking about a columnar plant in that area. Abies fraseri 'Fastiata Compacta' was the one I had in mind. Though sheltered, this whole area gets at least 1-2 hrs direct sun in the morning; the farther out from the corner you go, the more sun there is. I think a couple hours direct sun should work okay for various Abies in my zone, and I hope I won't need the tombstones after all.


    Bookmark   September 17, 2012 at 5:47PM
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whaas_5a(5A SE WI)

If you are going the Abies direction perhaps this would be a nice start? I'm almost positive A. alba is shade tolerant.

    Bookmark   September 17, 2012 at 5:56PM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

It's a great space, and I'm sure it'll be nicely refined by the time you're done.
I also agree on the mulch, being a huge fan of bark from the start :-)


    Bookmark   September 17, 2012 at 9:17PM
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I would tip all the rocks on there side or burry them a little in the dirt if they don't have a flat side. Then in photo 2, take the two largest rocks you see in this photo and bring them out almost to the edge. Right now all the rocks look pushed towards the middle. I would also agree on the mulch... without mulch it would become an eye soar once it dries out into the light colored tan dirt. Plus the direct impact of the rain would wash some of the soil away.

Other than those two things, good start.

    Bookmark   September 17, 2012 at 9:41PM
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Thanks Will, Josh, and Rick.

The rocks were included in the bed as an afterthought, and it's clear that their placement deserved more consideration. I moved the rocks around this afternoon, and I'd like to update this thread for comments. Here it is from a few different vantage points:

If anyone has any specific points of comment, fire away. Once I'm sure I'm happy with it, I'll get to work on the mulch.

As a side question, what can be done about rock sinkage? I dug up some rocks from elsewhere in the garden to fill in the space here, and some of them were sunk 80-90% after about 5 years. Anything that can be done about this, or must one just live with it?

The far side of this (preplanted) bed is looking ready for fall today:


    Bookmark   September 22, 2012 at 3:05PM
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Alex, I wouldnt sweat the rocks so much now. I would get everything edged and mulched with the rocks out of the garden. After i mulched i may set them in the garden just to ride out the winter and let all that new topsoil settle down. I think come spring when you have your planting material ready youll find yourself playing musical chairs with your rocks because some will just look better than others with certain style plants. You may even find at that time that one or two may look good in an up-right position with the majority laying flat.The beauty of it all is the rocks are easy to move around,swap and adjust.

    Bookmark   September 22, 2012 at 5:23PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

i apologize for not chiming in earlier.. and i havent read all the replies.

but let me just quickly state.. by yelling ..


this isnt botann or glacier ends idea of ROCKS!!! ... wherein you need machinery.. or 2 guys with steel bars to move them around ....

think about your rocks as a puzzle for the next decade.. while you sit in a lawn chair sipping adult beverages.. looking at your conifers..

when the muse hits.. lift your butt out of the chair .. stumble over to the rock that offends you .... AND MOVE IT ...

for now .. i recommend stacking them like a trail marker on the Appalachian trail.. for a little vertical accent ... and be done with it ... see link.. cairns ...

and when you tire of it all in that location.. move it to the other side of the bed ...

heres your box ===>>>> you are thinking statically ... like there is one precise siting.. that will be perfect and forever ... all i ask is.. WHY???? .. rocks move.. so move them ...



ps: one other thought.. would scree or rough sand have been cheaper ... if so.. the conifers would not have cared.. nor most other plants ... provided proper water ... i understand why you wanted to lift the bed .. i just dont know why you needed foo foo fortified soil for trees ... presuming you paid a premium for it ...

Here is a link that might be useful: link

    Bookmark   September 22, 2012 at 7:49PM
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Cher(6 SW OH)

I like the last couple comments. I would add the plants next year where you want them which are permanent, I would then add the rocks to enhance the plants. To me the plants being the most critical in placement. ie you might have one conifer that you have to leave a lot more room between because it gets wider and it looks out of balance with another because there is more empty space there is a great place for a rock or two.

    Bookmark   September 23, 2012 at 5:53AM
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Fair enough, maybe I'm overthinking this one a bit. In that case, I'll closed! (at least for now).

    Bookmark   September 23, 2012 at 6:39AM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

BTW .. you have a new 'collection' going there...

next thing you know.. you will be picking up rocks on various trips.. to add to your cairns .. lol .. letting the neighbors know.. you will get rid of them for them .. lol ... taking trips to the seashore.. for rocks ... lol .. having dreams about rocks.. picking some up on a car trip vacation ...

been there.. done that too..

one of my biggest disappointments moving to this county.. with all the sand.. farmers fields are devoid of rocks ...


    Bookmark   September 23, 2012 at 11:02AM
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ladylotus(Z3/4 ND)

Nice expansion project. I would group the rocks in 2's or 3's. Perhaps you can set one up on end and lay one at an angle below the upright rock.

I agree with the others, that is something you can do once you have your trees planted. Take the winter and study other photos on the forum for rock placement ideas. Good luck, I think your project is going to be wonderful.

    Bookmark   September 23, 2012 at 11:15AM
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botann(z8 SEof Seattle)

Rocks usually go in the design before the plants, but I guess using small rocks, they can be considered an after thought.
Personally, I wouldn't use rocks after the plants. Rocks are considered hardscape and go first. If they're done right, the plant design falls in to place a lot easier. As it is now, the rocks are placed almost equidistant. Not something you would find in nature, and relying on the plants to cover up the mistake of poor rock placement is not the way to go in my book.

    Bookmark   September 23, 2012 at 5:12PM
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