Set-up for new flower bed

gaoyuqingJune 22, 2007

Ok, like to run my plan by some experienced gardeners to see if theres a factor I missed. Have a corner lot, and the small square left in the exact corner where the two sidewalks cross was too inviting to pass up. Planning on digging all the sod up, and putting down a mixture of soil, composted manure from a friend who has a horse ranch, grass clipping, shredded newspaper and any other organic waste I come accross between now and when I'm finished. Basically want to soup up the soil as much as possible since left to itself its rather sandy. Now I don't have any money left for landscaping this year, so then I'm going to cover it up with fabric and woodchips and leave it to compost until next fall when I'd like to plant irises, tulips, lilies, and whatever else to make a year-round flower garden. So this is really long-term planning here. Now corner gets all day sun, and will be looking for plants that handle full sun, and I realize I might have to water this area a bit more due to its sun exposure.

Is there anything I'm overlooking here? Didn't find anything in a simple web search I did, but I'm so new to this gardening thing... help?

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Judy_B_ON(Ontario 5B)

A number of things:

1) No need to remove sod, so that will save a ton of work. The newspaper, mulch etc will kill the grass and the dead grass adds humus to the soil.
2) If planning to plant, do not use landscape fabric. Fabric is designed to be used under decks, patio stones and walkways where it will not be cut into for planting.

Here's how to do it.

Use a garden hose to outline the bed. A curvy line looks best, likely a lazy L or C shaped bed will look good. A square bed or rectangular bed with straight sides does not look as nice. Move the hose around and rearrange until you get the shape you like. Now spray paint along the hose and remove it. Use an edger to cut the grass along the paint line, wiggle back and forth to create a v-shaped line.

Cut the grass inside the future bed very short. Save your newspapers for a month or get old ones from the corner stone (they cut off the date to return to supplier and throw out the rest). Arrange to have a truck load of composted manure and another load of wood chips delivered. On bed creating day, get a few friends, some beer and munchies then proceed:

One or two people place four to five sheets of newspaper over an area of future bed, folding paper to match the curve of the edge. Another person follows with the hose and wets the newspaper. The rest shovel manure and then woodchips over the newspaper, wood chips should be about 2" deep. After all is done, drink beer, eat munchies.

If you don't object to chemicals, a faster way is to spray the grass inside the spray paint line with Round up, wait two weeks, respray any grass that is still green, wait another week. Then, one day have the truck load of manure dumped on the bed, rake to shape. Next day, have the truck load of wood chips dumped on the bed, rake to shape.

If any weeds pop up over the summer, pull them out when small. You can plant into the mix after about six weeks or wait until next year. While waiting, draw a plan of the bed on graph paper and plan what to plant where.

If full sun with sandy, dry soil rethink using iris, they need moisture. Adding organic matter is good, but you cannot change the fundamental nature of your soil. So unless you want to spenda lot of time watering, research plants that like sunny, dry conditions and use them. Depending on the size of the bed, you could consider some small shrubs like Potentilia (under 3ft with yellow flowers all summer).

    Bookmark   June 22, 2007 at 11:43PM
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oh god...i hadn't said...but i allready had removed sod :( guess i could toss back on, upside down perhaps to provide the humus
i thought the whole purpose of landscape fabric was to hold down weeds where you didnt want them and you cut where you plan on planting *looks confused* am i thinking of something else? this is the stuff that lets in nutrients and water, etc. was also worried a bit about erosion on this corner area (it in shape of square with one side rounded out by years of snowplows cutting corners)

    Bookmark   June 23, 2007 at 3:17AM
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vetivert8(NI-NZ zone 9a)

'a square where two sidewalks cross'... I don't think I'd be using bark chips. Why? Because the birdies will have months to forage and scriffle and - cover the sidewalks with bark chips.

And an errant snow plough. So whatever gets planted along that edge has to be Tough, persistent, and resilient. Yes?

With sandy soil it will help if you can annually add little feasts of compost. Maybe two years at a stretch before you shift plants and top up the humus content.

You need to have a good idea of how quickly the bark mulch breaks down in your climate and soil before you find yourself digging it in. Does it mummify? Or rot and give off odd essences?

(One fairly useful weed suppressor is untreated sawdust but you do have to add something like blood and bone fertiliser under it so the soil doesn't 'lose' nitrogen while the sawdust decomposes. If you were to mix it with your stable manure and leave it for the time you've suggested then it could be a useful addition. It's not as pretty as bark chips but it can break down more quickly.)

If you plant a cover of annuals (and give them some protection so they get established despite the early birds) then you can try out all manner of plants, textures and colours, heights and scents in your square. And, if you use annual Dianthus, for example, you can soften the outline of the square by letting the mats 'flow' over the edges.

You could also add in some key foundation plants such as daylilies, or foliage shrubs that suit your location/soil, to give height and permanence to the planting.

You might want to do a very formal 'set piece' and take advantage of the square. Use it as the frame for a knot garden, or lavenders clipped into domes. Strict colour scheme (if you grow from cuttings and seed and plan ahead then your landscaping/plant bill needn't be huge at all).

Another year or so and it could be a 'cottage garden' area with traditional plants, herbs perhaps, and wild flowers with bulbs in their place and season.

Why all the changes? To give you the 'excuse' to keep the soil well-fed every two to three years and mulched in between.

Just wondering: can you get the woollen weed mat material that actually breaks down over time and feeds the soil? Usually used around trees to suppress grass and ensure that the bark is left intact when anyone mows around the plants. Not sure if it also comes in sheet form.

    Bookmark   June 23, 2007 at 5:40AM
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Judy_B_ON(Ontario 5B)

No worries if you already dug up the sod, just a little unneeded work. Toss it back upside down only if you plan to smother with newspaper. Otherwise the roots will sprout and the bed will be invaded by new grass shoots. You can add sod to the compost pile. Will take a bit more soil/mulch etc to raise the bed level up above the surounding grass.

Your understanding of landscape fabric use is common, shared by many others but wrong. As soon as you cut into it and make a hole for planting you create open soil where weed seeds can take hold. And it is a royal pain to constantly be cutting into it when you want to plant. Save your money, buy more mulch or woodchips instead of fabric. Fabric can be used if planting shrubs by careful cutting as there will only a few cuts and you won't constantly be putting in new ones, but is not a good idea for a flower bed where there will be lots of plants and a need to dig and divide them every few years.

Not sure I understand your concern about erosion. Erosion is removal of soil by rain runoff and is a problem only with bare soil on hills. Your bed, even if on a hill, will be covered with wood chips to prevent erosion. Neither fabric nor wood chips will protect against snow plows.

I would still use woodchips or mulch, I have mulch up against the sidewalk and don't find very much spillage unto the sidewalk.

Finally, I would avoid a square bed unless you have a very formal garden overall or want a formal knot garden as vetivert suggested. Otherwise, make the bed L shaped with rounded corners or C shaped.

Here is a link that might be useful: Landscape Fabric

    Bookmark   June 24, 2007 at 5:30PM
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lindac(Iowa Z 5/4)

Landscape fabric and it's "magic properties" is a myth of the manufacturers. After 5 or 6 years any landscape fabric will hold silt in it's fibers and prevent water from draining properly. Plants will "know" this and often put their roots out on top of the fabric and under any mulch....and that's a mess when you want to divide or move anything....and they then become more dependant on your water.
With any bed, the problem with weeds is NOT weeds growing in the soil and poking through, but rather seeds dropping or being blown in and taking root in the mulch or between the rocks, if you were so foolish as to put rock over fabric.
What to do.....Put the sod already dug out back, upsidedown to compost, cover all with 5 to 10 layers of newspaper ( I serve Scotch for helpers at a project of such difficulty, but then I am generous!) and add 4 or 5 inches of something green. Grass clippings or small shrub trimmings come to mind. Then something brown....dry leaves or shredded newspaper or even sawdust are possibilities, then your lovely horse manure...( best run out for more scotch and some cheese and crackers!)...water all very well.....and cover with with small wood chips...NOT bark nuggets but shredded wood or small chips....and walk awat for at least 2 months....remembering to water as if there were plants there.
Get some tulips in there come October ( where do you live??) and lilies and whatever your purse allows....and spend the winter dreaming with the catalogs.
Then come summer, be happy with the iris and the mums and the Helenium, phlox, shasta daisys, perennial salvia, day lily etc etc.....what a lovely delimma!
Enjoy...but Ix-nay on the landscape fabric.
Linda C

    Bookmark   June 24, 2007 at 6:55PM
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Ok, this is interesting, lots of information to consider now, might have to change plans. but one just general question. I can understand the hassle of needing to cut the fabric with new plants, etc. But you mention the disadvantage of cut fabric is that it leads to openings for weeds. wouldn't using no fabric at all create a whole field for weeds if that were the case? anyways, I've been convinced to switch to newspaper then the compost and mulch.

    Bookmark   June 24, 2007 at 7:42PM
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oops, posted that last bit before lidac, and it puts everything into perspective now. Glad I only bought the $10 roll of fabric...maybe i can return it :P Live in Michigan, and I won't be planting anything until next year as I've run out of landscaping money for this one. But with your nice little recipies, I think I'll be able to cook up something nice. Reassurance about spillover good too, since I had been thinking of buying some used railroad ties or a bunch of bricks to line the inside edge, though I might still do for display and aesthetic reasons. Think there is some confusion of where this planned garden is. Might stick a picture of it up later, but I have a corner lot on my block. the entire block is ringed with sidewalks, creating a right-of-way strip between itself and the road. at the corner, the sidewalks cross, leaving a small squarish section at the very point of the block. This is the area I've been plotting over.
Am planning on dreaming with the catalogues this many pretty flowers :) course ive been advised to be carefull about what naturalizes and spreads and what dies out over the years, so I'll need to do research. Currently looking at places like dutch gardens and breckers.

    Bookmark   June 24, 2007 at 8:13PM
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Gardenwatchdog will tell you which catalogs are worthwhile. I think.

I too have a limited garden budget so here are a few things to look for-
Garden clubs- a great source of info , perhaps plants, and garden tours not mention snacks! Ask around. Usually a word of mouth thing.

Garden tours- show you some cool plants performing in your area- unlike catalogs picturing 10 ft tropicals that you can only dream of. Yes, I have zonal envy, I'm zone 5 too.

Compost- can be free if you have a municipal dump site for leaves/grass. You might get a truck load dumped in your truck for $10. or free if you are like me and willing to hand shovel it.

I like the look of a raised bed. It displays the plants better and makes them appear more lush and tall.

So here's my lazy way of getting one-
Nothing wrong with the previous ones posted-

Put down old sheets, newspapers right on the lawn after you applied round up 2 X over 2 week period. ( wetted so they don't blow...) I don't mind landscape fabric ...but it doesn'tlast long or do what it's supposed to do very well.

Dump dirt mixed with free compost on your newspapers/sheets. I live on a farm so dirt and cow poo are a given. Make it twice is tall as you want as it will settle 50%. So a 3 ft berm will settle to 1.5 ft in time. Go around the edge with roundup. wait a couple weeks and repeat. Put in that crappy looking plastic edging, railroad ties, or no edging ( just occasional roundup) is what I'm doing now- I can change the bed shape at will without undoing edging...

Now go pick up some bargains at the clearance racks, including seeds.
Beg your neighbors. Drive over and get a box load from me. Yes, you can!
PLant your fall bulbs. PLant your seeds in the spring ( for most seeds)
Let the addiction begin!

BTW Sandy soil is ideal for bearded iris. They get so much rain they rot in good composty soil. Lean soil is just the best for some plants. But who wants bearded iris once you see iris pseudacorus or siberian iris anyway...


You can see some pics of my budget conscious gardens in my webshots.
You can find the link on my member page.
What you see was done in 4 years... or less.

You're off to a great start!


    Bookmark   July 4, 2007 at 4:28PM
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Wow, gorgeous garden! :) You did give me a couple ideas, looking into the whole municiple dump thing, but so far have found out my town's is inaccessable.
if you live in sw MI I might take you up on freebie stuff ;) but long hauls not too likely.
Tip about the bearded irises appreciated as we have been drooling over those for a while now.

    Bookmark   July 5, 2007 at 5:07PM
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pitimpinai(z6 Chicago)

Hi gaoyuqing,

The Soil, Compost & Mulch forum is a good site to check out how to compost and make beds without much digging. It is a good place to find out the easy way to eliminate the use of chemicals in the garden or elsewhere.

The cheapest way to get plants is growing them yourself from seeds. Please check out the Winter Sowing forum. It is not what you think. It is sowing seeds without the expenses of indoor equipment. We can sow in spring, summer, and fall as well.

Check out the Seed Exchange, Winter Sowing Exchange. Watch for offers for SASBE or postage. You'll get a lot of seeds for the cost of postage. Then sow away at your heart content. It's a lot of fun.

If you come by Chicago, please stop by. I have a lot of plants to share.

Have fun. :-)

Here is a link that might be useful: Winter Sowing FAQ

    Bookmark   July 8, 2007 at 10:05AM
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