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Flower Bed Takeover

Posted by
bac3605 9
(bac3605@yahoo.com) on
Wed, Jan 11, 06 at 13:07

I have just moved in with my boyfriend and let's just say he never took care of his flower beds...at all. I can't stand to look at them anymore. It looks like we have a jungle in our front yard. I'm determined to fix this eyesore myself, but I have one problem...I have never dabbled in gardening before. I'm sure I could go in and just start yanking everything out, but I'm also quite sure that there may be another resolution to my problem or at least some steps that I should take in the process. I really would like to learn how to do this. We live in a really nice neighborhood with nice lawns and I'm really beginning to get embarrassed. PLEASE HELP ME!!!!


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RE: Flower Bed Takeover

  • Posted by nurmey 5 Omaha, NE (My Page) on
    Wed, Jan 11, 06 at 18:48

Welcome to the wonderful world of gardening. Gardening is fun, healthy, and relaxing so I hope you look on it as an exciting new project. It helps a lot that you have come to a great place to learn the ins and outs.

Telling us what growing zone or which state you are in would be helpful for us to give you suggestions.

Is there any way someone could help you identify the plants growing in the bed? After you get an idea of what is in there, it will be easier to help you. Some plants might be weeds that need yanking but some could be perennials that can look nice again with a simple pruning.

Clearing the bed does have the benefit of giving you a "clean slate" to work with but it could be costly to replace everything.


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RE: Flower Bed Takeover

Some questions:

- Are there any neighbors that would help you distinguish the good plants from the weeds?
- Are the beds mostly filled with small soft plants, or are there some shrubs or large woody plants?
- How long has your boyfriend been there?
- What kind of garden do you like?

If they were my flowerbeds, I would probably:

- Get a book, because you'll have a thousand questions. I think that Barbara Damrosch's _Garden Primer_ is one good possibility.

- Pick one modest-sized area or bed that you'll "renovate" from beginning to end, because you'll learn a whole lot from the first bed that you'll want to apply to subsequent beds.

- Try to get a Plant Advisor - a neighbor, a friend, someone who's willing to identify your plants for you, tell you which ones can be transplanted, and so on.

- Get your Plant Advisor to identify the desirable plants in that one bed.

- Clear out the remaining weeds and undesirable plants from that bed. In a really overgrown bed, this is usually three phases for me - first I yank out the forest of weeds, sometimes cutting down really huge ones. Then I use a shovel to dig out the roots of the huge ones that I had to cut down. Then I use a hand fork to rake through the soil and get remaining small weeds and roots. No matter how thorough you are, there will still be leftover roots and seeds, and you'll still be weeding later, so don't worry about perfection.

- If you didn't already do this in the process of weeding, dig "blank" areas about a shovel depth down, breaking up the soil.

- Amend the soil as much as you can. In blank areas, you can dig in soil amendments or rake them in with that little hand fork. Below the plants you're leaving in place, you can often lightly scratch in some amendments or just pile a modest layer on top. If the soil is really dreadful, you may want to plan on eventually digging up even the desirable plants and replanting them in improved soil.

As for what to use to amend the soil, I use Foxfarm planting mix or Gardner and Bloome planting mix, just because that's what I started out using and I've been happy with them. But they are expensive; if you're improving a huge garden you may want to find something cheaper that you can have delivered by the partial truckload.

As for how much amendment to use... that's sort of It Depends. I recently used one cubic foot of planting mix per nine square feet of half-decent but somewhat tired soil, digging down one shovel depth because I'm too lazy to dig deeper. :) In worse soil, I might easily use two or three times that.

- Plant stuff in the blank spaces. Your Plant Advisor may be able to tell you which of your desirable plants are ready for division or at least OK for transplanting. This way you could "shop" from your own flowerbeds, getting plants into good soil.

- Mulch heavily with a finegrained mulch that can eventually be mixed into the soil, rather than those heavy bark chunks. I usually use commercially produced compost. (Again, I buy it in expensive bags, and again if you have a big garden you may want to have this delivered in bulk.)

- Plan on several rounds of weeding, to get those roots and seeds that you missed. Eventually the number of weeds will go down, though they'll never go away.

- Stare at your new flowerbed for a week or three, deciding what you learned from the whole thing, what you're happy with, and what you want to do differently in the next bed.

Burnet


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RE: Flower Bed Takeover

Check to see if your community offers free mulch; many now recycle leaves by shredding them and they make a really great mulch costing only your time and labor, with a few dollars spent for a pitchfork - and 6-mil garbage bags if you don't have a truck or trailer for hauling.

GardenWeb is a great resource. While you are hunting for a local advisor, take time to look over the weed forum and the plant index as well as visiting the forum for your state. Don't hesitate to ask "what is ?" but remember that a picture is truly worth a thousand words and when it comes to plant IDing, a photo is worth a couple thousand words! Spend a bit of time learning about "lasagna" as well as what makes earthworms happy. Use the search feature at the bottom of the page.

As you find out names, mark the "good" plants with name-tags either fastened to a small stake or hung from a branch. Waterproof marker on a strip of plastic bag will last a few months. It's okay to use a generalized common name at this stage - a daylily is a daylily is a daylily - but if you can get the "real" name, use a paint-pen and write on a jar lid for a label that will last a couple years. Use a different color label for plants that you or Advisor think are "good" but not positive - if you have a digital camera, photos are a big help when trying to ID.

Since you are a newbie and the beds have been long ignored, remember to check each plant's ID twice and only pull weeds once. Sometimes it's easiest to begin by pulling up weeds you are positive about: dandelions, clover, grass, etc. Once the commoners are gone, mentally - or string lines- divide the beds into sections that are about 5 feet square. Unless you have a tremendous amount of time and energy, that size is usually about right to do in one session. Now remove as many weeds as possible (and all weeds pull easier when the soil is sopping wet), then mulch. If you are fairly sure that there won't be self-sowers (or that you don't care if there are!) you can lay down several thicknesses of wet newspaper on the soil and then spread a 2 or 3 inches of mulch on top. The paper makes a light-proof barrier so weedseeds won't sprout, and eventually it decomposes to nourish the soil. Lasagna-mulch uses from 5 sheets up to 1/2" of sopping wet paper on the ground before covering with a standard mulch of shredded leaves or wood chips (I recommend a minimum of 1/4" wet paper). When mulching around bushes, woody shrubs and trees, spread a 1" to 2" deep layer of pea gravel around the base of the trunk, out about 10". This gravel makes a type of mulch that helps prevent weeds while being of a nature which discourages critters from nibbling the bark. By doing just one section at a time, you won't get exhausted and you won't feel too stressed about how much needs to be done, while you can feel good about what *did* get done. It is way too easy to look at a 40' bed and think you can do it all in one morning -- and I was in my 30's when I learned that wasn't always possible :)

When the bed is basically clear of weeds and bare soil is mulched, you can go back over it and learn to move/divide/transplant those "good" guys which are too crowded or not in the right place. Weeding again should NOT be an issue because when a section is mulched properly, your only weeding should occur next fall or spring, to pull up creepers and the occasional surface sprouts before laying replacement mulch. BTW, this is where those who 'lasagna' differ from those who mulch with compost -- compost does indeed prevent or slow some weed seeds from sprouting, however it IS soil, and it will provide a home for any passing weedseed not to mention that clover and crabgrass both think it was put down just for them. Many weeds including dandelions are not fazed by a few inches of compost - indeed, compost simply provides them with a nourishing layer of soil. Lasagna and lasagna-mulch is meant to *prevent* weeds from growing up through the mulch as well as prevent the sprouting of all those millions of weedseeds in and on the soil! Lasagna is more work to start with, but once it's down you are done -- which allows time to do all the other gardening stuff which is much more fun.


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