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How to prepare the bed?

Posted by SarahTX (My Page) on
Wed, May 25, 05 at 22:34

I have a very large bed I'd like to use for a cutting garden (probably 30'x15'). Right now it is FULL of weeds and overgrowth. My husband said he'd mow it down tomorrrow. I remember reading something about putting some impenetrable cover down? What is this cover (and what's a cheap version of it?) How long do I leave it? Once all the weeds are dead, then do you just dig them up?

I know how to start with a fresh bed (compost the heck out of it). But what are all the steps before that?

Follow-Up Postings:

RE: How to prepare the bed?

Here's an idea using wet newspaper (2 pop-ups, sorry):

"It your soil is in relatively good shape, it is possible to leave the grass in place and build on top of it. Place a thick layer (8-10 sheets) of newspaper over the garden bed and wet it thoroughly..."

You might also try brown paper bags.

Is this what you had in mind?



RE: How to prepare the bed?

That sounds great, but I plan to use my own soil. I don't have the money to buy 4-6" worth of soil.

If I plan to use my current soil, how would I approach it step by step? How much newspaper/black paper, how long to leave it there, then what do you do with the weeds, etc.

RE: How to prepare the bed?

Before your DH puts the mower over it - identify the perennial weeds and do whatever it takes to remove them. (Deep, painstaking digging, or chemical intervention.)

Mark out your plots and paths so you can get around your beds with minimal 'walking on'.

What you do next depends on when your first crop has to be in the ground so it produces on time.

If you cover densely with anything (plastic black or clear, cardboard, untreated sawdust, etc)it may take two to six weeks - depending on your weather - before the growth is stunted, yellowed and mushed.

If you were to have the present cover rotovated in to get the added humus, then allow around the same time for the material to break down before you start planting.

If you plan to sow directly into the ground rather than transplant, then you'll need to bring the tilth to a fine state (raking/harrowing) if your soil is suitable for this.

If you plan to fallow beds for renewing humus and vitality, and grow a 'green compost' crop over the winter (to feed a summer crop) or vice versa, then you'll have to schedule that decomposition time into your planting programme.

You could find that an organic mulch, such as straw over a side dressing of a nitrogenous fertiliser, will give better plant health, long term, than using plastic film (which can be awful to remove when it starts to degrade). To keep crops clear of mud splashes and reduce soil compaction.

RE: How to prepare the bed??

Wow - lots of helpful info!

Let me make sure I understand correctly: Pull the big, easy weeds by hand and cover the ground with sawdust so that the smaller/more abundant weeds will die. Then after 2-6 weeks I can till the soil & compost.

Is sawdust good for plants? I just bought some thyme and they came with sawdust in the bags.

As for "tilling", I plan to break up a small part with a pickaxe, add compost, and plant 2-3 plants. I will lovingly ask my husband to help till the rest. :))

Am I understanding correctly?

RE: How to prepare the bed?

What I did for my rock hard weed patch was.... the low-effort method:

Put down 3-4 layers of *cardboard*, topped it with 6-8 inches of wood shreddings (cut down a tree and had them chip and shred the leaves for us and leave it here).

Then left it alone all winter. The chippings have sunk down to about 2-3 inches now.

And the bed is wonderful and full of worms. And only a couple of grass weeds that blew in this spring. The other weeds haven't popped up a leaf yet.

RE: How to prepare the bed?

  • Posted by Lindac Iowa Z 5/4 (My Page) on
    Thu, May 26, 05 at 10:20

Put round up on all growing stuff....wait a week or longer, them mow it and turn it with a spade ( lots of work....but if you want a garden THIS year, that's the only answer) in any weed free organic matter you can....for now a couple of bags of composted manure is good....
Then plant.
The other methods will take so long that you won't be able to plant for months.
Linda C

RE: How to prepare the bed?


I am coping with a similar problem with a 30' x 35' area. I had to rototill the area multiple times last summer to kill most of the mixed grass and bindweed. I cannot plant perennials yet where bermuda grass and bindweed still persist, and it may take me several years to get rid of them. Now, every time a sprig of either comes up, I spray roundup (for bermuda) or weed-be-gone (for bindweed). Wild morning glories and some other plants are as invasive as bindweed.

You need to determine what weeds you might have that are invasive, that is, will continue to come up from roots or rhizomes. Repeatedly use an appropriate herbicide for them and try to not plant anything near them that you cant afford to lose. If you do not have any invasives, you can get rid of the overgrowth by mulch-mowing, use a spading fork or tiller to turn over the soil where you want to plant something, and plant away. If the soil is dry and has extra-large clods, you can water and respade to break the clods before you plant any seeds. Bedding potted plants is a little easier: you can dig a hole, put the plant in, add compost, make sure you cover the roots thoroughly, and water often until it can fend for itself.

There is a lot of sweaty work involved, and you won't believe how many weeds will come up. When you can afford to, add a layer of compost around your plants. Remove an inch or two of dirt before you add the compost if you need to keep the area level. The compost on top not only will feed the roots below, it will help you control the weeds. Also, if you can add the compost, you can add the paper layers below the compost to help kill weed seeds below.

Good luck,
El Grillo

RE: How to prepare the bed?

Another very new gardener here, so take this for what it is worth.

Last year I decided that I really wanted a small flower garden in my new home with new husband and, of course, I wanted it NOW. I read all of the stuff about how to properly kill weeds and decided all of that stuff was too time-consuming and I couldn't quit my job to have a flower garden.

So, I started pulling weeds (with my hands). I tried to pull the roots, too, but wasn't always successful (some were very stubborn and back-breaking, some were easy). After there were at least no more green weeds, and at least fewer roots, I had my husband "till" the soil--which meant he turned it a few times with a shovel and then a hoe. He also removed the largest roots with his hands while tilling.

For this particular flower bed, we didn't even add compost or nutrients. We just went to the store and picked out some perennial flowers. I did at least research those that are very hardy for this area (blue plumbago, yellow daisies, and vinca in hot pink). I put the tallest in the back and worked down. My husband put down plenty of mulch and I moved the mulch away from the stems of the plants. We added Osmocote.

They are growing beautifully. Ocassionally (like once a year), I have to pull up a few weeds, but they are usually small and it only takes a few minutes. The bed looks great.

Now we have done several more beds the same way. I imagine I have to weed more than other people, but it doesn't really seem to take that much time. The point of this whole long story is that there aren't as many weeds growing in the bed one year later as I feared (because I knew that I was doing it the fast/wrong way).

I need easy plants and less labor. My goal is to only plant perennials and very hardy annuals that bloom almost all year and need minimal maintenance. So maybe planting more finnicky plants would change the equation. (I have planted three finnicky plants just because I really love them, but those are the only ones that aren't doing well--all of them varieties of gardenia).

Anyway, probably more information than you wanted. Good luck with your garden!

RE: How to prepare the bed?

Sarah - unless you have excellent soil already, improving your soil is the most important thing you can do. I would plant annuals this summer (marigolds, zinnias, cosmos are easy to grow from seed) as it is already very hot for transplants. This fall, get what ever organic matter you can for free and mix it in to your soil (fallen leaves from trees from neighbors, etc.) or coffee grounds from a business and vegetable scraps from your kitchen. Your soil should be much better next spring. You want to plant perennials then when it is cooler or on the fall.

RE: How to get rid of stubborn roots

My husband has cut all the wild overgrowth to the ground that had taken over a flower bed at the end of our house. Now there are HUNDREDS of sharp pointy stems from the roots of wild honeysuckle and redbud trees, and who knows what else. How is the best way to get rid of these, not only so they do not come back next year, but for the purpose of putting down a weed preventing blanket and mulch so that it doesn't look so bad the rest of the summer. Can you rototill it or would the roots destroy the tiller? I bought a container of "root kill" but it didn't go very far and it does not actually get rid of the wood stems sticking out of the ground. If I put the layers of newspaper over all of it and piled on humus or cow manure, would roots and stems die, or just come back next year? They are very stubborn plants!
Thanks for any pointers you can give!

RE: How to prepare the bed?

This is what I have done to make my new flower bed.
I have added much peat moss and gypsum to my heavy clay soil and turned it enough times to thouroughly blend.
Now I am adding some lime to counter the acid level from the peat. also some old manure.
My question is: do I need to wait some time before I plant potted perennials? I am wondering if all the amendments will burn the roots or?

RE: How to prepare the bed?

This method requires very little labor and no chemical treatment. I don't even dig out the edge. Works wonder with my garden. Many other discussions on the Soil, Compost and Mulch forum will give you plenty of ideas for variation too.

Here is a link that might be useful: No labor intensive flower bed making

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