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How to Start a Garden From Scratch

Tips for Starting a New Garden Bed

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To start a garden from scratch, you first need to clear away unwanted vegetation. Then you must take stock of what you have to work with. That means determining what the soil is like in the area where you'll be opening up this new bed, as well as how much sun the space receives. Once you know what you have to work with, you can begin improving the soil, choosing plants, planting them, and taking steps to promote their well-being.

I supply all the information you need to know on how to start a new garden bed in the resources below:

1. Start a Garden by Killing Your Grass

Perhaps you've seen the bumper stickers that read, "Kill Your TV." Well, the battle cry we'll use to start a new garden bed from scratch is, "Kill Your Grass."

Why "Kill Your Grass"? Because most people, to start a new garden, will have to sacrifice part of the lawn. That means removing a lot of grass -- and all the roots that go with it. So the question then becomes: What is the most efficient and effective way to get rid of sod? The article linked to above discusses a method (sometimes called "layering") used by many to start a garden.

2. Start a Garden in a Challenging Area

I wrote above that "most" people will start a garden from scratch by converting lawn areas. In some ways, they're the lucky ones. Some of you will have more challenging conditions to deal with when opening up land.

If you're reclaiming land from the woods, you'll have to resort to more drastic measures than those detailed in the entry above. One approach goes by the aptly serious-sounding moniker of "soil solarization"....

3. Know Thine Enemy: Dirty Little Secrets About Weeds

Above, I mentioned soil solarization as a method for clearing land of weeds to start a garden. But before you battle weeds, arm yourself with some facts about them.

Weeds are tenacious foes, reminding us of the truth of the maxim "Know thine enemy." There's a storehouse of information out there on battling weeds. To access that information, you first have to know what weeds you're dealing with. If you don't know their names, then you're fighting in ignorance, depriving yourself of all kinds of useful information. That's where weed identification comes in to play.

This knowledge will continue to come in handy long after you start a garden. Weeds will rear their ugly heads again and again, in spite of your best efforts to prevent them.

4. Bone Up on Soil Information

When you start a garden, you have to realize that soil is its foundation. When plants aren't growing properly after you've supplied them with the correct amount of sunlight and water, and when you've ruled out pest incursions, then the problem usually lies underground. Soil problems include:

  • Nutritional problems (have a soil test taken)
  • A soil pH that is too low or too high
  • A soil type with too much clay, impeding drainage

Sound complex? It is. But consult the article linked to below for a quick introduction that will help you understand your soil better.

5. How to Make Compost

No matter how good your soil is, you can't go wrong adding compost to it when you first start a garden. Work the compost into the soil with a rototiller. Then rake the ground level with a steel rake, to prepare it for planting.

You don't need fancy compost bins or "Master Composter Certification" (there really is such a thing!) to make compost. Once you've grasped some basic concepts, it's sort of like putting a lasagna together and cooking it. The difference is, here, you don't pop your lasagna in an oven; instead, you water it and aerate it, then you let microscopic organisms take over the cooking.

6. Lay Landscape Fabric to Prevent Weeds

When you open up ground for the express purpose of planting landscape shrubs, you may wish to lay landscape fabric prior to planting. It's easy to cut holes in the landscape fabric to install the shrubs when you're ready to plant. When you're done, you have a shrub bed that should stay reasonably weed-free for years.

Cover your landscape fabric with mulch afterwards, both to protect it and to disguise it.

Click the link below to access a full set of instructions for laying landscape fabric.

7. What to Plant Where

You can exercise a significant amount of creativity when designing with plants. But your design must always be informed by a healthy respect for certain limitations. Specifically, particular plants should be matched with particular conditions. It all begins with knowing what your planting zone is and buying plants suited to that zone.

That's a good beginning, but it doesn't end there. For example, when you start a garden in a sunny spot, choose plants that will take a pounding from the sun and still thrive. Likewise, if you live in a seaside community, don't bang your head against a wall by trying to grow plants that dislike salty soil. Those are two examples; for more information, click the link below.

8. Plant Selection

My plant selection guide furnishes information on perennials, annuals, ground covers, vines, shrubs and trees commonly used in landscaping. Click through to the articles covering specific plants. Each article will supply you with facts you need to decide if the plant in question deserves a place in your landscape; for example:

  • What are the plant's outstanding features (picture provided)?
  • Is it a sun plant or a shade plant?
  • What care will you need to put into growing this plant?

9. Plan Out a Color Scheme

The ground is prepared, the plants have been selected. Now it really gets fun! Because you're at the point in this project where you can put your landscape design ideas to work.

Don't feel any pressure here to blow the world away with innovative designs. Remember, this is for you, so please yourself! The average homeowner will be most interested in injecting color into the landscape, and, to that end, I offer flower pictures organized by color. You may also get some ideas from my gallery of plant pictures.

10. Planting Beds of Flowers, Shrubs

The resource linked to here ties together many of the points mentioned above. See how I transformed a grassy area into a planting bed consisting of shrubs and perennials. Note that I removed the sod with a shovel in this case, rather than killing the grass with newspaper (I did so because I was in a hurry).

But we're not done yet! Continue on to Page 2 for more tips....

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