SKILL LEVEL 2
Perhaps the hardest part of creating a new flower garden bed is getting rid of the lawn where you want the garden to be — this project offers alternatives to digging. The best part is daydreaming about color and fragrance, and then cruising garden centers for plants that wow you — don't overlook small shrubs and ornamental grasses!
2 Skill level
2 out of 5
Ideally, choose a spot for the garden bed that drains well and is away from large trees that compete for light, soil nutrients and water. Some plants tolerate more shade than others, so note how much direct sun the area receives during the day, to guide you in deciding what to plant. Consider the proximity to the house and to a source of water — the closer a plant bed is to both, the better the chances that you'll take care of it.
Use a garden hose or rope to experiment with the garden bed's shape. Curved beds are more visually interesting than rectangular ones but are harder to mow around. Island beds — those surrounded by lawn — can make mowing a pain, but help break up visually a vast expanse of lawn.
After you decide on the shape, mark the planned garden bed outline with spray paint.
Now that you know the size and shape of the garden bed, think about what you'd like to plant. Shrubs and small trees form the bones of a garden, while perennial flowers, ornamental grasses and annual flowers fill in. Choose plants adapted to the soil and amount of light.
On paper, draw the shape of the bed and note which plants go where, using circles to show how much space each will require when full grown (garden books and websites give typical widths and heights). If you haven't decided exactly what plant goes in a certain spot, just use the circle as a placeholder. You'll no doubt change the plan over time, but it helps to have a starting point.
If lawn covers the site, get rid of it completely, or you'll be pulling out grass and cursing your haste for years to come. You have several options:
Unless you've used the newspaper method to kill the grass, apply a 3- to 4-inch layer of compost or other organic matter to the soil surface and then use a spade or spading fork to mix it into the soil to a depth of about 6 inches. Use a garden rake to smooth the soil. An alternative is to leave the organic matter on the surface and let worms drag it underground.
Arrange the pots of plants on the soil surface. Once you like the arrangement, dig a hole for each plant that is about as tall as the pot the plant is in and twice as wide. Set the soil aside in a bucket or on a tarp. If you used the newspaper method to kill the grass, push aside the mulch and slice a hole in the newspaper before digging the hole.
Remove the plant from the pot. If its roots encircle the soil, loosen them with your fingers; for a larger plant with thick roots, you can use a knife to slice through the root ball from top to bottom in several places. (loosening the roots encourages them to grow out rather than in a circle).
Set the plant in the hole. If the top of the root ball is above or below the surrounding ground level, add or remove soil until the plant is even with the ground.
Fill the hole with the soil you removed. Don't add organic matter to the hole. Gently firm the soil with your foot when the hole is full; if the soil level drops, add more soil.
Soak each plant slowly with water. If the soil settles below the root ball, mound more soil around the plant. Because the young plants are widely spaced, using a hose or watering can instead of a sprinkler saves water.
Cover the garden bed with 2 to 3 inches of bark mulch, keeping it a few inches away from the base of each plant to discourage slugs and other insects from feeding on the plant. The mulch keeps soil cooler, slows down soil drying and keeps soil from splashing onto plants when it rains.
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