garden prep: how to make a bed, with cardboard

THERE ARE VARIOUS more backbreaking ways to make a new garden bed, but in recent years I’ve often relied upon the magic of recyclables: newspaper.. Read More


Turn the Soil  

If the soil in the flower beds is compacted and heavy, it’s advisable to turn the soil with a shovel to loosen it. Make sure to mix in the compost when turning the soil. This will improve the soil profile and help new plants grow better. You don’t need to dig a foot deep; 2-4” is usually just fine. After this step, it should be a little easier to plant your new flowers in the loosened soil. They’ll also do better throughout the growing season because the roots can spread out more easily through the loosened soil. 

Redesign Your Flower Bed

If you’re putting in the work to completely redo your flower bed, it makes sense to reconfigure and perfect the layout. For maximum visual appeal, your flower bed should be at least 6 feet wide.

You may consider turning straight edges into more appealing curved edges during your redesign. Adding curves and rounded corners can make your flower beds appear larger than straight, sharp-cornered ones, and they blend in more smoothly with the rest of your landscaping. Plus, curved beds are easier to mow around.

You also need to decide where you’ll be placing your plants ahead of time. Sketch out a drawing of your new DIY flower bed before making any changes so you can keep your edges crisp and clean.

Garden Design Tips

  • When building a flower bed, plan for your garden’s focal points first, which would be larger plants and trees. Then, make room for your hedges. Decorative shrubs and flowers should be worked into the design last.
  • Take note of how many hours of direct sunlight your flower bed receives each day, and take this into consideration when choosing plants. Learn more about sunlight tracking in gardens here.
  • If you’re redoing a flower bed for summertime, aim for flowers that are in the yellow, red and orange color families so they stand out in the sunniest months.
  • Plant flowers in odd-numbered groups of three or more for a fuller, more cohesive design.
  • Be conscious of any seasonal allergies you or your family members have, and either avoid pollen-producing plants or place them away from any windows.

“When planning a new flower bed in an existing bed, the first thing you’ll want to do is identify the plants that are there, do research on them and decide if you want to keep them or not. Pull out the plants you don’t want so you can see the space you have left – that will guide you on plant placement of your new flowers and shrubs.”

Jami Boys | An Oregon Cottage

Divide perennials. Clear and mulch perennial beds

Existing perennial beds can be cleared of old plant debris and mulched to prevent weed growth. Perennials are easiest to divide when emerging shoots are only 2 to 4 inches tall. Early perennials like asparagus should have last years’ stalks cut at ground level and put in the compost. Prepare new beds for perennial flowers by spreading a 6-inch deep layer of organic matter (i.e. peat moss, compost, rotted manure) and work in deeply. Plants growing in deep, rich soil are less likely to suffer from summer drought. Mulch should be applied around, but not over the sprouting root mass of each plant.

Last years’ stalks are cut down in perennial

Last years’ stalks are cut down in perennial asparagus beds, and mulch is kept low to enable new shoots to emerge without obstructions.

Step 5: Planting

Holes are dug & the planting begins. I believe in enriching the soil with composts only but when it comes to annuals, I use fertilizer too. The blend we use is 2 parts rose & flower food, 1 part alfalfa meal & 1 part composted chicken manure – all organic of course. We use a tablespoon or 2 per plant depending on the root size.

How To Prepare Soil For Planting Vegetables

When you have an existing garden plot, preparing a garden bed for planting vegetables is pretty easy.

One of the community garden plots we rented last year was used before, but it was neglected until we adopted it.

The plot was pretty clean but was partially covered by a thin layer of weed seedlings, and the grass was creeping in all around the edges. Below are the steps I took to get this neglected garden plot ready for planting.

Related Post: How To Make A Raised Garden Bed Using Concrete Blocks

Before preparing soil for vegetable garden

Before preparing soil for vegetable garden

More Posts About Growing Vegetables

Share your tips for how to prepare soil for planting vegetables in the comments below.

Step 3: Soil Prep

The soil gets turned over & then smoothed out to fill in the spaces were plants have been dug out. When planting annuals, I don’t get too crazy with the digging because they don’t root too deep.


The second type of bed is an existing bed that has

The second type of bed is an existing bed that has nothing in it. In other words, you are replanting the same area you used last year. With this type of bed, you can treat it similarly to the brand new bed, but it shouldn’t be necessary to layer the newspapers to kill existing vegetation.

Add compost to the bed

In either fall or spring or in both seasons, put a 2 to 3 inch layer of compost on the bed and then turn the compost into the soil. The single best thing you can do for your soil is to consistently add organic material. This will enrich the soil and help you grow better plants.

Once again, you only want to work the soil when it is moist, not wet or dry. To check your soil moisture content pick up a handful of soil and squeeze it.

  • If you squeeze out water the soil is too wet to work.
  • If the soil stays in a ball in your hand and then breaks apart when tapped, it is perfect.
  • If the soil is too dry to form a ball, it is too dry to work.

If you work soil when it is too wet, you will cause it to clump and become compacted. If you work soil when it is too dry, you harm the soil structure. Working soil when it is moist will help maintain good air porosity and soil structure.

Double dig to 12 inches

After you add the compost layer, you will want to turn the compost into the soil. As before, you can use a tiller, shovel or garden fork to do this. I prefer to use a shovel so I can get at least 12 inches deep. Double digging will again be optimum, but any incorporation of organic matter will be beneficial.

Apply a layer of mulch to the top of the soil

After turning this compost into the soil, you may want to put another layer on top of the soil to act as mulch. If you add organic matter in the fall, it isn’t necessary to add more in the spring. However, if you have poor soil adding compost twice a year can help improve the soil much more quickly. Remember that this organic matter gets used up each year and needs to be replenished to keep plants performing their best.

Rules of Thumb for Existing Garden Beds that are Empty:

  1. Add 2-3 inches of compost and turn it into the bed.
  2. Work the soil when it is moist, but not wet.
  3. Turn the soil over to a depth of at least 12 inches.
  4. Top dress with another layer of compost to keep down weeds and preserve moisture.

mulch faqs

Q. What is the purpose of using mulch in the garden? Q. What makes good mulch? Q. What do you use for mulch in your.. Read More

How to Plant Spring Seedlings Seeds

If you have some experience gardening then you know that some vegetables are best planted as plants (or seedlings) and some grow better when they’re sown as seeds.

If you’re not sure whether you need a seed or a plant for the vegetables you’re growing, this article breaks it all down for you: How to Know When to Sow a Seed or Plant in Your Garden.

How I prep a garden bed depends on what I’m planting in it and what the weather has been in my garden. Let’s start with how to plant a seedling, otherwise known as a baby plant.

How to Plant a Seedling in Your Garden

How to Plant a Seedling in Your Garden

I have two ways for you to learn how to plant a seedling:

You can read this article which takes you through the eight steps I use for planting every time: 8 Steps to Expertly Planting a Seedling.

Or watch the accompanying video that I filmed in my garden demonstrating planting a seedling in real-time. The video talks a bit more about how I don’t dig or flip any of my soil before planting. I simply pull the mulch aside and plant. So easy!

How to Sow Seeds in Your Garden

In the article I wrote about above regarding planting seedlings, I show how I usually leave the mulch in place when I’m planting a seedling instead of taking it off the garden bed.

When you’re planting seeds you’ll want to approach it a little differently by removing the mulch that’s covering the garden bed before you get started planting.

This is a case where it’s okay to have some bare soil in your garden for a short period of time while you’re waiting for seeds to germinate.

I think the best way to learn how to plant seeds is to watch me actually do it in my garden in the accompanying video. I explain how to prep the soil, figure out the spacing, and more.

Watering Newly Planted Seeds & Plants

Watering Newly Planted Seeds & Plants

Once you have your baby plants and seeds tucked into your garden don’t ignore them! When they’re young they can be vulnerable, so you’ll want to offer them some extra loving care, especially with watering.

Newly planted seedlings don’t have an established root structure yet, so it’s going to be more difficult for them to forage for water in the garden soil.

You should be paying attention to the weather after planting seedlings. If you’re getting regular spring rains like my garden does Wisconsin, you might not have to water much.

But, if it’s unseasonably hot after you plant them, or there’s an extremely windy day, go out and give them some extra water while they’re working hard to settle into your garden.

Newly planted seeds need even more attention than

Newly planted seeds need even more attention than seedlings. In order for them to germinate, you must keep them evenly moist for anywhere between 5-21 days depending on the vegetable you planted. Some seeds germinate much more quickly than others.

I suggest watering newly planted seeds every 1-2 days depending on the weather. On a day where your garden receives rain, you won’t have to water. If it’s hot and sunny water you should water more frequently.

Because seeds are so small you only need to keep the top few inches of soil moist for them to germinate.

Once they’re established, most vegetable plants only need about 1 inch of water per week, but this definitely depends on what kind of soil you have and where you live. Read more: Secrets to Watering Your Vegetable Garden the Right Way.

When I used to have a plot in a community garden,

When I used to have a plot in a community garden, every spring I noticed my fellow gardeners spending lots of unnecessary time prepping their spring garden beds for planting.

This does not have to be your gardening reality!

If you create a garden with permanent beds and paths and keep it weeded and mulched throughout the year, you’ll be able to waltz into your garden in spring and just start planting. No hours of weeding, bed layout or soil prep needed.

Giving Your Beds an Edgy Look 

After you’ve prepped the flower beds, think about edging around the bed to frame your beautiful work. Edging is a great way to separate the flower beds from the yard and make them stand out. Some grass varieties will spread if given the chance. So edging is often more than just an esthetic detail, it can also help prevent grass from overtaking your flower beds. To learn more about proper edging techniques, read, ‘How to Edge a Flower Bed‘. Choose either a simple shallow trench that you dig between your flower bed and lawn, or bricks, plastic edging, or wood to frame the beds. Each choice has its pros and cons, offers a slightly different look, but all serve the same purpose to keep flower beds looking good. 

About the Author

Greg Seaman Originally from Long Island, NY, Greg Seaman founded Eartheasy in 2000 out of concern for the environment and a desire to help others live more sustainably. As Editor, Greg combines his upbringing in the cities of New York, Boston and San Francisco with the contrast of 31 years of living ‘off-grid’ to give us a balanced perspective on sustainable living. Greg spends his free time gardening, working on his home and building a wooden sailboat with hand tools.


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