As I get older, I become more and more grateful for those ingenious gardeners who have invented easier, faster ways to get things done.
It is no longer necessary to spend countless hours in the garden digging, raking, and hoeing to achieve great results. There are easier methods. If you aren’t using these methods, save your time, your back, and your health, and start doing things the smart way.
Starting a new bed? Don’t dig it up — build it up instead. Lay out the shape and size of the new bed right on top of the lawn or other area. You can outline the area with a garden hose or spray paint.
You will find a spray paint or chalk formulation that is meant to be used for this purpose in your hardware store. Next, (and this is the only digging) make a small trench around the outline.
This is to get out all the weeds or grass that is growing there now. If there are no weeds or grass, skip this step.
Next, you can add a border to define the space. I often use monkey grass to outline my flower or vegetable beds. Another possibility would be a border made of rocks, cement stepping stones or even a flexible metal border.
If you use bricks, put them at a 45-degree angle to the bed so that their width is wider. This will give you more room between your bed and possible weed encroachment. This border can be as attractive or utilitarian as you want. You will find many materials to accomplish this at your hardware or landscape store.
Now it is time to prevent weeds from growing and to kill any grass or weeds present within the interior of the bed. There are several things you can use to do this. Layers of newspapers, cardboard boxes or even old junk mail can be used.
It can be difficult to find anyone who agrees as to the safety of colored ink used in such items as newspaper ads or magazine pages, so I use these only sparingly and stick with black and white pages, especially for a vegetable garden.
Cardboard is thick, can be cut to shape, and covers a large area at a time. I use this whenever I can obtain it. Wet the material you have chosen. Lay it down thickly so that there are no gaps where air and sunshine can reach the plants underneath.
Next, cover this with a medium in which your plants can grow. I use a variety, which helps prevent like materials from clumping together and compacting. Here are some good materials to use to build your bed soil: shredded leaves, compost, coffee grounds, potting soil and dead plants that are not diseased.
If you use weeds in the mix, don’t use any that carry insects or that have flowers that have gone to seed. Build up all these materials so that you have a thick layer. If your bed is to be used right away, use finished compost and leaves that have broken down into small pieces.
Every year when the oak leaves fall, I pile up the leaves and let them rot for a year or two. This creates a wonderful compost to add to beds such as these or to augment existing beds that need a nutritional boost. If you see a white material within the pile of composting leaves, that means it is especially good for your garden.
If you have the money, time and energy, add a final 3 inches or so of good garden soil mix or potting soil to the very top of your bed. After you plant your seeds in the bed and they have grown several inches tall, add a final layer of mulch on the top to keep weeds from growing.
A bed such as this can be created in one afternoon. It may take a little while for everything to break down and provide a great growing medium for your plants, so here is a way to cheat and have it all the first year.
Wherever you want to place a larger-sized plant, just dig down to the depth of the pot in which the plant was growing. Remove any weeds or grass just from that spot. Plant your new landscape plant and tuck the newspaper and other materials close around the stem, but not touching it.
With any luck, the plant will never know it was grown in this “cheater method.” Another way to cheat is to start with seeds instead of seedlings, which seem to have little problem growing in these beds.
You can also choose to grow succulents the first year if you were a little short on potting soil for the mix. They do not need large root systems and can handle shallow soil easier.
Layer of Mulch
Be sure that for these kinds of beds and, as a matter of fact, all your beds are covered with a layer of mulch to keep weeds from growing. This will save you from hours of weeding and cut down on the amount of watering that will be necessary during the hot summer. Never leave bare soil! It is not healthy and causes extra work.
If you don’t like to rake, buy a mulching mower or tell your lawn guy to use one when the oak leaves fall. My yard man knows to do this. After mowing the leaves with the mulching mower, he piles them up for me so they will break down into wonderful compost later that year. I also use these leaves as mulch in my flower and vegetable gardens.
One way to compost without trouble is sheet composting. Just lay down a thick layer of compostable materials between rows of vegetables. You can walk over the top of these. Pull them over into the rows whenever you change out one crop or at harvest time.
All these methods will make life easier and better for you in the garden. Try them this year and see.