Making Your Bed

The traditional ways of making a garden border is to either remove all the turf in the area and add more topsoil, or to kill the grass with a broad-spectrum herbicide and then ‘double-dig’ or roto-till the dead turf into the soil. However, there is a simpler way to add or extend additional planting beds in an area of turf. Whether you are making an island bed or a border, this technique can save you time, money and energy.

The process is fairly simple:

  • Define the bed with a hose
  • Do a vertical thrust down with your garden spade to the depth of about six inches (15cm) along the whole length of the hose, then remove the hose.
  • Now stand in the bed-to-be and do an angled cut about 12″ (30cm) inside your cut line so that you are removing a wedge of turf. Cut out all of the wedges until the bed is completely defined.
  • What you have now is a bed that is surrounded by grass, and is still full of grass. Removing the turf is an option, and if you have the room to compost the turf, or if you wish to use it to build up another area with a mound, then by all means do so.
  • No energy or will to remove the turf? Never fear, we will just smother it. Cover the turf inside of the bed with  about 8-10 layers of  of newspaper. On a windy day it helps to soak the paper in water first, otherwise spread it and spray it with water from a hose so that it does not blow apart. Be sure to have good overlap, and don’t step on the paper. If your turf is infested with thistle or dandelions, cardboard might be a more resistant option than newspaper.
  • Once the paper is down and damp, cover the bed with 6 to 10 inches  (15-25cm) of a topsoil/compost blend or just mushroom compost, which is usually cheaper.
  • Plant your selected perennials, then repeat the newspaper layer, placing it around the plants, this time about 4 layers deep, which will be sufficient if your compost choice was relatively weed free.
  • Now add your mulch: a fine grade of bark chip  or wood chip is best (about 3/4 to 1″ (18-25mm) particle size) which  is spread between the plants at about 3 – 4″ ( 7.5-10 cm) depth. Keep the mulch depth around the plant stems shallow.
  • Gently water the plants.
  • Stand back and admire.
With this method you will end up with a slightly raised bed, so a minimum width of 3 ft. (1 m) is best. If  grass or weed is penetrates the paper and mulch at any point, it is best to deal with it by using a localized spray of glyphosate. New weeds that may develop on the mulch can be easily pulled out.
The benefits of this technique is that you have little turf to dispose of, and that there is no general application of herbicide (or a season-long period of solarization) to kill the lawn. The raised bed is actually quite attractive, defining the bed clearly from the surrounding lawn.
(Apologies for not providing photographs — they seem to have been lost during my last hard-drive failure.)
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4 thoughts on “Making Your Bed

  1. Interesting! I’ve never tried this and I’ve always wondered how much grass ends up growing through the mulch. Did you ever have a problem with this? Thanks!

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  2. I’ve been using very similar techniques and agree that this works really well. We’ve been laying cardboard instead of paper and it’s been over the top of heavily nettle and weed infested soil. It’s mostly worked really well for us.

    One problem I get sometimes though is weeds poking through the overlapped sections, so I always try and make these as broadly overlapped as I can and then just keep checking it and pulling those weeds out and cover the gap with more cardboard and mulch.

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