How to Dig a Flower Bed

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Flower beds are a good way to add color to your yard. Knowing how to dig one properly promotes healthy soil in which flowers will thrive all season long. Digging a flower bed can be back-breaking work, but the proper techniques will make removing grass and loosening the soil fairly easy. The best time to dig a new flower bed is in the fall when soil is moist but not soggy. Digging waterlogged soil compacts it and reduces its ability to drain properly.

How to Dig a Flower Bed
(Karen Amundson/Demand Media)

Begin by spraying marking paint on the grass to outline where your bed will go, or push the blade of a spade into the grass to make an outline. Marking out a flower bed before you begin to dig allows you to lay out the desired size and shape before committing to a design.

Karen Amundson/Demand Media

Before you dig a flower bed, you need to get rid of the turf. A low-labor method is to smother it. Start by scalping the lawn with a mower set at its lowest deck setting, or use a weed eater; cover the area with a layer of newspaper 10 sheets thick. Soak the newspaper with water to activate the decomposition process, and hold it in place by covering it with an 8-inch layer of compost. In about four months, microbes will have broken down the paper and compost and you can dig a new bed in the spring. If the top 2 to 3 inches of compost dries, moisten it with water.

Karen Amundson/Demand Media

To dig a flower bed and plant it within one week, you can bypass killing the grass and either till it under or remove it. Till under grass with a rototiller set to a 6-inch depth. Keep in mind, though, that some species of grass grow through rhizomes. When rhizomes are severed during tilling, each piece grows into a new grass blade and becomes a weed in your flower bed. An alternative to tilling is to cut 6 inches down through the turf with a spade, then slice under the roots, and pull out the grass. It’s labor intensive, but less likely to produce weeds.

Karen Amundson/Demand Media

Once you kill or remove the grass, how deep you dig the bed depends on what you’ll plant in it. Annuals have shallow roots and need beds that have been dug about 8 inches deep. (REF 7, Annuals Para 4) You can accomplish this through single digging. Start at one corner of the bed and dig down at last 8 inches with a spade. Lay the soil on the ground next to the trench. Step back and dig up the soil next to where you just dug. Invert your spade and empty the soil into the previous area you dug. Continue this pattern across the bed. For a superfine seedbed, run a rototiller across the finished bed. Allow the soil to rest for at least one week before planting. If you’re used the newspaper method, skip the digging directly and plant flower seedlings into the compost in the spring.

Karen Amundson/Demand Media

Perennials grow much deeper and are happier in beds 12 to 18 inches deep. (REF 7, para 3) Double-digging a bed is ideal for breaking up compacted soil and giving long roots the room they need. Start by laying a tarp next to the bed. Single-dig the bed placing the dirt on the tarp. Dig the bed a second time to a depth of 8 to 10 inches, but this time invert the spade and place the soil in the previous spot dug. After the second digging, cover the bed with a 3-inch layer of compost and work it in thoroughly with a garden rake. Finish by spading the soil on the tarp into the bed and smoothing it out to remove any clumps.

Karen Amundson/Demand Media

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