How to Prepare a Garden Bed
A BEGINNER'S GUIDE ON HOW TO PREPARE A GARDEN BED
a location: observe sun/shade patterns for a few days. (It will vary depending
upon the season and if the trees are leafed out or are bare). Is it sunny in
the morning or afternoon? Afternoon sun tends to be more intense than morning
sun and may be too hot for some plants. Sunny =
6+ hrs. of sun/day.
your soil tested at the Cornell Cooperative Extension office. Call for details
a diagram with measurements. Start small as you can always expand later.
the area: use white spray paint or hose. Keep changing the borders until you feel it is just right.
- Choose your plants: talk to nursery staff, visit public and private gardens and parks, talk to gardeners and look at garden magazines and websites.
Things to consider:
colors do you like? Stick with 2-4 colors for a cohesive-looking garden.
if you want seeds, bare roots, established plants or a mixture of some or all
a mix of perennials (live 2+ years) and annuals (one season plants) works best.
what plants are native to your area as they will do best with minimal need for
fertilizers, excess watering or pesticides. See native plant lists here.
plant labels and seed packet instructions and match the plants’ requirements to
your chosen location. Group plants with similar light and water requirements together.
Learn the full height/ width of the plants at maturity as well as the spacing
to avoid over-crowding.
on a budget and where you plan to get the plants: nurseries, big box stores, the Public Market
or other local farm markets, from friends or other gardeners.
realistically how much time you have to devote to your garden.
a round garden, the tallest plants are usually located in the middle and the
plants generally decrease in height as you get closer to the outside edges of
a square garden or one that is located against a fence or other structure, the
tallest plants are located in the back and then graduate down in size as you
approach the front of the bed.
rid of sod- choose which method works best for you:
method: pile newspapers 4-5 thick over the area where you want to kill the
grass. Cover the newspapers with compost or black plastic. This method is best done in the fall so that
the grass will be dead and the area will be ready to plant after the threat of
frost has passed.
method: Use a spade to dig up the sod.
till or scratch the soil and add 2-3” of well-rotted manure or compost (store-bought,
from your local town hall or from your own compost pile). This adds
nutrition and improves soil structure.
plants or sow seeds and then water. You
will need to deep water the plants (about 1” per week - dependent upon how much
rain you receive) until the plants are well-established the first season.
mulch around the plants leaving a bare space a few inches away from the stem of
the plants. This will reduce the amount of weeds growing in your garden, retain
moisture and keep a neat appearance.
around your garden daily to observe your garden for signs of moisture needs or any
weeds by pulling them daily or at least weekly.
Last updated May 11, 2021