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Step by Step: How to prep a landscape bed

January 11, 2016 -  By

Annual color, perennials, ornamental grasses and other plant selections can make a huge impact to your clients’ landscapes. But before you start installing them, you need to prep the bed to make sure the plants will grow and thrive.

Start by mapping out where the bed will be and what shape it will have. The contour should match the style of the landscape. For example, formal or contemporary gardens have sharp angles, while traditional or rustic landscape have soft curves. You want the shape to look purposeful.

Mark the edges with an edging shovel or marking paint. Make sure you have a clearly defined edge. Dig into the ground about 6 inches deep around the border.

Cut into the ground along that edge. Angle the sides of the edges toward the bed. This step will help keep your soil, mulch or other planting material contained to the bed.

Remove the bed’s current vegetation—like existing grass or weeds—down to the root. Once you remove all the grass and plants from the designated area, grade the bed. For larger beds, you can use a string line and level to help with the grading.

Unless you have extreme drought conditions year round, grade the bed so it doesn’t hold water. Send water out of the bed and away from the adjacent lawn, patio or building foundations.

Add topsoil, compost or a blend of the two to replace the soil you removed with the vegetation. Amend the bed based on your region, soil type and plant material. In most cases, you can plant in the native soil and amend over the top with compost. Also, consider adding landscape fabric or applying preemergent herbicides before planting to prevent weed growth. After prep, you’re ready for plants.

Step 1

Illustration: David Preiss

Illustration: David Preiss

Use an edger shovel to outline and cut the edges of the bed. Dig into the ground about 6 in. all the way around.

Step 2

Illustration: David Preiss

Illustration: David Preiss

Remove existing vegetation like grass and weeds. Make sure you remove all the roots so they don’t grow back.

Step 3

Illustration: David Preiss

Illustration: David Preiss

Add soil and compost, and grade the bed so it doesn’t hold water.

Source: Ben Bowen, landscape designer, Ross NW Watergardens in Portland, Ore.

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1 Comment on "Step by Step: How to prep a landscape bed"

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  1. Great start on a good topic!
    Unfortunately, you’re missing a key step for successful plantings and their sustainability. Once sod has been removed,bed area defined, compacted soils (often with low nutrients and oxygen for microbes etc) need to be broken up to allow amendments to blend and mix with native soils. Rototill the hardpan, add amendments, rototill into the existing soil and this will provide better rooting to exceed ‘one year type plant guarantees’.
    We want our plantings to thrive, not just survive!
    I also question any usage of fabric around plantings. As it often reduces the ability of installed items to spread and it can often impede natural soil building processes.