You need to get rid of existing grass and weeds, loosen the soil, and make sure there’s enough food for the plants you’re installing, and protect against weeds taking over before your new plants can succeed. Before you buy new plants, be patient and prepare your garden beds properly.
Compacted soil is the biggest reason plants fail to thrive. You need to make the soil you’re planting in as close as possible to the rich, well-drained container mix the plant was grown in. Plants breathe through their roots, so air is the most beneficial ingredient in good garden soil. There’s nothing you can add afterward that will help plants breathe.
Another enemy is weeds, particularly established perennial weeds. Stripping the sod off the top just removes the best topsoil you have and leaves deep-rooted weeds like thistle. Tilling in live weeds just makes more, healthier weeds. Instead, kill them completely with Remuda or Roundup. Wait until they’re dead straw; now their foliage will actually improve your soil when you till them in.
Your soil is probably lacking in trace minerals, beneficial microbes and nutrients. Building them in from the beginning works much better than adding them later. We use old-fashioned meal-based fertilizers like Plant Tone, which have slow-release plant food so they won’t burn tender new roots.
Peat moss adds organic matter to the soil to keep it from sticking together. It also mixes in lots of air, which is beneficial to plants. Tilling with peat moss is like making a soufflé or whipping up whipped cream; by adding air you increase the volume. We call this “making fluffy dirt.” It helps plants build healthy root systems quickly. It’s magic. Here are the seven steps:
1. Outline your new bed and dig a three-inch deep trench around it, one shovel wide.
2. Kill the existing weeds and grasses. Spray them with Remuda or Roundup and wait a week or two until they’re completely brown. You may need a specialized weed killer for nutgrass, ground ivy, clover, wild violets or other, tougher weeds. If your first spray doesn’t kill everything, spray again and wait.
3. Scatter “Plant Tone” fertilizer on the ground, four pounds per 100 square feet.
4. Spread three inches of peat moss and then deep-till the whole area until you have fluffy topsoil six to eight inches deep.
5.Rake the soil away from the edges, making a “gutter” along the edges so your mulch can be evenly thick, and mounding up where the largest plants will go.
6. Do all your planting while the soil is nice and dry and fluffy, trying not to pack it down.
7. Mulch right away so weed seeds don’t get the sunlight they need to germinate. Do your cleanup before you mulch, so soil and mulch don’t get mixed.
Following this step-by-step process will save you time, effort and money in the long run, and eliminate the frustration you feel when your new landscape projects don’t thrive. If you’re realistic about the time it will take, and do it right the first time, your landscaping will look better and take less time to maintain.
Steve Boehme is the owner of GoodSeed Nursery & Landscape, located on Old State Route 32 three miles west of Peebles. More information is available online at www.goodseedfarm.com or call (937) 587-7021.