Preparing for a shrub/flower bed

kcas72May 13, 2008

Hi all. I'm new to this forum and I have a question. I have an area right in front of my house that I want to prepare to plant some shrubs and flowers. The size of the bed is about 10 feet deep and 10-12 feet wide. It use to be a row of 4 shrubs right in front of my house, and then a strip of grass in front of that. 3 years ago, I had major renovations done on my house, so the grass got destroyed, alot of dirt from installing a new walkway/driveway also got tossed in there as well. Now, there are of course alot of weeds that grew. Because the amount of dirt is too high (right up against the walkway/driveway) and it is a fortune to get rid of dirt, I plan on building it up a bit more and installing brick edging. My question's are as follows:

1)Do I have to add anything to the soil?

2)Can I just add about 2 inches of new topsoil to what is already there and till it in? (I plan on adding 3 inches of mulch as well)

3)Because it's such an eye sore, I plan on preparing it now, but not planting until next spring. Does this change anything?

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leslies(z7 No VA)

If it were my planting area, I'd till it, put the brick edging in, pull the weeds that come up from tilling and then dig in horse manure or compost. Weed again. Plant in autumn and spring, depending on what you're planting. Mulch when the plants are in.

As for whether to add topsoil I think I would nto do that - for two reasons: one is that if the shrubs were reasonably mature, they may have depleted the soil of nutrients. You get more soil-improvement bang for the volume added from pure organic matter. You could buy compost or maybe some farm/stable not too far away would share horse or cow manure. The other reason I'd probably avoid topsoil is just that I've had some bad experiences with poor quality soil.

Your member page doesn't say where you are located. If you're within delivery range of something called "Sweet Peet," it's a good soil amendment, especially if you have the option of letting it sit for a season before planting. I moved out of the area where they make it so I can't get it anymore, but I liked it both as a mulch and as something to mix into the soil.

    Bookmark   May 13, 2008 at 1:16PM
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kristinemomof3(Z5 IN)

I would say that if you don't want to till and want to do some type of weed barrier, I would use the lasagna type method and lay down wet newspapers and top it off with compost/soil or something.


    Bookmark   May 13, 2008 at 1:30PM
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Thanks for the responses. I have a few other questions. Sorry if these will seem somewhat dumb, but I really don't know the answers. One thing I always wondered, is does compost eventually disinegrate? Meaning, if I add two inches of compost, and then plant, will the ground level eventually sink?

kristinemomof3, with the newspaper, how long before they decompose? Will it disappear say 6 months late if I want to plant then?

Leslies, I live in LI, NY. I will do a search for the Sweet Peet to see if it's available to me. Thanks,

    Bookmark   May 13, 2008 at 1:37PM
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leslies(z7 No VA)

Yes, the soil level will sink some. It will do that anyway as some of the air settles out, but the organic matter does get consumed. If you laid three inches of compost on top as a mulch layer tomorrow, by early autumn, or maybe even earlier, it would just be a thin layer of material or not even visible anymore.

Here is a link that might be useful: SP in LI

    Bookmark   May 13, 2008 at 4:13PM
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kqcrna(z6 SW Oh)

You can plant through newspaper or cardboard. Just cut an "X" through it and plant. It will eventually rot and disappear, but in the meantime it works as a good way to block those weeds from coming through into the bed. How long it takes to disappear depends on how active your soil food web is, the temperature, moisture, just like any organic matter.


    Bookmark   May 13, 2008 at 5:09PM
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madmagic(dtown Toronto)

Kcas72, Leslies (hi Leslies!) Kristine and Karen gave you great advice about your soil, and I'd like to add only one small qualification.

When I started to improve the heavy clay soil here, which had been compacted by years of heavy foot traffic, the soil at first raised up slightly with tillage and added compost, then sank back down. Layers of lasagna compost also decomposed and the soil returned to the prior level.

However, over 3-4 years of steadily adding organic materials to the soil, it has gradually and slowly increased an inch or two in height. My guess is -- and this is only a guess -- the addition of OM to the soil has very gradually increased the number and the depth of air & water channels and pores through the soil.

Again, this was starting with a highly compacted clay. And I do everything I can to avoid stepping on the soil surface, at any time of year, but most especially when it's wet. YMMV. :)

All the best,

    Bookmark   May 13, 2008 at 5:33PM
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joepyeweed(5b IL)

I think that is a good guess Patrick. The organic matter probably has de-compacted your soil.

    Bookmark   May 13, 2008 at 5:49PM
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kcas - you mentioned planting next spring - but, you may find that the perennials and/or bushes that you want to plant do better being planted in the Fall - that's what I learned last year here in NW NJ. Fortunately, someone pointed it out to me in August, so I had some time to make some selections & get things planted before winter - just a suggestion (for after your soil amendments are in place & in progress) to start considering NOW what you'd like there & learn about them NOW so that you can plant them in the fall, if that's what's appropriate for them.

All the Best, Tree

    Bookmark   May 13, 2008 at 6:05PM
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Well, its been awhile but I finally got around to working on the area where this new bed will be going. One thing I've noticed now that I've been digging up alot of soil(laying the brick retaining wall) is that there are ALOT of rocks in this area. I guess from redoing the driveway and mixing cemement for porch posts that are right next to the bed. Can I leave this in there and just move whatever is in my way when I'm planting?

    Bookmark   July 1, 2008 at 12:49PM
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    Bookmark   July 2, 2008 at 9:56AM
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I would remove as much of the rock and cement as you can to make the soil more workable, and to give more space to your roots. I have found a lot of rocks and gravel around the foundation of my house, which is where I put in a new flower bed. I worked out as much of the rocks and clay lumps as I could, added compost as deep as I could, and also mixed in some rich, black soil. Our soil is hard, compacted clay here, and it is not good for establishing baby plants!

In just a few months, my baby plants are already half the size of adult plants. They look healthy, and they are growing very well. I think that getting the soil as close to humus as you can works, and removing any obstacles to the growing roots helps too.

In addition, as your soil and compost settle over the years, you can always work in more compost to feed your plants, and to keep the soil level.

    Bookmark   July 2, 2008 at 11:38AM
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I should probably ask. I say that I have alot of cement mixed in to my soil, but I'm not 100% sure it is that. Could it actually be clay soil? I'm not sure what clay soil looks like. The stuff I have is a greyish color, so I'm assuming it's cement. However, it only takes a good chop with the shovel to break it up. Could this be clay?

    Bookmark   July 2, 2008 at 11:54AM
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If a chop with the shovel breaks it up, it's not likely to be cement or concrete. There are many kinds of clay and I suppose some clay could somewhat resemble cement.

    Bookmark   July 2, 2008 at 12:05PM
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