How do you rake a bed level?

a2zmom(6a - nj)July 27, 2014

I recently pulled out all my foundation plantings. They came with the house and were awful. Planted to close to the house and all of them were too tall - I was constantly trimming them back to keep them under the bay window.
I plan to cover the entire area with cardboard, lay organic material on top of that, then mulch and let it sit until next spring.

I wanted to level the bed first using a steel soil rake but I am finding it impossible. Does anyone have any tricks? Or are those gorgeous level beds I see on English garden shows a myth?

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babera(5a (Montana))

If there are a lot of roots it makes it harder to drag the rake. I usually fill the hole where the previous plant was removed from. Then fill the dip/hole with water to help sink/compact the soil I added, continue this until the soil in the new hole stops sinking. Then with the back of the rake drag it over the entire surface until it's level.

Hope that helps.

    Bookmark   July 27, 2014 at 9:03PM
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A small rototiller would help.You could add organic material at that time.

    Bookmark   July 27, 2014 at 9:24PM
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gyr_falcon(Sunset 23 USDA 9)

A baserake, with a wide flat edge and a serrated edge, is what I find to be best for leveling. I don't recall where my husband got ours, but we have owned it since our sod installation days--at least 35 years ago.

Here is a link that might be useful: Random Base Rake Example

This post was edited by Gyr_Falcon on Mon, Jul 28, 14 at 0:24

    Bookmark   July 28, 2014 at 12:23AM
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floral_uk z.8/9 SW UK

You can only rake a bed level if the soil is already quite friable. It is not designed to radically change the level of a bed, only to prepare the surface. Raking is the final procedure after you have thoroughly cultivated the soil with a fork and removed weeds, large stones and any roots. You need a garden rake, not a leaf rake, and you use a back and forth motion. The tines need to be at right angles to the handle and a few inches long.

But in actual fact we only really rake seed beds. A perennial bed doesn't much need it. Forking over and breaking down clods makes a good enough bed for perennials.

Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   July 28, 2014 at 3:37AM
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Campanula UK Z8

and yep, pretty much everything you see in a show is a 'myth' - same with artfully lit and framed photos in books and mags observe real gardens and don't beat yourself up for not achieving the imaginary perfection.
As for raking, Flora is entirely correct - if the soil is not friable enough, a bit more forking or one of those cultivators with 5 curved tines will help. Once you have a nice crumbly tilth, use 2 boards as levels - laid parallel, just under the width of the rake. These boards act as guides - you can simply pull and push the rake back and forth between them.....and you can stand on them in order to avoid crushing and compacting your beds. The wider the rake, the easier it is to create a level area. My landscape rakes (used for gravel) are 3feet wide while I have a couple of border rakes with tiny 8 inch heads

In general, we tend to rake an area (as Flora says) for using as a seed bed, or laying turf, but for general planting, I rely on gravity and irrigation and let the soil find its own level. In your case, you probably don't even need to break the soil up - left over winter, frost will do an excellent job of breaking great clods of earth into a fine crumb.....or, as you are putting a mulch down, just throw it on top and don't worry too much about getting everything level until a bit of time (and earthworms and micro-life) has a chance to do its thing. By Spring, you will have a really nice planting area - happy planning.

    Bookmark   July 28, 2014 at 5:06AM
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a2zmom(6a - nj)

Campanula, what you're saying makes say. I'm using a bow rake which isn't nearly as wide as your rake or Gyr_falcon's base rake.

Even if I rake it fairly smooth, the bed has a horrible slope to it. One side is much higher and I'm not sure how to fix that, even come spring when the soil is loose.

    Bookmark   July 28, 2014 at 8:34AM
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diggerdee zone 6 CT

Speaking of slopes, keep in mind that the ground around a house's foundation should slope slightly away from the house to allow for drainage. You wouldn't want to make this foundation bed completely perpendicular to the foundation.


    Bookmark   July 28, 2014 at 9:10AM
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gyr_falcon(Sunset 23 USDA 9)

--One side is much higher and I'm not sure how to fix that, even come spring when the soil is loose.--

How much is "much higher"? If it is greater than about 6", unless the soil is sandy or otherwise very easy to spread, use a shovel to move around the bulk of the soil. The flat edge of a base rake can also be used for moving soil around to produce the desired level or sloped bed, as well as putting on the smooth finish; serrated edge helps to break up lumps and spread soil evenly. The 3' head speeds up the task considerably, allows for greater flexibility for adjusting the slope and requires considerably less effort over a 18" steel rake and a leveling boards. I get the feeling I am talking into the wind though... lol

    Bookmark   July 28, 2014 at 4:04PM
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floral_uk z.8/9 SW UK

Raking is for smoothing the SURFACE, it is not for changing the slope of a bed. For that, if the slope is great enough, you might even be needing to terrace or put in an edging. Just levelling it will cause soil to wash off the bed on the side where you've got a greater depth.

    Bookmark   July 29, 2014 at 2:10PM
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How large is the bed? Please post a picture.

I believe for every inch of mulch you intend to have the bed should be that many inches below grade to keep the mulch where you put it. Unless you like the look of that rounded edging that so many people use to keep their mulch from travelling.
I do not know if professional do it that way, just something I do. I hate the look of what I call a tiny fence all around the mulch.

    Bookmark   July 29, 2014 at 4:24PM
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gyr_falcon(Sunset 23 USDA 9)

a2zmom OP states this is a foundation bed. It seems unlikely that the existing slope is very steep in such a location. Base rakes aka landscape rakes aka grading rakes are used for changing the slope of beds.

Here is a link that might be useful: Landscape Rake Uses Scroll to Grading

    Bookmark   July 29, 2014 at 7:59PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

if you wanted to level it.. you should have added fresh soil to the shallow end .. and raked that ...

but i want to suggest.. you go a bit more zen on your contemplation ...

i have visited... a lot of gardens ... and the ones that are UNIQUE... are the ones that are different ... and i like to see how the gardener dealt with whatever ... you are really limiting yourself in garden contemplation.. if all you look at is the plants ...

your premise seems to be.. I WANT TO BE LIKE EVERYONE ELSE ... i say pshaw on that ...

there is no standard ... it is what it is ... and work with it.. to make it your own ...

when i moved from flat graded to suburbia... my 5 acres ... i got has hills [maybe undulations int eh meadow is a better term ] ... it was a challenge to incorporate the 6 foot hills ... but it never came to my mind.. to bulldoze them all flat... to be like everyone else ...

soooo ... just think along the lines.. of how to use your change of grade.. to your best advantage ... why not ...

one easy way ... if you insist on a flat look ... would be to plant taller stuff in the lower ground.. and make it APPEAR ... that the result is even.. to the eye ... and then as the garden tour is winding up.. ask your guest.. did you notice how i did that ...

you are in a box of wanting flat earth ... that went out in the 1600's or so ...

i say you have an opportunity to show off ... go for it ...


    Bookmark   July 30, 2014 at 7:34AM
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mnwsgal 4 MN(4)

Keep in mind that you want a slight slope so that rain water runs away from the foundation.

    Bookmark   July 30, 2014 at 5:53PM
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