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soil for garden bed

Posted by nikki717 7 (My Page) on
Sun, May 4, 14 at 22:43

This is my second post looking for help on our soil. The first post was for our grass and this one is for the front yard garden bed, which is a pitiful mess that nearly brought me to tears today bc I don't even know the right place to start! And it's going to take a lot to even get it ready for any kind of planting so I don't want to waste any time!

We've had the house for a year now. When we bought it, it had a row of very mature yews all along the front of it, that were trimmed into perfect rectangles. I hated them. No big deal, I thought. We'll rip em out and plant some things I like. Well, I did not realize that ripping out 40+ year old yews isn't easy work, ha. Husband is a pretty strong guy and it took forever. BUT they are out now and I am super excited to have a clean canvas to start what I hope will be a beautiful fall garden someday, with some Japanese Maples and dwarf conifers and a few other interesting fall color shrubs and plants.

Today though, I just want some decent dirt. What I seem to have is a good amount of clay (although maybe not as much as I think bc there are no standing puddles after the crazy flooding 2-day storm we just had), that is chock FULL of roots, sticks, rocks and weeds. A variety of little weeds as well as these strange parsnip-looking things.

My plan was to go out there today and fill in the holes where the yews were with the dirt that's surrounding the holes, then get as many weeds out as I could, and then level it all off somewhat (leaving a slope away from the house so we don't get water in the basement, again). I'm waiting on a garden edger to arrive so that I can extend the bed quite a bit and make it have a pretty curve to it, so when the edger gets here I can make my new edge and pull up the grass between it and the existing bed, if you could call it an existing bed. It's very sad out there right now.

*Then* I wonder if I should add some topsoil and maybe some peat moss or gypsum (I've read it's good to help break up clay?) and turn it all over. THEN maybe plant a few of the things I wanted to plant, and put down a layer of newspaper or cardboard to keep the weeds out before laying some pine bark mulch over all of it. This was my loose plan of sorts anyway.

But when I got out there to see what I was working with after hubby got the yews out, I got a little overwhelmed by the mess. It's almost as much roots and sticks out there as it is soil, and a lot of rocks too, big ones. And the weeds are covering much of it, almost like grass. So I am really hoping that someone on here could guide me through the most time-effective way to tackle this.

Should I use a big shovel and just take off the top inch or so of soil everywhere? Then the weeds will just get thrown out with that inch of soil?
Or should I just ignore them bc the newspaper will kill them?
And how much of the sticks and roots should I try to remove?
And finally, is there anything specific for small trees and shrubs and evergreens that I should add to the soil since I know that's what I want to plant already?

Boy oh boy, I am finding that the prep work for just about anything SUCKS. I love planting pretty things, painting the walls, hanging up pictures. The prep for any of it though, makes me want to weep.


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: soil for garden bed

front of house before we removed the yews


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other (usually sunnier) side


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ew and I forgot to mention all the plastic under everything. I hate that stuff.


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  • Posted by bboy USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA (My Page) on
    Sun, May 4, 14 at 22:51

Dig out the weeds, plant among the roots, where possible. Mulch immediately after planting, keep watered and weeded - with an effective mulching weeds will just be small ones here and there, unless you left behind a bunch of fragments of grass rootstocks and that kind of thing.


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last one, close-up of some of the sticks and roots and weeds : (


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Forget "topsoil" which is 92 to 95 percent mineral and 5 to 8 percent organic matter if you are lucky because what the soil you have, clay, needs is organic matter, not more of the mineral component.
If you live in an area of the United States that is arid and have a sodic soil, a buildup of salts because the lack of rainfall does not wash them out, then gypsum could probably help some. However, if you live where rainfall is adequate gypsum will not be of much use.
Those "weeds" removed nutrients from the soil so digging them out and throwing them away is one way of throwing out nutrients that could be used. Covering them will add needed organic matter as well as nutrients to the soil and help feed the Soil Food Web that will feed the plants you put in there. The roots that are there will, eventually, be digested but that may not happen as fast as you wish, but digging them out can be a lot of hard work.

I would just work at adding adequate amounts of organic matter to that soil and not concern myself about the roots and "weeds" that are there now.


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Rake up most of the sticks, roots, and weeds, then turn over the soil, removing plastic and leveling as you go. Once it is level plant, fertilize with alfalfa pellets, water well, and mulch. Those yews will have depleted the soil of nutrients but alfalfa pellets will help greatly.

Doesn't look to me as if you need more soil but you'll be able to assess that once it's level. Buy a few bags of compost or steer manure if you need more but an organic mulch will help with volume. Put down the compost or steer manure before planting and mix in the planting holes.

That is not a very large bed. Altho it may seem daunting at first to a new gardener it really will go fast.

Never throw weeds away but compost them. If they have gone to seed I put them in a dark plastic bag, water, seal, and let them cook in the sun for a week or more, then add to the compost. They are then a stinky slimy mess and will never sprout but do add nutrients to the compost.


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Very good advice already posted. I just wanted to add that if the soil is too hard and dry to dig easily, you might water it (MODERATELY!) and let sit for a day or two for the moisture to distribute evenly, then try again.

If this will be a perennial bed, you can of course continually feed the soil with mulches, but it's good to dig/till in compost at the outset.


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Oh. My. Goodness.
For some reason I never got notified that my 2 soil questions had been answered... my questions on a couple other forums here gave me email notifications so I never thought to come and check back. And so being the complete and utter @@shole that I apparently am, I decided to try spraying my weeds with vinegar. I have already spoken to another gaenweb member from one of my other questions so I know that I made a HUGE and stupid mistake, but there's clearly nothing I can do about it now. MAN I feel so so dumb. And sad.

Any suggestions for something I can do now to make my issue less bad? I know I can't make it better, but maybe to keep it from getting worse? I was thinking about having the garden bed soil tested and maybe adding in some lime if they recommend it? I only say this bc my grass soil that's right next to the garden bed tested low pH so I assume my garden bed might be too and I googled vinegars pH and see that is very low as well so... Yeah. I'm a jerk. A sad jerk.

And these answers would've been easy to follow too! I'm so sorry and want to say that I very much appreciate those of you who answered me. I don't know why I didn't get the email notifications on these questions when I did the others but from now on I will check the forums instead of assuming I'll be notified!!


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Boy oh boy, I am finding that the prep work for just about anything SUCKS. I love planting pretty things, painting the walls, hanging up pictures. The prep for any of it though, makes me want to weep.

Yup ... and 90% of almost any job is the prep work. If you skimp it, it bites you in the butt later. The planting, spreading paint and hanging pictures is the frosting.

Should I use a big shovel and just take off the top inch or so of soil everywhere? Then the weeds will just get thrown out with that inch of soil? No. Never throw dirt out unless someone dumped something really awful into it.

Your idea to grade it so it slants away from the house, rake it out smooth, spread with newspaper, plant and then add a layer of mulch is GREAT.

Or should I just ignore them bc the newspaper will kill them? Yes. They will die, decompose and add to the soil fertility.

And how much of the sticks and roots should I try to remove? As you are raking and levelling toss out the really big ones - if it makes raking hard, get rid of it. The rest will decompose over time.

And finally, is there anything specific for small trees and shrubs and evergreens that I should add to the soil since I know that's what I want to plant already? Probably not. Unless you have had a soil test, assume it's OK.

I doubt the yews sucked all the nutrients out of the dirt.


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"I decided to try spraying my weeds with vinegar"- uhh, Nikki, your way over-reacting. It's all good. In the other thread on this forum, for me personally, I'm just glad you didn't go buy a whole 55 gallon drum of apple cider vinegar. Vinegar as a weed killer is completely harmless, to you, your kids, your pets, and your soil. Maybe I'm missing something here. You got good advice, you have terrific soil that simply needs a little preparation. Smile. Relax. Way too hard on yourself, but the humble thing is endearing. Good day, Ma'am. M


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>> I decided to try spraying my weeds with vinegar … HUGE and stupid
>> mistake … I googled vinegar’s pH and see that it is very low as well so...

Unless you’re a dead weed, vinegar has little to no long term effects. We’re talking about gazillions of tons of dirt here and it’s hard to screw that much stuff up with a gallon of a salad dressing ingredient.

The task might seem enormous because those gazillion tons are staring you down all together and all at once. You blitzed the old neat orderly plantings and the scars are looking a lot nastier than they really should. The task is simply to do all the things you need to do in a good (but not iron bound) order and to do one thing at a time.

The above people already gave good ideas. First, clean up. Rake, pull sticks, chop roots, and toss rocks into a wheelbarrow; that sort of stuff. A hint from the home renovation industry: before you build anything at all, you do all the demolition and do all the cleanup, period. Another good rule is to start big: place trees and bushes first, minor perennials second, annuals last.

>> I just want some decent dirt.

It’s already there. It grew huge yews, I hear. Amending the soil with topsoil (whatever that may be) and peat will really do nothing for trees and is a waste of time and money. That’s totally my low-work opinion, BTW, and not based on true fact (whatever that may be).

Pine bark mulch is good for smothering. Use tons. It is a low maintenance friend.


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I love you all.

Maybe that part sounds a bit over-reactive too but I tend to do that so get used to it! I plan to spend a lot of time on these wonderful forums now that I've found them ; )

Anyway seriously-- I was so distraught earlier. First yesterday realizing the vinegar wasn't a good thing and then today seeing I'd missed the replies to my question and after having felt overwhelmed even to begin with... It was all just rough on me. I'm 37 years old but sometimes I still feel like a baby! And I can't begin to say how relieved I am now to see I haven't botched it all to unsalvagability (I'm aware that's not a word but it should be because it's perfect here!).

I only work two days a week and those days are Friday and Saturday so come Sunday, I will be turning over and leveling and newspaper and mulching!!!! Will post progress.

Thank you all so very very much, truly.


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Oh and ps. Husband bought a grass catcher off Craigslist last week and used it once. It's this big contraption that gets pulled behind the mower. Turns out he didn't like it because it's a little wider than the actual mower-- just a couple inches but enough to make handling the turns weird. So he will likely resell it on Craigslist. But in the meantime, it's been sitting in front of the garage all week, full of grass clippings and pine cones from last Sunday's mow. Should I use that? I keep reading about compost or mulch of pine needles and grass clippings and leaves but I don't know if that means fresh ones or something that has actually been composted. The compost thing is intriguing to me but seems confusing.
Oh and also if it's suggested that I do indeed use that big thing full of grass in some fashion, will it be adding MORE weeds into my garden bed since the grass he mowed was full of them?
Ok that's it for tonight. On this topic anyway ; )


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Lets correct a wrong viewpoint expressed here. Vinegar is not "completely harmless" to humans. While the vinegar sold in the grocers as salad dressing (between 3 to 5 percent Acetic Acid) may not cause burns on the skin, getting it in your eyes is not a really good thing.
The 20 percent Acetic Acid used for "weed" control can cause burns, and that is not harmless. Nothing that kills something else is ever "completely harmless" to any human.


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as a follow up , i pulled up some 25 year old yews a few years ago, had to use the F-250 and some chains to get the root balls out, ugh. never again.


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Definitely get that grass out of the grass catcher, it has already started to compost and will become a slimy stinky mess.

Yes you can use it as mulch, however I believe you've used weed killers on the lawn, so if you're going to plant in that bed, it may be safer compost to it by mixing with some browns and piling it up somewhere. This would also help kill some of the weed seeds.


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I'll consult with my doctor, Kimmie, as he said the shot of apple cider vinegar I take every morning is beneficial to my health. I immediately brush my teeth after that, and head out on my day. 20% vinegar is generally a petroleum-based product, and is certainly not "organic" in my book. But rotting apples that can't make it to market, certainly are. Man, you crack me up. I'm trying to think of another classic rock song I could send you a link to, but I'm kind of groggy right now, as I couldn't sleep well last night. M

This post was edited by Mackel-in-DFW on Fri, May 9, 14 at 12:30


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I've sent your post to some of my Progressive buddies over on facebook, as I'm sure they are going to petition the FDA now, "death through salad dressing". Nyuk nyuk nyuk. M


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>> Lets correct a wrong viewpoint expressed here. Vinegar is not "completely
>> harmless" to humans. ...getting it in your eyes is not a really good thing.

Chill, man...


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I always thought 'vinegar for weed control' was simply 5% sprayed straight on. Didn't even know there was 20%. I learn something new every day here.


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kimmsr-- I just used regular white vinegar, the kind in the gallon jugs at the grocery store.

I think the whole vinegar thing is both good and bad-- we hear all the miracle properties of organic apple cider vinegar (like the Bragg's)-- I've added it into some "get well" tea for a cold (yuk, I couldn't handle it but a friend recommended it very highly so I gave it a try), and I've heard of people taking a shot a day like Mackel does, and my husband even once burned a weird skin tag/wart thing off his nose with it by putting a tiny piece of cotton ball dipped in the stuff over the skin-thing every day for like a week or two and it went away. Completely. Crazy thing too bc it was kind big, this skin-thing... like a 1/4" in diameter and depth. He looked so cute in his recliner every night with a bandaid holding it on, dead serious.

But I also used it all last year (just the cheap gallon stuff, not the Bragg's) to kill the weeds in my pavers in the backyard and I was very happy with it for that. I've also used it to clean the floors in the kitchen and bathroom for many years, diluted w water in a spray bottle. I know some people think that's gross, not clean enough or whatever, but it's more than fine by me. I'd be scared to use the 20% stuff for anything though...

molex-- right?? He used a shovel, some sort of cheap saw thing he bought at Harbor Freight bc it was expendable and he figured he'd jack it up fast (which he did), and one of those huge pry bar things. Took him several days worth of work over a few weeks at several hours apiece and he's really a big guy, strong-wise. We were nervous to do the truck thing bc this house has septic and we aren't 100% sure where the drain field is so didn't want to chance riding something so big and heavy over them.

toxcrusadr-- thanks, hubbie got the grass out today. I don't compost yet but plan to look more into that when I have some extra time. I'm interested in those worm bins, sounds fun. But today I'm not even sure what "browns" are. The couple hours I have been on here almost daily are already keeping me up way late so I haven't had a chance to get into the composting forums just yet. In due time though : )

Tomorrow's my big day, hopefully between 3 Mother's Day visits I will have time to get crackin'.


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Ok, it's been a while... anyone still here?

I finally got my soil sample results back for the garden bed. Since I last posted, I still don't have nearly what I thought I'd have done on the area in question. We got the major roots out and hubbie has turned over the soil in rows so as to hopefully not miss anything major, about 1'-2' down. I've gone behind him and gotten out the rocks and other big roots that he left behind. Only halfway through though.

Based on this soil sample, what should I mix in before planting and mulching... a few bags of compost? Any specific recommendations (brand/place to purchase/etc)? Also I'm thinking at this point I probably should wait til fall for any planting, since a majority of what I want will be small trees anyway. With the cost, I'll only be planting a few things per year regardless so as it stands I have a lot of patience to strive for.

New weeds keep sprouting up but other than the parsnip things which I now know to be taproot, I leave em in there : )

They are getting turned over some and once my newspaper finally goes down, I'll be thanking them (and you all) for their nutrients!

Oh and ps. In case it's hard to see, my pH here is 5.4. Better than in my lawn at least! I still have some lime leftover from the lawn- should I use it?


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do you have a local extension service that might give you some direction on the soils?


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Hi Bragu,
The employee who gave me the soil sample results just said to add some lime but she didn't seem as sure or as knowledgeable as the other employees that have helped me there and I didnt want to ask for someone else. Pitiful codependent in me!


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That report has the recommended amount of lime to add to bring the soil pH up to 6.2, although I cannot read it. The major nutrient numbers are in the optimal range but the amount of organic matter appears to be quite low at around 1 percent.


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Hi all,
Sorry I've been MIA after posting, weekends are difficult for me to get on the computer since I only work fridays and saturdays and once off, the kids are young (and very time-consuming!), plus our computer has been locking up lately for some reason. I appreciate everyone's help though, very much.

If I'm reading it correctly, it says to add 70lbs/1000sq.ft.
Under that it says to only add 50lbs/1000sq.ft. at a time, waiting 6 months between *if I have plants. Since I do not yet, but plan to before 6 months, perhaps I should stick with the 50 lbs at a time method.

I'd like to add some compost as well but don't make my own yet. Anyone have any recommendations for bagged compost? I can add in some of our grass clippings but we applied a pre-emergent in spring so maybe that's not a great idea...


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