a New Garden Plot
and getting the soil ready for your flowers and vegetables are important first
steps in growing a successful garden. Time spent in preparation reduces the time
you'll have to spend maintaining and weeding your garden over the course of the
Tools and Materials
•String and wooden stakes
•Glyphosate herbicide (optional)
•Hoe or mattock
•Steel garden rake
•Soil testing sample kit
•Soil amendments, as required
•Garden fork or rototiller
Choose the Spot
Vegetable gardens and most flowerbeds require at least 6 hours of full sun each
day. Choose a level spot -- either natural or terraced -- that has well-drained
soil, if possible (see Testing Soil Drainage). Thick grass or vigorous weed
growth usually indicate soil drainage and nutrient levels that will support
healthy garden plants.
Mark the Boundaries
Outline the new garden plot with string and stakes, a hose, or a line of
Eliminate the Competition
Remove existing lawn by slicing under the sod with a spade and cutting it into
manageable pieces. Add the pieces to your compost or use it to patch bare spots
elsewhere. Kill weeds with glyphosate herbicide, pull them by hand, or chop them
with a hoe or mattock and rake them up. If time permits, you can smother grass
and weeds with old carpeting or black plastic anchored to the ground. For best
results, leave the covering in place for several weeks of hot weather.
Test the Soil
Send a sample of garden soil to a private or cooperative extension office
soil-testing lab for nutrient and pH analysis. Call the lab or a local garden
center for a collection kit and instructions on how to collect the sample. Test
results will tell you which minerals and pH amendments your soil needs to grow
healthy vegetables and flowers.
Adjust the soil pH -- its measure of acidity or alkalinity -- by adding ground
limestone or sulfur as recommended by the soil test results. Improve the soil
fertility, clay soil drainage, and sandy soil water-holding capacity by adding
organic material, such as compost, well-rotted livestock manure, or composted
fir bark. Apply a 1- to 2-inch layer of organic material over the garden.
Turn the Soil
Work the amendments into the top 6 to 12 inches of soil with a rototiller or
garden fork. Break up large clods and remove rocks and roots. Work the soil only
when it is dry enough to crumble easily after squeezing - never when it is
saturated with water.
The best time to eliminate weeds and grass is the season before you plan to
plant your garden. You can do it just prior to planting, too, but may have more
weeds pop up throughout the growing season.
Do-it-yourself soil test kits work best for detecting the soil pH, but give only
a rough idea of the nutrient levels. Professional tests provide more thorough
and accurate information and recommendations.