How to Start a Garden From Scratch

Tips for Starting That New Planting Bed of Your Dreams

To start a garden from scratch, you first need to clear away unwanted vegetation. Then you must take stock of what you have to work with. That means determining what the soil is like in the area where you will be opening up this new bed, as well as how much sun the space receives. Once you know what you have to work with, you can begin improving the soil, choosing plants, planting them, and taking steps to promote their well-being.

I supply all the information you need to know on how to start a ne...MOREw garden bed in the resources below:

  • 01 of 13
    Nice grass (image) is beautiful but a lot of work. The hydrangea backdrop adds to the scene.
    Would you like to grow flowers or vegetables in a space currently devoted to a lawn? Here's how to get rid of that grass. David Beaulieu

    Perhaps you have seen the bumper stickers that read, "Kill Your TV." Well, the battle cry that we will use to start a new garden bed from scratch is, "Kill Your Grass."

    Why "Kill Your Grass"? Because most people, to start a new garden, will have to sacrifice part of the lawn. That means removing a lot of grass -- and all the roots that go with it. So the question then becomes: What is the most efficient and effective way to get rid of sod? The article linked to above...MORE discusses various ways to accomplish this, including a method (sometimes called "layering") involving newspapers that is used by many when faced with the need to get rid of grass to start a garden.

  • 02 of 13
    Image of a meadow with buttercups and other wildflowers.
    Opening up a patch of land overrun with wild plants for gardening is more challenging than converting a lawn area. David Beaulieu

    I wrote above that "most" people will start a garden from scratch by converting lawn areas. In some ways, they are the lucky ones. Some of you will have more challenging conditions to deal with when opening up land.

    If you are reclaiming land from the woods, you will have to resort to more drastic measures than those detailed in the entry above. One approach goes by the aptly serious-sounding moniker of "soil solarization."

  • 03 of 13
    The dandelion bloom (image) is one of the most recognizable weed flowers. Some even like it.
    Don't fight a dandelion in the same way that you would fight an annual weed. David Beaulieu

    Above, I mentioned soil solarization as a method for clearing land of weeds to start a garden. But before you battle weeds, arm yourself with some facts about them.

    Weeds are tenacious foes, reminding us of the truth of the maxim "Know thine enemy." There is a storehouse of information out there on battling weeds. To access that information, you first have to know exactly which weeds you are dealing with. If you do not know their names, then how can you look up information about them? As...MORE a result, you will be fighting in ignorance, depriving yourself of all kinds of useful tips. That is where weed identification comes in to play.

    This knowledge will continue to come in handy long after you start a garden. Weeds will rear their ugly heads again and again, in spite of your best efforts to prevent them.

  • 04 of 13
    Image of a friable soil.
    Good soil is a Holy Grail for gardeners. David Beaulieu

    When you start a garden, you have to realize that soil is its foundation. When plants are not growing properly after you have supplied them with the correct amount of sunlight and water, and when you have ruled out pest incursions, then the problem usually lies underground. Soil problems include:

    • Nutritional problems (have a soil test taken)
    • A soil pH that is too low or too high
    • A soil type with too much clay, impeding drainage

    Sound complex? It is. But consult the article linked to here for a...MORE quick introduction that will help you understand your soil better.

    Continue to 5 of 13 below.
  • 05 of 13
    Tumbler compost bins (image) are cleaner than other types. This makes them good against rats.
    The tumbler-style compost bin is among the cleanest types. David Beaulieu

    No matter how good your soil is, you can't go wrong adding compost to it when you first start a garden. Work the compost into the soil with a rototiller. Then rake the ground level with a steel rake, to prepare it for planting.

    You do not need fancy compost bins or "Master Composter Certification" (there really is such a thing) to make compost. Once you have grasped some basic concepts, it is sort of like putting a lasagna together and cooking it. The difference is, here, you do not...MORE pop your lasagna in an oven. Instead, you water it and aerate it, then you let microscopic organisms take over the cooking.

  • 06 of 13
    Image: roll of landscape fabric, Weed-X brand.
    Landscape fabric is sold under various brand names, such as Weed-X. David Beaulieu

    When you open up ground for the express purpose of planting landscape shrubs, you may wish to lay landscape fabric prior to planting. It is easy to cut holes in the landscape fabric to install the shrubs when you are ready to plant. When you are done, you have a shrub bed that should stay reasonably weed-free for years.

    Cover your landscape fabric with mulch afterwards, both to protect it and to disguise it.

    Click the link above to access a full set of instructions for laying landscape fabric.

  • 07 of 13
    Image: Montauk daisy flower.
    Montauk daisy is a smart selection for seaside communities. David Beaulieu

    You can exercise a significant amount of creativity when designing with plants. But your design must always be informed by a healthy respect for certain limitations. Specifically, particular plants should be matched with particular conditions. It all begins with knowing what your planting zone is and buying plants suited to that zone.

    That is a good beginning, but your planning does not end there. For example, when you start a garden in a sunny spot, choose plants that will take a pounding from...MORE the sun and still thrive. Likewise, if you live in a seaside community, do not bang your head against a wall by trying to grow plants that dislike salty soil. Instead, select a plant known to tolerate salt, such as Montauk daisy. Those are two examples; for more information, click the link above.

  • 08 of 13
    Image showing how elephant ears (black) contrast in texture with cosmos.
    Grow elephant ear in partial shade. David Beaulieu

    My plant selection guide furnishes information on perennials, annuals, ground covers, vines, shrubs, and trees commonly used in landscaping. Click through to the articles covering specific plants. Each article will supply you with the facts that you need to decide if the plant in question deserves a place in your landscape; for example:

    • What are the plant's outstanding features (picture provided)?
    • Is it a sun plant (such as Montauk daisy) or a shade plant (such as elephant ear)?
    • What care will...MORE you need to put into growing this plant?
    Continue to 9 of 13 below.
  • 09 of 13
    Image of a large, colorful rock garden in Maine, USA.
    This large, colorful rock garden in Maine, USA makes quite a statement in the landscape. David Beaulieu

    The ground is prepared, the plants have been selected. Now it really gets fun! Because you're at the point in this project where you can put your landscape design ideas to work.

    Don't feel any pressure here to blow the world away with innovative designs. Remember, this is for you, so please yourself! The average homeowner will be most interested in injecting color into the landscape, and, to that end, I offer flower pictures organized by color. You may also get some ideas from my gallery...MORE of plant pictures.

  • 10 of 13
    High-quality ornament in a garden.
    This planting bed is the envy of its neighborhood. David Beaulieu

    The resource linked to here ties together many of the points mentioned above. See how I transformed a grassy area into a planting bed consisting of shrubs and perennials. Note that I removed the sod with a shovel in this case, rather than killing the grass with newspaper (I did so because I was in a hurry).

    But we are not done yet. Continue on to Page 2 for more tips....

  • 11 of 13
    Image of pink rose of Sharon flower with deep pink throat and prominent stamen.
    Learn how to transplant shrubs properly, such as this rose of Sharon. David Beaulieu

    Installing a tree or shrub in your new planting bed? Protect your investment! Learn how to transplant your tree or shrub properly. Many of the same principles apply to installing other types of plants in the ground (annuals, perennials, etc.).

  • 12 of 13

    Start a Garden That Will Be Pest-Free?

    Image showing what a mole looks like.
    Moles are common pests. Geoff du Feu/Getty Images

    Yeah, right! Unless you start a garden in a bubble, there will always be pest challenges to respond to.

    On some fronts, though, you can be proactive. For example, if you know that your region is plagued by deer pests, select deer-resistant plants. If you have seen bunnies hopping around in your yard, surround your new planting beds with rabbit-proof fences. You can also work out a companion-planting plan.

    But in many cases, you will have to make adjustments as the need arises. Prepare yourself...MORE with knowledge, so you will not be caught off-guard. To that end, use the link above to browse my resources on pest control options.

    Continue to 13 of 13 below.
  • 13 of 13
    Image: supplies needed to recycle a pot into a plant label.
    Supplies needed to recycle a pot into a plant label. David Beaulieu

    When you buy a plant and install it in your planting bed for the first time, you may be so excited about it as to think that you could not possibly ever forget its name. But if you are anything like me, 10 years down the line you may not be able to recall the specific cultivar from memory. So do yourself a favor and create a label for the plant when you install it.

    I say "create" because I do not find the labels that accompany plants home from the nursery to be adequate (they break and/or...MORE blow away too easily). I suggest you make your own plant labels. It is easy enough to do, with just a few supplies. And the beauty of this project is that you get to recycle those old plastic pots that have accumulated in your outdoor storage shed.

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