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"Possibility and promise greet me each day as I walk out into my garden. My vigor is renewed when I breathe in the earthiness and feel the dirt between my fingers. My garden is a peaceful spot to refresh my soul." Meems

Welcome to my Central Florida Garden Blog where we garden combining Florida natives, Florida-Friendly plants, and tropicals.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

10 Easy Steps :: Making A New Planting Bed

There are so many variables and random elements to deal with in any garden. In Florida I think it is fair to say our conditions are unique from any other state. Our ridiculously sandy soil is a relatively consistent factor. The heat, humidity, spring droughts, summer rains and winter frosts are generally widespread aspects Florida gardeners manage to work around.

All of which contribute to the difficulty of dealing with the monoculture of a lush green St. Augustine lawn. It is one element I am resigned to quit fighting against.

My solution? Simple. Make more planting beds.

I've been eyeing the space in front of the northside berm since last spring; thinking of ways I could claim it for planting a few more edibles as well as some sun loving flowers. Hesitation factors include the obvious encroachment on lawn-play-space and the fact it is out in the open ... not protected from wildlife. My edible garden is fenced on all sides to keep digging/damaging critters out. I'm taking my chances with this one.

Florida's January spring-like weather was the nudge I needed to get me in gear. Today I'm going to walk you through the steps of how I make a new planting bed from start to finish.
1. Rather than dig out the layer of grass where I want to plant (like I spent so many hours doing in the past) I begin by layering newspapers (6 or more sheets overlapping each other so there are no spaces) or cardboard down next to the grass in whatever shape I've determined to make the new planting bed.

2. Sometimes I mark the area with spray paint, a hose, or even stakes depending on the plan I have in mind. Do whatever you feel comfortable with and what works for you.

Tip: watering down the papers as you go is recommended to keep them in place.

3. Next comes a few wheelbarrows full of black gold from the compost pile. This stuff has been breaking down all summer/fall and is ready to be the bottom layer.

4. On top of the compost I pile on several inches of potting mix. Potting mix is much lighter (airier)than top soil which I would not recommend for a planting bed.

5. I happened to have a couple of bags of Mushroom Compost on hand (because I try to always have a couple of bags on hand) which became my next layer. I've used aged horse manure and saw dust in the past. You want to keep in mind that building the soil up with natural organics is going to save you lots of headaches in the long run. You can read my article on building soil here if you want to know more about why it is the wisest way to get started.

6. Next I sprinkle on some blood meal and bone meal. I'm not fussy about this. Well, I'm fussy about the fact that it has to be done but I'm not fussy about measuring.

I sprinkle on a generous layer ~~~ a few handfuls of each. More organic goodness!

Because I let this settle for a couple of weeks before I plant anything I'm not too worried about the amount being too much. ** Please see the note on step 9. Very important to wait to plant.

A closer look at the dusting of both products.

7. I use my steel rake to gently massage it together and into the top layer of potting mix.

8. Mulch for the pathway.

Edit added to answer a great question from daisy in the comments section::
For the pathway I layer with newspaper and then mulch. I don't put soil down on the pathways first.

Tip::When making new planting beds it is really important to leave room to access existing beds as well as the new one(s). I want to be able to walk through plantings by way of paths. Because I extended this area out from an already 15' deep planting it was necessary to leave ample room (about 3') for a pathway between the berm and the new space. Again, it is worth the forethought to be sure the materials we plant can be reached easily by the gardener. :-)

The dirt section is about 20' in length and 4' at the widest point.

9. Now I soak it down with water and I wait a couple of weeks at least to let all of it *cook* together in the warm sun. ***It is really important to wait a couple of weeks because Blood Meal is high in nitrogen and it can burn new seeds and seedlings. It breaksdown fairly quickly so let it sit before planting.

10. It is a happy day when it is time to plant.

Because I'm putting some edibles in this area I surrounded it with folding fencing. It is a deterrent. I realize it won't keep all animals out.

The first plants I put in is the edging. With pieces of bulbine I divided from other plants in the front garden I planted along the front border. I like to include in every planting bed foundation plants that will sustain the bed year round no matter what is planted behind them. Bulbine is hardy in the winter and very tolerant of drought also. It has a low habit to work for the size of this bed and complement the one it is connected to.

The obelisk adds structure and gives a sense of height and balance to the berm behind it like a very small tree or specimen plant would. Sweet peas and pole beans were planted from seed around the base of it to climb as they grow. I bought some basil, chives, cilantro, and lobelia plants to put around the obelisk.

Broccoli starts (from seed) were moved from the edible garden. Also some gaillardia transplants, some nasturtium transplants, and I planted new seeds of squash and zinnias.
Pine straw is great for covering seeds. It isn't too heavy and it serves as mulch to protect the soil from drying out too rapidly.

Good soil, good drainage, and the right plants in the right place make for a happy new space.

Here is another view from the opposite side looking back toward the edible garden (behind the jasmine on the fence). So far, so good.

Edit added due to some discussions on my FB page. Just want to add this note about soil (to help us keep our goals in mind) from Colorado State University Extension::
Rather than being an inert material, soil houses a dynamic living ecosystem. The1-5% organic matter found in soils includes 0.2% living organisms. Although most soil organisms are invisible to the naked eye, they help gardeners in multiple ways. One major benefit to gardeners is their ability to help improve soil tilth. Soil tilth is the suitability of a soil to support plant growth, especially as it relates to ease of tillage, fitness for a seedbed, impedance to seedling emergence and root penetration. Soil organisms also play a central role in making nutrients available to plants. The community of soil organisms is varied, versatile, and adaptable to changing conditions and food supplies.

Stay tuned for my next post when I'll share another new planting bed I recently finished.

Are you working on some fun projects while the weather is still nice? Or are you waiting for your weather to be nice enough to get in gear?


  1. What a great informative post. Your beds always look healthy and lush, and the way you create your beds is the reason why.


  2. Looks lovely, Meems. What a great tutorial. Did you add the pathway mulch right over the newly laid compost and fixins' or is there a space between the old bed and the new bed where the mulch is placed on top of the newspaper? Kinda hard for me to tell by the photo.
    Thanks for the inspiration, as usual!

  3. Outstanding tutorial! I can't thank you enough for this one!

  4. ALWAYS enjoy reading what you have to say about preparing the perfect plot for your plants!


  5. Lots of good advice here.
    We've been taking up more and more grassy areas here, too. Takes work, but it's worth it.
    Your garden is so lovely.

  6. FlowerLady,
    It's all about the foundation for a good head start...

    Great Question. I've made an edit to the blog entry to answer it. You probably aren't the only one wondering. I mulch over the newspaper and I don't add soil underneath the pathway. It would kind of be a waste since I'm never going to plant there. Thanks for the great question.

    Yay... I'm glad it helps. I never know for sure.

    Thanks, you sweet lady. I know you know all this stuff!

    It is a LOT of work but I figure if I'm going to do the hard stuff I might as well start out right and give the plants the best home I can create for them. Happy plants, happy gardener. Thanks for the visit.

  7. Step 1 - Do you mean that the newspapers' option will prevent the grass from coming through? I see my dogs having a ball thinking its their new playground!! I am inspired to turn some grassy area to more "useful" purpose! Great "share" - thanks!

  8. I wish I read this 2 days ago it would have saved me a lot of work.
    But thank you for the next time.

  9. I do mine the same way, but put the mulch on top at the beginning to keep the moisture in, then open up areas for planting through the mulch. I find the moisture helps to settle in quickly and start the whole decomposition process. I am posting a very interesting video on my blog about how this process is the way nature has always worked.

  10. Thanks so much for the detail you offer to your followers. Does the potting mix you use for your beds have pine fines or any additional fertilizer in it?

    Would love to see a future tutorial of how you prepare your compost..from beginning to finally using it. Always enjoy browsing your site for inspiration and motivation!

  11. Bernadette, Keeping the grass from coming up through the newspaper and mulch or soil *is* the goal. It is also possible your dogs will have a blast in it. LOL

    Cathy... and there is always a next time. :-)

    So I think you are saying you put mulch next to the newspaper, then soil, then mulch again? I'll be watching for your post to learn more.

    Laura R.,
    The potting mix is sand, topsoil, pine fines and peat... no fertilizer. My compost is nothing fancy (it is a cold compost) I will seriously try to accommodate with a follow-up post. :-)

  12. Oh my!!! You may be just what I need to finally be successful. I have truly enjoyed what I've read so far and I assure you I will be referring to your site regularly. Thank-you so much!!!

  13. Thank-you so much! I just found you and I have sooo enjoyed what I've read. Maybe this year I will be successful with my gardening. Look forward to reading all your articles!

  14. Thanks again for some very practical and wise instruction. We have a residential lot - full sun - and I'm attempting to make it "Floridian". Yikes. We have removed a bunch of sod today - I just returned with a bunch of bags of potting mix, compost and will have to do more searching for blood/bone meals. I will follow your plan and then transplant some items - including caladiums from pots. Wahoo!!


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