January 20, 2005
By Jean Wofford
Victoria County Master Gardener

If your household is like ours, you are getting a lot of wonderful gardening catalogs - and if you are like me, you want everything you see - whether it is recommended for our area or not! However, it is enjoyable to look in these colorful catalogs and dream a little, isn't it?

Since you are a gardener, you may find that you may need to make a new gardening bed or two before planting time begins. There are several ways to make these beds. I have tried them all and had good beds when I finished. Some are more difficult to make than others. I will outline the methods that I have tried and my success with each.

First of all decide where you want a new bed to be. One way to help decide would be to know exactly what you plan to grow in this bed. Most plants will grow best if exposed to full sunshine throughout most of the day. But then you may select a shady spot and choose plants that perform best in the shade.

The very best way to start your bed is to call Texas Cooperative Extension - Victoria County at 361-575-4581 and make arrangements to pick up a soil sample kit. This kit will explain exactly what you need to do to take a good soil sample. The soil sample is an invaluable tool in planting since it gives a complete analysis and recommendations for your soil.

I love gardening! I am an avid gardener, but there are definitely parts of gardening that I like more than others. Digging is my least favorite thing to do!

So, how about the weeds or grass covering the proposed bed location? They need to be eliminated. To reduce future work, start with a weed or grass-free location. There are different ways to go about this. Make your decision that is best for you.

The first option is to use a contact weed killer on the area, such as any of the products that contain glyphosate (initially sold as Roundup). These products perform best in warm weather but more so, the grass or weeds must be green and actively growing when applied. As with all pesticides, read the directions and follow them. When applied carefully, they can be used very effectively. I have tried this method and have found that I prefer using something else.

Another method is the ‘tried and true’ one of simply digging the soil by hand or tilling it. Turn the soil several times and pull out and rake the grass or weed roots. Do this for several days exposing as many of the little roots as possible to dry and kill them. Remember, those little roots make big weeds! As you turn the soil, you are not only exposing the roots, you are making the soil more friable. In my opinion, this is the most difficult way to make a bed and one I have tried, but found to be too hard.

Solarization is yet another method to start a bed. It sterilizes it. It works best in full sun in the heat of the summer and involves using clear plastic to cover preferably tilled, loose soil. The plastic must be sealed tightly with the soil around all edges and the soil will literally bake, killing weeds and pests. Success occurs when solarized for at least thirty days but preferably more than forty-five.

Once the grass removing method has been enacted the bed is ready to be further prepared. The soil should be worked until it is very loose and friable but should not be worked if it is wet, as clods will form. Tilling the bed over several days instead of doing it all at once, will result in a better prepared soil when it is all said and done!

Before the final tilling, remember to follow the soil analysis report. This will be the time to add amendments, mixing them into your soil thoroughly. Add some composted humus or composted mulch, some slow release fertilizer, a good soil mixture for beds from your local nursery or some real good sandy loam. Mix thoroughly and at this point, I would say the bed is ready.

Now, my favorite gardening bed is a raised one. I have seen many beds that are level or even with the landscape, but I find raised beds better for many reasons.

First, aesthetically a raised bed is separated from the grass area and it looks distinctive. Then, there is the need for good draining. A raised bed always drains much better. Lastly, I find it easier to work in a raised bed and if prepared properly, it has fewer weeds.

Now, for my favorite way to make gardening beds! With more than 3000 linear feet of beds in my back yard, you can bet that I have tried to find the best and easiest way to make and maintain all these beds.

First, I planned my bed locations, bought all my materials and then the bed-making went pretty fast. I purchased a huge pile of good sandy loam, sacks of manure, composted humus and slow release fertilizer. I also brought out a huge pile of newspapers.

I put down a layer of about 50 (fifty) newspapers...I know! Stay with me! Next, I put timbers (two high) around the area to form the bed, and covered the newspaper with two inches of the sandy loam soil. I watered this in until water was standing on top of the soil and did not let this dry out for about two to three weeks. Then I added the rest of the mixture until the top of the landscape timbers was reached.

The timbers can be secured by using a drill and some rebar cut to the proper length or by long nails. After letting the bed set for 2-3 weeks, rake the soil and add some more to fill since it will settle. By this time, the paper has decomposed and if the soil is moist, the bed should be ready to plant. Planting plants with roots deeper than the height of the bed is no problem - just dig through the paper and plant as usual.

This is the most practical method for me. The paper comes from wood and goes back into the soil. By smothering the grass, it eliminates almost all the weeds and using the paper does keep it out of landfills.

I am an advocate of making gardening beds as far in advance as possible. It truly makes for better plantings. I believe gardening also makes for better health...physically, mentally and spiritually.

Good gardening for a better life!