by Dianne Westlake, Master Gardener
Perhaps the easiest way to make a new flowerbed involves no digging or turf removal. In addition to using less physical effort, this method provides a healthy environment for growing beautiful plants. The soil is fertile with the added bonus of improved drainage.
Lay out the perimeter of the new bed using a garden hose. Water the area well or wait until Mother Nature provides the necessary moisture. The next step provides a biodegradable barrier for weeds and grass using a layer of newspaper (6 to 10 sheets thick.) Do not use the shiny coloured advertising flyers for this purpose. (This is a good way to use some of those newspapers that you are setting out in the recycling bin each week.) To keep the paper from blowing around while you work, sprayed with water or anchored with soil. Uncoated corrugated cardboard can be used instead. This material works as well and does not blow around as easily.
Next add a layer of topsoil or triple mix to a depth of four to six inches followed by a layer of compost (three to four inches). The compost layer suppresses the weed seeds that can be present in the soil layer. While compost does a good job, other organic mulches should work as well. What is needed is a weed-free source of organic material. Cost and availability are important concerns. Compost in the quantity required for this type of project, is available through the City of Peterborough, Waste Management Department. Delivery can be arranged within the city or the county. Smaller quantities are available at the Ecology Park.
Water well and allow the layers to settle for a few weeks if possible. However, if need be, the beds can be planted immediately. Dig a hole large enough to accommodate the root ball, back fill, firm the soil, water and replace the compost layer. Monitor the amount of settling regularly to ensure that the root ball does not become exposed. Add a top dressing of compost if necessary. Water the new plantings regularly until the planting is established. The layer of newspaper or cardboard and the grass or weeds will rot within a few months, adding to the friability and fertility of the soil.
If you have the luxury of time, leaves (or manure) can be layered with soil on the newspaper or cardboard in the fall and allowed to decompose over the winter. Keep in mind that excess amounts of decomposing fresh organic material may deplete the nitrogen in the garden. In the spring, plant the bed and spread mulch over the surface.
Following this method will result is a raised bed that will warm earlier in spring and provide excellent drainage. An annual top dressing with compost feeds the soil and prevents germination of seeds of both self-seeding flowers and weeds. Earthworms will take the organic plant material down in the bed where the roots can make use of the nutrients.
Previously published in the Peterborough Examiner.