Thursday, June 4, 2009

How To Define and Prepare Landscape Planting Beds

Most homeowners understand the need for foundation plantings around their residence, but landscape planting beds in the lawn are also very desirable. They can improve the appearance and “curb-appeal” of the home and increase the market value of the property. Landscape beds also reduce the turf area, thereby reducing the need for turf irrigation, turf fertilizing and mowing time.

There are many possible procedures that one could use to define and prepare a landscape planting bed. The one I describe here is simple and easy to do.

The contours of the bed should be aesthetically pleasing. What satisfies one person may not satisfy another. But I prefer beds that are curved and flowing.

Beds that incorporate existing trees should include all roots that are exposed in the lawn. This will help to avoid mower damage to the roots. Mower damage will weaken and may kill the roots, thereby causing the trees to be structurally unstable.

Planting beds that are near structures or other planting beds should allow adequate passage between for lawn mowers and foot traffic. If that is not possible, consider incorporating all into one large landscape bed.

Begin by roughly defining the contours with small marking flags. These are available at many hardware and building supply stores. You can then view the proposed area from different angles as you might view a sculpture. Make necessary adjustments by moving the flags.

Next, “connect the dots” by sketching the contours between the flags with red or orange marking paint. Paint is available in aerosol spray. It is easily applied with a hand-held wand. This simple, single-wheel device holds the paint can upside down at ground level. A trigger on the handle controls the flow of spray. Apply the paint while rolling the wand around the contour of the bed. Paint and a wand are sold in many hardware and building supply stores.

This is the point at which you should take more care to produce aesthetically appealing curves, giving attention to proportion and detail. If you make mistakes, don’t worry. You can easily “erase” errors with your foot and make corrections. Marks that are not thoroughly erased will either be covered by mulch or mowed away.

When the shape of the bed is finally determined, grass within the bed can be killed with a spray application of herbicide such as glyphosate. Glyphosate will not remain in the soil to endanger future plantings. Spray on a calm day to avoid drift onto desirable shrubs and turf. Avoid spraying if irrigation or rainfall is possible within the next six hours. Take care not to allow herbicide to be carried on the bottom of shoes to areas outside of the planting bed. Always follow label instructions and wear protective clothing as recommended. Take precautions to protect other people and pets. Allow herbicide to dry thoroughly before re-entering the area.

Bed contours can be established and made more or less permanent by various means. Metal, plastic or concrete edging may be installed. I prefer to establish the bed with a trenching machine. The EZ Trench Bedscaper Bed Edger and Trencher is perfect for this purpose. The machine produces a trench about 4" deep with a straight outer edge and a sloping inside edge. Soil is easily leveled with a hard rake toward the inside of the bed. (I have no profit interest in this machine or the company that manufactures it. Mine is an honest recommendation.)

Unless the soil is severely compacted, I recommend not roto-tilling the planting bed. Tilling brings weed seeds to the surface which will germinate and cause future problems. It is better to carefully prepare each planting hole by digging to the proper size and softening the soil with a garden fork.

Whether the bed is planted or not, an immediate application of mulch will improve the appearance of the bed, retain moisture, and suppress weeds.

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