Whether your new garden is a success or not will depend on your soil preparation. This is one of the basics of gardening that you cannot skip whether planting transplants or sowing seed.

First, take a soil test and send it to the laboratory to find what you will need to add for a healthy soil. If you do not know how to do this, call your county Extension agent or check with a Master Gardener.

Second, spray existing grass and weeds with an herbicide containing glyphosate (eg. Roundup). To kill grass, the grass must be actively growing. Always follow label directions. After these die, you will want to remove as much of the dead grass and weeds, along with their roots, as possible.

Then, dig to a depth of 8 to 10 inches to break up the soil completely. If you are making a large bed, you might want to use a rototiller. Go over the area several times until the soil is broken into small fragments. As you are tilling, remove any debris, weeds, rocks, etc. you find.

The next step will be to add a 4 to 6 inch layer of compost, shredded bark, peat moss, or other organic material to the top of your tilled soil. The organic material will aerate the plant roots and help to save water by absorbing and holding moisture. If you have clay soil, it is suggested that you add expanded shale to the bed to make the soil more porous. In addition to the organic materials, add the nutrients suggested in the lab report. These might be nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, etc. Work all of these amendments into the loosened soil, with tiller or shovel. If possible let the soil rest for one to two weeks, this will give the amendments time to start working and the soil a chance to settle.

Before planting, rake and smooth the soil. Once the soil is smooth, it is ready for your seeds or plants. With all this preparation they should grow as you want.

Becky Hamilton, Smith County Master Gardener
Texas AgriLife Extension Service


Working the soil: In a new garden, which was previously grass area, you will need to eliminate the grass. Don't power till the grass into the soil or else the grass roots will return as weeds in your flower bed. It is better to remove the sod entirely, using a rented power sod stripper or a spade. Be sure the soil is moist, but not wet or soggy, when you begin working. Mark the contours of the desired bed with a clothesline or garden hose. Rearrange the hose until you are happy with the garden's shape. You may sprinkle garden lime along the outline of the hose to make a more permanent marker or purchase a can of marker spray paint at the store. Use a spade or a half-moon edger to cut down into the sod along the line marker. Then begin to strip off the sod with a spade by angling the flat end of the spade's blade just under the grass roots and pushing with your foot. You can add the sod to your compost heap, where it will quickly rot, or replant it elsewhere. After the sod is gone, dig into the soil as deeply as you can, one spade deep or 1.5 feet, using a power tiller, shovel or spade to turn it over. Cover the area with several inches of compost or soil amendments and turn again. Loosening the soil creates a fluffy soil that is easy for roots to penetrate. Well prepared soil gives perennial plants the best start possible, They will send down deep roots and grow into healthy specimens that will bring you pleasure for years to come. Because perennials live so long, you won't get another chance to work the soil this deeply unless you renovate the entire bed, so take the time and opportunity to create the best soil possible. The plants will only be as healthy as the soil.

Barbara Thornhill, Smith County Master Gardener
Texas AgriLife Extension Service

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