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Bed Preparation Newsletter


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Bed Preparation 2011 Update



The Key To Successful Gardening is Excellent Bed Preparation


Don’t remove native soil unless drainage problems are caused by the raised beds. Existing native soil is an important part of the bed preparation mix. Don’t use peat moss, pine bark or washed concrete sand. These products are problematic, especially when compared to the natural organic choices. Don’t till wet soil. Tilling, forking or digging holes in wet soil does damage by squeezing the soil particles together, causing glazing and eliminating the air spaces needed for healthy soil life. Don’t spray toxic herbicides. Spraying toxic herbicides anytime is a bad idea, but in the winter, it’s really stupid because it can’t kill dormant grasses and weeds.


Remove unwanted vegetation wisely. Scrape away any existing weeds and grass and toss that material into the compost pile or replant the sod elsewhere. Always remove the grass before any tilling is done. Tilling first drives the reproductive part of the grasses and broadleafs down in the ground to be a weed problem forever. Organic herbicides can be used in the summer, but physical removal is still better.

Raise the beds. Walls aren’t essential, but the top of the beds should be flat and higher than the surrounding grades with sloped edges for drainage. This lifting happens naturally if proper amounts of amendments are added to the native soil.


Add amendments. Add 4 - 6" of compost, dry molasses or other organic fertilizer (2 lbs. per 100 sq. ft.), zeolite (10 lbs. per 100 sq. ft.), lava sand (10 lbs. per 100 sq. ft.),  Azomite (40 lbs. per 1000 sq. ft.), and whole ground cornmeal (2 lbs. per 100 sq. ft.). If the budget allows, add ½ inch of decomposed granite. Rototill or fork to a total depth of 8".

Moisten beds before planting. Planting beds should be moistened after being prepared and before the planting begins. They should be moist but not sopping wet. Do not plant in dry soil because the young roots will dehydrate quickly as they try to grow. The roots of any transplants should be sopping wet and thoroughly hydrated.

Bare root plants. Pot-bound plants can resist water and cause the growth of deformed and unhealthy root development. Soak root balls in water for at least 30 minutes or until they are thoroughly saturated. Remove most if not all of the soil and synthetic fertilizer pellets. Spread the roots out naturally radiating and then cover them with prepared bed soil. If you don’t want to go the bare root route, dip plant balls into water and install sopping wet root balls into moist beds. Add  Garrett Juice and Bio S.I. to the water for best results.

Plant high. Make sure the trunk flares are uncovered by removing excess soil. Set the plants high with the top of the rootballs slightly higher than the surrounding soil and the trunk flare dramatically high and visible. This is especially critical on woody plants. Setting the plant too low can cause poor growth or drowning.

Mulch beds after planting. Add 2 - 3" of organic mulch after planting. Use shredded native tree trimmings for trees, shrubs and ground cover, and a thinner layer of compost for annuals and perennials. Never pile mulch onto the stems of plants.

The short hand explanation - just add plenty of compost, rock minerals and molasses into the native soil and mulch all bare soil after planting plants with thoroughly hydrated roots.

Azalea bed prep. Mix 50% shredded hardwood bark, cedar or shredded coconut fiber with 50% finished compost. Add a 5 gallon bucket of lava sand and a 1 gallon bucket of greensand per cubic yard of mix. Thoroughly moisten the mixture prior to placing it in the bed - very important. Excavate 3" and place 15" of the above mix onto the beds. The entire mixture can be put above ground if it doesn’t block drainage. If it needs to be lowered, remove as little of the existing soil as possible. The top of the bed should be flat and the sides sloped at a 45 degree angle.

If you have any questions about this newsletter or any other topic, join me this weekend for Dirt Doctor Radio show and you can listen to the podcast of this and past programs anytime. There are also newsletter archives to explore.   

Naturally yours,

Howard Garrett

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Originally published 2011




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