How to Build a New Flower Bed in 6 Easy Steps

Create a flower bed in seven easy steps

Step 1: Select and mark a site

Be mindful of the amount of shade or sunlight present throughout the day. Tentatively mark the area with a hose, yarn or string. Create a final shape marked with a line of distinctively recognizable organic material (ex. salt or flour).  Be creative, using oval, circular or linear shapes. Note to new gardeners: start small but leave space for enlargement.

Step 2:  Remove all grass and weeds

Complete one of the following options prior to putting down a weed barrier (i.e., weighted down landscape fabric, layers of wet newspaper or cardboard); do not disturb for several weeks.

Option 1:  Use a spade or sod cutter to clear the area; orOption 2:  Mow the area down to approximately half-inch; orOption 3:  Spray the area with a weed-killing pesticide, following label directions.Note: Periodic weeding will still be required throughout the growing seasons.

Step 3:  Add soilOption 1:  Spread a layer of topsoil on top of the weed barrier approximately 12 inches deep within the area.Option 2:  Dig up and till the indigenous soil, removing roots, rocks or other debris; take a soil sample and amend soil, as needed, with organic matter (ex. recommended nutrients or compost).   

Step 4:  Edge the garden bed

Option 1:  Dig a trench approximately 8 inches deep and a few inches wide around the bed to prevent soil erosion and to keep out weeds.Option 2:  Sink an edging material around the garden border (ex. rocks, brick or weather-resistant landscape borders).

Step 5:  Select, space and plant shrubs and flowers

Choose plants that will thrive in the selected area. Tentatively space the shrubs and flowers around the bed. Dig holes to recommended depth and width and loosen the roots of each plant before placing into the ground. Note: Wait until the plants’ roots have begun to establish before applying fertilizer (approximately two weeks).

Step 6: Add a layer of mulch

Spread wood chips, pine straw or other environmental-friendly mulch to a thickness of 2-3 inches deep to control weed growth and to help retain soil moisture.

Step 7: Water generously

Thoroughly water the bed, and continue to water, as needed (i.e., until the plants’ roots are established and during periods of drought). Note:  It is important to have a water source near the garden bed since frequent watering will be required.

Sources: LSUAg Center and Better Homes & Gardens

That God once loved a garden we learn in Holy writ.

And seeing gardens in the Spring I well can credit it.

Winifred Mary Letts

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Map out your layout

Once you know which flowers you want in your garden, think about how you're going to arrange them. Shea notes that curved lines work better than sharp edges because they lead the eye around the space. Plants can also add beauty to an unsightly spot. "Create a flower bed around the base of a tree, mailbox, or lamp post," suggests Williams. "Flowers and shrubs can also be used to hide certain objects in your yard like electrical boxes, HVAC units, or trash cans." Next, Shea says to consider planting in odd numbers by clustering each variety in groups of threes or fives. You also want to ensure that each flower is visible to onlookers. "Most gardens are tiered with taller plants in the back or middle and the shortest plants in the front or around the edges," Shea explains. If you've chosen a mix of annual and perennial flowers, it's important to note that perennials take about three years to flourish. For that reason, Shea recommends using annuals to supplement holes in perennial garden beds. "Annuals are also great for adding color to high traffic areas such as front walkways, pools, or decks, or other areas that you want color all summer," Shea notes. When it comes time for planting, be sure to account for how much space your plants will need once they're fully grown.

Add Compost  

Compost is a crucial ingredient for soil health. It’s healthy for your plants, as provides nutrients and lightens heavy clay soils but holds moisture better than sandy soils. You can develop your own organic compost from discarded fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, and eggshells, or visit your local home and garden center, where you’ll find a variety of compost options. Add a little compost to each planting hole and mix it with some of the soil you dug up to aid healthy plant growth. Then top-dress the entire planting bed with a couple of inches of compost. 

Steps to create a no dig flower bed or garden

Still interested? Great… now lets just find a patch of grass where we want our new flower garden bed to be and we’ll get started. Here’s a quick list of the steps that I’ll talk about in more detail throughout this post.

  1. Measure the bed and calculate materials needed
  2. Clear the bed area
  3. Edge around the bed
  4. Pre-plant larger trees and shrubs
  5. Lay paper over the no dig flower bed
  6. Cover the paper with compost
  7. Top the compost with a layer of mulch
  8. Plant flowers

And just for some extra clarity, here’s a diagram to show you how this will work.

This diagram explains how to assemble the layers o
This diagram explains how to assemble the layers of your no-dig flower bed.

1- Measure the bed and calculate materials needed

The first step is to figure out exactly how large your new flower garden bed will be. Measure the length and width of the space using your tape measure or a flexible landscape tape (I use this one by Komelon).

With dimensions in hand, head over to this website to determine how much compost and mulch you’ll need to fill your new bed. It will also give you estimated costs related to the materials.

As an example, if you had a bed that’s 10 feet long by 10 feet deep, the website will give you this information:

  • 250 square feet of cardboard— or approx – 0.3 rolls of standard recycled cardboard (4’x250′) which range from $50-110/roll. Alternatively you can gather your own cardboard.
  • 0.4 cubic yards of compost— to cover a depth of about 1.5″ which ranges from $25-$50 per cubic yard. You can also use your own compost if you make it.
  • 0.9 cubic yards of mulch— to cover a depth of 3″ which ranges from $15-$35 per cubic yard. You can use a variety of different kinds of mulch as long as they are natural and will degrade into the soil. So… no rubber mulch or stone or anything like that.
  • The estimated material cost is $90-$195…. or  $40-$85 for just the mulch and compost.

Quick Tip: Before we even get started with this project… if you’re a total newbie at flower gardening, you should read this post first so you can learn answers to the questions you didn’t even know you should be asking…. yet. Then, you’ll really be ready to get started.

2- Clear the bed area

In this step you should clean out the area within the flower garden bed. I honestly skip this step a lot… especially if it’s just covering the grass. However, if you’re converting a rougher area you may need to remove noxious weeds (ivy, blackberry, bermuda grass, oxalis, etc) to give yourself the best start. Also remove any larger sticks, rocks and other items from the area.

What Blooms with What?

Never know what to plant together? Find out with this FREE Plant Pairing Guide and become a pro at combining plants for the best garden design possible!

3- Edge around the bed

This is the only digging you’ll have to do, so now let’s get it out of the way! All you need to do is create an edge around the perimeter of your garden bed.

Using a sharp spade, cut a straight line around your bed to at least a 4” depth. Then, from inside of the bed area, cut a diagonal line at least 6” from the perimeter down to the depth of your first pass to create a “V” notch. This will keep all of your soil and mulch inside of your bed. It also helps to prevent your grass from growing into the garden bed area.

After measuring, you should edge out the perimeter
After measuring, you should edge out the perimeter of the bed with a shovel. This isn’t me… or my garden space, by the way. It’s just some random guy edging.

Some proponents of this method recommend creating a “trench” that’s about 3-4″ deep and about 8-12″ wide. So, you can make the trench wider if you’d like to. Creating a trench will allow you to build up the height of the inside of your bed without the mulch and soil, etc. falling into your lawn.

4- Pre-plant larger trees and shrubs

Before we cover the area with the cardboard, you’ll want to “pre-plant” any larger trees and shrubs. I would say anything that’s 5 gallons or larger you can plant now (yes, right into the grass). Be sure to plant these trees and shrubs slightly above soil level because later you’ll be adding about 4.5″ of organic matter to your bed. Also keep any mulch away from the base of your plants or trunks of your trees and shrubs.

This is also a good time to wet down the entire area with your hose. This will water any plants you just put in. It will jump start this whole process.

5- Lay paper over the no dig flower bed

Finally it’s time to lay the paper. If you are using rolled cardboard, it’s best to do two layers since it’s much thinner than recycled cardboard boxes. I like to do this in a crosshatch pattern. So, lay rows horizontally, then do the same vertically.

If you’re using recycled cardboard, make sure that it’s not coated. Also remove any shiny plastic or tape. I would recommend using heavy cardboard if you’re concerned about weed pressure. However, you can also use uncoated newspaper.

I do one layer of heavy cardboard or 8 layers of newspaper, or a mix of both. Whichever paper you use, be sure to overlap your materials at least 6-8″. Make sure that every square inch of your new bed is covered very well to prevent weed pressure.

You may be wondering if the ink on your cardboard boxes is safe… but rest assured the industry standard for ink on cardboard is soy-based and will not hurt your plants or soil.

Lay 4 layers of newspaper or a layer of cardboard
Lay 4 layers of newspaper or a layer of cardboard over your grass to start your no dig flower bed.

Saturate the paper layer with water. This will hold it in place and also start the decomposition process. The water may roll off the paper at first. If that happens, wait a few minutes, then go back and saturate it again. Repeat as needed.

6- Cover the paper with compost

Next you’ll just spread the compost right over top of the cardboard. Usually at this point I try not to walk on the bed too much. I would start in the middle with the compost and work your way out to the edges. Put a layer at least 1.5″ thick. You can use even more compost if you’d like to. And, if the area had a lot of weeds when you started you may want to do a little bit thicker layer to keep them in check.

Here’s what it looks like after you cover th
Here’s what it looks like after you cover the paper with 1.5″ of compost. Not too shabby, right?

Saturate the compost layer with water.

7- Top the compost with a layer of mulch

Now we’ll add mulch to the top of the pile. I usually spread about a 2-3″ layer of mulch if I’m just covering up a basic lawn. Again if you had a lot of weeds when you started you can go thicker.

Here’s what it looks like in the end. A laye
Here’s what it looks like in the end. A layer of paper, then compost, then mulch and you have an instant no dig flower bed.

It’s recommended that you use coarse mulch for this process. You can try using arborist or tree trimmer mulch. This is usually a mix of wood chips and leaves and will work very well. Another option is pallet mulch, which is what you’ll usually find at the hardware store. This is made from untreated pallet wood and either dyed a color or left natural. Then, saturate the mulch layer with water.

8- Plant flowers

Finally… you’re ready to plant your no dig flower bed. Many people get to this point and then say… wait… I can plant right now? And the answer is yes. IF you have smaller plants, you can actually plant them right into the compost layer. As they grow their roots will break through the decomposing paper.

If you have something larger to plant, you can poke a hole through the cardboard layer and plant. Just be sure that you add some organic matter to the hole when you do this. But… likely you already pre-planted your larger plants in step 4.

Quick Tip: If you’re new to flower gardening, you may want to check out this post about how to make your flowers bloom more (and longer)!

Bonus Step: Look into lawn conversion rebates with your water company The other thing you should do is contact your local water company. Many water companies offer what’s called “lawn conversion rebates” so you should find out if you’ll be eligible. You’ll need all of the size and area specs for them so be sure you have that handy.

Before Getting Started

The most important step in planting a new flower bed is to visualize the future. While your bed might not look like much when it's first planted, remember that in a few months it will be much fuller, taller, and more colorful. The key is anticipating the heights, colors, textures, and mass of all the various plants. This can be best accomplished if you start early by paying careful attention to other gardens you admire in your neighborhood. A trip to a local arboretum or public garden can also give you ideas. And garden magazines may include planting diagrams aimed at achieving a particular look for a finished garden bed.

If you want to take a chance at creating a garden design that's purely your own, keep these goals in mind:

  • Try to include perennials that bloom at different times during the year, so that something is in bloom at all times. While fill-in color can be achieved with annual flowering plants, ultimately your goal should be a fully perennial garden that sustains itself without additional annual plantings.
  • Strive for a garden bed that has a backdrop of tall plants at the back that creates a "canvas" for the rest of the arrangement. This is a technique known as "layering." In the context of planting flower beds, "layering" means you put the tallest flower bed plants in the back, the shortest in the front row, and the remaining plants in between. A nicely layered flower bed provides maximum visual appeal when all the plants mature.
  • Pay attention to how colors interact. And this is not only a matter of flower color but also foliage color. Avoid colors that clearly clash.
  • Consider shape, texture, and form as well as color. A well-designed garden bed will offer variety in several different design principles, not just color. Small shrubs can be an excellent way to introduce textures into a planting bed.
  • Remember that you can always change your garden design, moving, deleting, and adding plants as you see fit. Don't worry too much if you don't get it right from the beginning.

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