How to Prepare your Beds for a Landscape Planting

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Your eyes are bloodshot from staying up late watching HGTV, you Googled “Landscape design ideas” and visited several nurseries researching plants. It’s time to put your thoughts into action. How should you prepare the beds for your new landscape planting?

First, you need to look at your soil. Is it hard as concrete with many stones larger than a baseball? Is the soil dark brown or black and easy to dig with few stones? Is it mostly sand because perhaps a patio used to be where you want to plant?

If your soil has a lot of stones or is clay or sand, start bed preparation by spreading two to three inches of compost and tilling it in. If you have good soil spread two to three inches of topsoil and till as well. Adding compost or topsoil will increase the soils organic matter content and prevent the “bathtub” effect.

The “bathtub” effect is when plant roots do not move or grow from the imported to native soil because of the difference between the two. Plants become pot bound even though they are no longer planted in pots. New garden preparation starts with mixing the new and old soil to prevent the “bathtub” effect.

Once you have thoroughly tilled the soil add more until you have the right grade. Most landscape plantings need about three inches of topsoil to mound the beds. Mounding the beds creates a reservoir of soil for plant roots to grow in, builds a reserve of water for plants and adds visual interest.

Next to a structure, grade the beds highest at the back and gently slope them forward to move water away. If the bed is in the open, the middle should be the highpoint.

Account for all water to runoff when preparing your beds. Be sure to extend downspouts to the edge of the bed. Runoff from a sidewalk or patio must have a place to go or it will create a lake, or ice rink, right where you don’t want one. On hillsides, sculpt the bed so water will flow around and not get trapped.

When at the correct height use a steel rake to level your beds. Remove stones larger than a baseball. Smaller stones improve drainage. There is no need to be perfect the first time you rake the bed. You are going to rake again once all of your plants are installed.

It takes more work to prepare beds correctly than plant. Take the time to prepare your beds properly and your garden will excel for years to come. Dig the proverbial five dollar hole for that five cent plant.

About John
John W. Holden has been designing landscapes in Fairfield County, Connecticut, for over 19 years. John graduated Magna Cum Laude from the University of Connecticut with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Ornamental Horticulture.

John is an accredited Connecticut Nursery Professional through the Connecticut Nursery and Landscape Association and completed the rigorous course in Organic Land Care by the Connecticut Northeast Organic Farming Association.

John’s work has been featured in both Fine Gardening and Total Landscape Care Magazine.
John is the Founder of Land Designs Unlimited LLC, a landscape design and build company located in Newtown, Connecticut. For more information please visit

If you would like to hire someone to perform the work you can find the right person at:

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