Bed Preparation

Master gardener Paul James shows how to get garden beds prepared for spring planting.

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Bed preparation can be done anytime, although it's most often done in late winter to early spring. That's when the soil is most in need of enrichment with compost, the mulch needs to be replenished and the weeds need to be eliminated. Follow these tips on preparing garden beds from Master gardener Paul James.
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The first step is to remove newly emerging clumps of perennials in areas where they're unwanted. They can be transplanted elsewhere in the garden, given to friends or tossed into the compost pile.

For example, Rudbeckia, or black-eyed Susan, is a great flowering perennial, but it has a tendency to take off and spread. The best time to pull it is during the young stage of development early in the season when the plants are relatively easy to dig up.

Figure A

Another plant that tends to spread is Northern sea oats, or Chasmanthium latifolium. It too can be dug out and transplanted. However, it requires a bit more effort to get the clumps out of the ground, roots and all. Where sea oats and other pesky plants grow in between rocks, James recommends using a screwdriver to pry them out.


Many weeds appear in late winter or early spring and can take over quickly, stealing water and nutrients from nearby plants. Be on the lookout for these notorious weeds that grow throughout North America.

Figure B

The first culprit is henbit, which just about everyone has in their lawn or garden. Thankfully, henbit is pretty easy to pull or hoe, although you need to make sure you get the roots as well as the top growth.

Figure C

The second is chickweed, which also grows throughout North America. It too is easy to pull or hoe, but get it early in the season to avoid a carpet of chickweed later in the year.

Figure D

Queen Anne's lace is a beautiful member of the carrot family and is an important source of food for some beneficial insects, including wasps. Unfortunately, Queen Anne's lace also reseeds and spreads rampantly, so if you choose to grow it, make sure you keep it under control. Do this by gently pulling it up, taproot and all, preferably while the plants are young.

Figure E

Dandelion must also be carefully dug out of the ground because any portion of its long taproot that remains in the ground will send up new leaves. You can also control dandelions by constantly pulling their flowers as they form. By removing the flowers, reserved nutrients will be depleted, and eventually the plant will die. Along the way, you can enjoy a bouquet of dandelion flowers and add the edible leaves to salads.

Figure F

Privet can be another troublesome weed, thanks to birds that eat the seeds from mature plants and deposit them all over the place. When young, these seedlings are easy to pull up, but as they get older, they become more difficult to remove. Privet can grow up to ten feet in no time at all, so if you don't like it, get rid of the seedlings as soon as they appear.

Working around existing plantings

A planter in James' garden faces a challenging situation, namely some variegated vinca growing in and amongst some sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum). The challenge is how to go about digging up the vinca without damaging the sweet woodruff.

First, James tugs on the vinca until he gets to a spot where the vine has rooted. Then he tugs on the roots, gently trying not to disturb the sweet woodruff. If the sweet woodruff does lift out of the ground, he just sticks it back in and packs the soil lightly around it. Finally, he applies a fresh layer of mulch to the bed.

Sweet woodruff is a forgiving plant that roots easily. You can take cuttings of the plant, root them in water and then plant them in the garden.

Garden Bed Renovation

After removing everything that you don't want growing in your garden beds, it's time to renovate. That means pulling back the existing mulch with a steel garden rake and adding a one- to two-inch layer of compost. Then put the old mulch back in place, and add a fresh layer of mulch to a depth of about three inches. Now your garden beds are ready to plant.

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