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Please help, first time gardener. how to get rid of weed and grass to make flower bed HELP

Hey everyone!

I really need your help. I'm trying to sort out the neglected garden to the property we moved into a while back. I feel it is in really bad shape, it has weed, moss and a lot of roots in the ground not sure if its ivy roots or tree roots.
Basically I don't have any gardening knowledge but have been reading a lot now to get into it. Let me basically first describe the garden.

It's a long garden with one tree which is full of ivy, the tree seems in poor health as we've barely seen any growth on it, the grass is all over the garden running from fence to fence of a terraced property. There are 2 other plants that I do not know the name of. 
I have managed to cut the vines of the ivy growing on the tree these are lots of thick vines around 2inch in diameter. My main concern right now is the grass.

I basically want to have long patches on the sides of the fence with no grass to create a flower bed, I started this few days ago but I am a little confused about the process. While there is a lot of info online I can't seem to find anything where it would mention to make a flower bed where there is a lot of weeds and roots. Both of these sides have a grass and weed ( plus a lot of os stone on top ). I understand I need to remove the grass layer, I have removed around 2/3 inches of the soil and grass but with a lot of struggle. There are lots of roots under the soil ( I am not sure what this is is it a root to a tree? ivy vines? or weed roots? I'm really confused) and while digging I keep on having to stop to first cut these. it's not so simple as the videos and tutorials online because of this plus the soil has so many stones and I have also managed to find pieces of glass and tiles. Anyway, my question are:

1) I am digging 2/3 inches right now. I keep coming across these roots, what are they? if its weed do I need to treat this area before I plant anything here? with what and how?
2) If these are not weed roots what are they? can I cut them?
3) Do I need to dig more than 2/3 inches for a flower bed? I want a clear distinction between grass and flower bed. I don't want the grass to grow there.
4) The 2/3 inch of soil that I am removing do I reuse this for my flower bed ( its full of weed,grass and the roots I've already cut) I've seen many videos saying to tip the soil over and use so I'm really confused as it doesn't just have grass but weed as well.
5) If the roots are tree/plant roots ( will this impact me planting anything in the flower bed?

I feel kind of lost as some places have mentioned to dig around 8 to 10 inches for a flower bed and just to mix the soil to loosen but I am assuming that's for when the soil is free from weed and roots etc.

I am going to attach pictures to show you a patch of my garden, these are all contious pictures all next to each other (the top part is where the fence is) this patch is a good 4 or more away from the tree and the 2 plants I mentioned. The images with 2 branches definitely had weed growing before I dug it up to reveal the branch, I might be wrong.

The second concern is the grass once the patches are done. Now this grass has moss and weed, I was told to use something like evergreen 4 in 1 to kill the weed off which I've already done. Its probably been just a few days so waiting for it to work. What do I do next to get a nice lawn. I feel the soil is compact and there is so much moss. I can't get any heavy-duty equipment in as its a terraced house and the garden is surrounded by other houses. Sometimes I wish to returfing my lawn ( I would need to do this myself!) but I really need to understand if fixing the existing lawn is possible or not.

Thank you for listening to my problem! No joking but I am desperate for any help :'( . Thanks


  • Mr. Vine EyeMr. Vine Eye Posts: 2,187
    edited April 2020
    It is difficult isn’t it!

    Ive done the same in my garden and at the moment I’m digging beds at my allotment which is seriously hard work as it was completely overgrown with weeds when we got it.

    If the ground is tough I’d recommend getting a Mattock! It’s a fantastic tool for this sort of job, it’s a heavy, sharpened slightly curved digging blade on one end and an axe on the other. It slices through hard ground and is great for chopping thick roots.

    My process has been to dig out the area, or a section of it, probably to between 6-12 inches depending on whether there are deep roots in it. Then go back through picking up the dug chunks of earth, pulling out the roots and putting them in a bag or bucket, shaking and bashing to loosen the soil from the grass and then popping that somewhere. Putting big stones, brick, glass or rubbish in a rubble sack or separate waste bag if it needs to go in a specific bin - and then just repeating the process until done.

    If I come across a large root, I’d dig under it with the mattock and lever it out or chop it.

    You could lay the grass back, face down, in the bottom of the bed and cover with soil and that will break down and add nutrients to the soil. Compost the weeds or throw in green waste bin.

    It is just hard work unfortunately!

    An alternative method is to make a ‘no dig’ bed. Layer down plain cardboard on the area you want to grow, then cover than in a couple inches of compost. This starves the grass and weeds of light and will kill them eventually, meanwhile you can plant in the compost layer above and the roots will grow through the damp card and into the soil below.
    You could also lay compost first first and then cover with plastic weed membrane and plant through holes in that - but I like to avoid using plastic as much as possible.

    That’s a less labour intensive method but it is resource heavy if you’re doing a large area as you need the covering material and a LOT of compost.

    Good luck and just take it a bit at a time and have lots of rest in-between - just be realistic with yourself and accept that it won’t be an instant thing. Took me about 8 hours over 2-3 days to sort out a bed at the allotment, 7 x 20 foot because it was just so heavy going!

  • SuesynSuesyn South Somerset Posts: 614
    We made a new bed in the middle of our lawn using the "no dig"method. It wasn't quite as simple as Mr Vine Eyes says but worked very well. First we put a layer of cardboard  (banana boxes from the supermarket ) then a fairly thick layer of straw (from a pet store ,they sell quite good size bales for about £3/4) then a good layer of compost. I think the instruction video  I watched said to do several layers of straw and compost but I only did one thick layer of each . We made a raised bed using large stones to hold the soil in place and I planted straight into it when it was built. 2 years later it looks as if it has always been there and the only weeds we got are grass which grew under the edge of the cardboard and I just dug that out when I saw it.  I will post a picture later when I go out in the garden. 
  • SuesynSuesyn South Somerset Posts: 614

    These are the pictures of my "no dig" raised bed.  It was done in August 2018 when it was impossible to dig as the ground was rock solid. Our house is built of the stone you can see and there was a lot about the place when we came here so we always trying to find somewhere constructive to use it.
  • Thank you Mr Vine eye and Suesyn for all the information. Suesyn your flower bed looks lovely.

    Mr Vine eye:
    I will definitely look into a mattock. I still have a few questions. So you got rid of the 6/12 inches of soil you dug? or did you reuse it and used new soil? You said I could lay the grass back down at the bottom, even is it has weed in it? as I haven't plucked the weed out of the grass layer. Wouldn't that just create more problems by spreading the weed under the soil? I have a very long garden and to pluck out weed from the grass patches would take very long.
    I think I have understood this will take time and I'm in no rush so that helps.
    I am aware of the no dig method too but Id like to dig as there is so much junk around the edges of the fences and in the soil and I feel I should too clean it up. Plus I don't want the bed to be on a higher level than the grass.
    Can you just guide me a little after looking at the picture? So I've only dug around 3/4 inches right now and plan to do it along the whole fence, this will obviously take time. Do you think I should cover it with cardboard while I do the rest of the area and till I plan to plant, will this kill any existing weed that I have missed which I'm sure. Will it kill any weed that is still to germinate?
    once I'm done digging with the whole patch 3/4 inches deep to remove grass/weed should I then loosen the soil, put compost and plant or shall I dig deeper or shall I wait. Im a little confused.
    Thank you for taking the time out to answer
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