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Preparing a new flowerbed

Good morning gardeners 

I want to start digging a new border in an area that is currently grass. (Big thank you for the advice on my garden design thread!! <3)

Never attempted this kind of thing before so I would appreciate some advice, please.

How deep do I need to go when removing the old turf? I was thinking about a spade's depth.

The soil is heavy clay so I know it will need improving before planting. I've found a local company doing bulk bags at a reasonable price. I'm a bit confused about what combination would be a good 'topper' for the flowerbed. I was thinking manure and general purpose compost. Would it be better to include a topsoil?

Any tips or links to existing threads on the topic would be fantastic and much appreciated. Thank you so much!  :)


  • FairygirlFairygirl Posts: 50,262
    How much extra soil etc you need will depend on the size of the border. It also settles over time, so get more than you think will be enough  ;)

    I just take around 3 or 4 inches depth of turf, or whatever suits the soil at the time  [all clay] I lifted the back lawn I created around 8 years ago, a couple of years back, but that was shallower as it was designed to mitigate the wet conditions, and was raised. In other gardens, or in other areas, I've probably gone deeper. Push your spade in, see what it's like when you lift a divot, and judge from there, but you really don't need to go too deep.
    Add as much rotted manure and compost as you can, leaf mould if you have it, then leave it to settle for a month or so. That will all be ideal for improving soil structure and drainage. I wouldn't bother with topsoil.
    If you're just having the bed directly into the lawn, without a border, you can heap the new stuff up quite high, leaving a slight trench between the grass and the border itself. It will also depend what you're planting, and the aspect of the site.  :)
    It's a place where beautiful isn't enough of a word....

    I live in west central Scotland - not where that photo is...
  • Busy-LizzieBusy-Lizzie Posts: 20,967
    I've made several new beds in my garden with clay soil. I cut squares into the soil then slide the spade underneath to remove them, not very deep, maybe 2 or 3 inches. Then I dug it all over with a fork. I find digging clay soil with a fork easier than a spade. Then I tipped compost all over it and dug that in. As I hadn't been there very long most of the compost was bought. You don't need expensive compost for soil improvement.

    Another method, which takes longer, is to cover the area with cardboard then a thick layer of compost, which kills the grass eventually, but not weeds like dandelions. It avoids having to dig, but I've found with clay soil it works better to dig the compost in.
    Dordogne and Norfolk. Clay in Dordogne, sandy in Norfolk.
  • Fab! This is very helpful @Fairygirl and @Busy-Lizzie

    I will need to practice patience to hold off from planting too soon. The beds will be borders around the edge of the garden - west and north facing. 

    I got rained off today but look forward to trying out using a fork more... Digging on clay can be exhausting can't it :sweat_smile:
  • FairygirlFairygirl Posts: 50,262
    I've never known anything else @PassTheFox, so it's just what has to be done. I don't do much digging though, apart from when I need to plant something. I just add compost and/or manure then leave it to work it's way in. Autumn is the best time though - then the area is ready for spring planting   :)
    Don't rush your planting though. Time spent on the soil prep, pays dividends later with the plants. You'll need a fair old bit of organic matter though   :)
    It's a place where beautiful isn't enough of a word....

    I live in west central Scotland - not where that photo is...
  • Great advice @Fairygirl and some I need as I was keen to get a bit of planting done in late spring. I'm doing it back to front with the seasons really aren't I. 

    It's a big area and we are working on it at weekends so perhaps a better approach will be to focus on digging old turf, get in the little bit of hard landscaping and mulch. A month or two after, I can top up mulching. By autumn I could get the bigger shrubs/small trees in and look to do other planting the following spring. 

    It will look a bit bland this year but in the long run it will be worth it.It should give a better starting point and is helpful financially - the mulch and plants won't be cheap over such a large area.

    The last couple of years we've applied a thick manure mulch (advice I'd read from threads here!) and it's made such a difference. My Dad gardens on very dry sandy soil and it makes me appreciate the positives of clay soil!

    Really appreciate learning from all the experience and wisdom here, so thank you :)
  • FairygirlFairygirl Posts: 50,262
    It's always a bit of an experiment, and you might find your soil is fine in a couple of months. Your climate has a bearing too. Dry, hot spells make it easier all round as the soil warms up and dries out more readily, and makes planting a lot easier too. 
    Getting any hard landscaping in first is always the best method, and then anything structural, ie the trees and shrubs, before the finer perennials etc.
    I know how hard it is when you want to get it all done, but you can always add some annuals and pots etc, to tide you over until the ground suits the other plants.
    Autumn is ideal for planting many hardy perennials if they're a good size, and you can put lots of spring bulbs in with them, so you can always do some planning with that in mind, over summer too.
    Preferably on a seat with a bit of sun and a nice cuppa, or whatever your preference is   :)
    It's a place where beautiful isn't enough of a word....

    I live in west central Scotland - not where that photo is...
  • PassTheFoxPassTheFox Posts: 26
    edited 26 February
    That's the dream @Fairygirl! :love:
  • . I cut squares into the soil then slide the spade underneath to remove them, not very deep, maybe 2 or 3 inches. Then I dug it all over with a fork. 
    Exactly, how I did it 3 years ago at the end. Around 25 meters down and I learned this was the best and easiest way to get it out. 

    I my garden.

  • @PassTheFox I am doing the same as you - redesigning, removing lawn to make planting beds etc so I am keeping an eye on the threads you post on here! Hopefully it will go well for both of us this year.

    I have previously removed grass for planting trees and bulbs and I found this way has worked well (and stayed grass free for years since):
    1. Remove any dandelions or similarly deep rooted weeds. Use thin trowel or weeding tool for this.
    2. Use something with a flat blade (eg border spade or half moon edger) to cut lines in the grass. Make the lines the distance apart of your spade width. Then cut in the opposite direction to make squares. 
    3. With your spade nearly flat to the ground, get the spade blade under the grass roots but only the minimum depth you can get away with. I found after a short while I could tell this by feel. The grass roots are a bit tough if you try going through them, going too deep also gets heavy with the weight of soil. But there is a sweet spot where the grass roots thin out and the spade slices through pretty easily. In the few lawns I have done this in this has been at about 2-3cm deep. 
    4. Remove the squares of turf, and stack them upside down somewhere and they will turn into soil over the year. 

    Once I plant whatever is going in the soil then I cover the soil with a layer of woodchip and that stops most weeds growing.
  • Ha funny you say that @Randommoose1 as I have been noseying through your threads! I'm excited to see how your bed beside the patio progresses.

    Thanks for the advice. I do enjoy the satisfaction of getting to a weed's taproot! 
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