Preparing a Soil Bed

Preparing a Soil Bed

Part of Ep. 304 Early Winter Garden Care

Cover the ground with newspaper and add garden waste to create a soil bed.  Neil Diboll of Prairie Nursery demonstrates how to prepare a soil bed without digging.

Premiere date: Sep 30, 1995

TRANSCRIPT+
Wisc Gardener Transcript: 

Shelley:
I'm with Neil Diboll, again, of Prairie Nursery. And, Neil is going to show us how to turn this entire area into a garden bed with no digging. Now, Neil, you promised no digging. How am I going to turn this all into a garden bed for planting?

Neil:
Basically what we're going to do is we're going to smother what's growing here. You can see, this was just a wild-grass field. I mowed everything down to, basically, a couple of inches. Now we're going to cover this are with newspaper.

Shelley:
Just plain old newspaper, not plastic?

Neil:
Just plain old newspaper. We're going to use it full-size hunks, overlapped about 50%.

Shelley:
So, you're not unfolding it.

Neil:
No, you're just going to lay it right down as it is. That is going to help smother what's here, OK.

Shelley:
All right.

Neil:
Then we're going to add a large amount of garden waste material or leaves from raking up in the fall because that's when this material is available. So, we bring all our garden waste from the garden. And, instead of taking it to the compost pile, we're going to compost it right in place in our new garden bed.

Shelley:
So, you said garden waste, leaves-- could I not just do this and smother it with bark mulch?

Neil:
I wouldn't suggest bark mulch, because bark mulch robs the soil of nitrogen. And so, you'll create a long-term, low nitrogen problem in your soil by using bark mulch. Also, you don't want to use things like pine needles, spruce needles, because those acidify the soil.

Shelley:
What about black walnut leaves

Neil:
Oh, black walnut leaves-- not a good idea. Black walnut leaves exude a chemical toxic to other plants. That can also stain your soil for quite some time, so it's not a good choice.

Shelley:
You wouldn't be able to grow anything.

Neil:
Well not very many things. You can grow raspberries in there, but that's about it. But, if you take regular maple tree leaves, ash, a basswood, almost any normal shade tree, hickory, oak-- these are excellent leaves to use. So, a combination of your garden leaves and lawn clippings could also work well, lawn cuttings. What we did, is we piled this up two or three feet high. And, this is a minimum amount you need.

Shelley:
This is-- you've got about two feet here now, maybe about a foot and a half.

Neil:
Yeah, and this is going to be stabilized by old boards, an old pallet, or maybe you have an old piece of carpet. You can roll out a piece of carpet just to hold it in place so it doesn't blow away.

Shelley:
OK, so for my yard, where there's a high wind and this would all blow five miles away--

Neil:
Exactly.

Shelley:
This would-- just lay something down to keep it there.

Neil:
Exactly, so it doesn't end up in your neighbor's yard and they get a free compost pile. And then, this will go down over the winter as it rots in. And then next year, you're going to leave this all in place.

Shelley:
So, I'm not planting next spring?

Neil:
You're not planting next spring. This is a full year process.

Shelley:
Is there anything I do next spring?

Neil:
You sit there and watch it rot. Or, if it goes down to, like, a foot or maybe less, then you can take lawn clippings, grass clippings and then augment the pile.

Shelley:
Because you want to keep it about a foot.

Neil:
Right, because you have to smother everything underneath it. You want to keep everything underneath it from coming up through it. If it gets too thin, then you run the risk of plants coming up through it. By the end of next year in the fall, you should've been able to kill everything underneath there because basically you're smothering it during the whole growing season. The plants can't grow and they die underneath. Now, what a lot of people will do then is, they'll wait until the next spring and then go and plant the next spring. So, it's really a year and a half.

Shelley:
So, then it's really decayed.

Neil:
Exactly.

Shelley:
But I could plant next fall if I really wanted to.

Neil:
You could plant next fall if you wanted to. And then, you can go in and till this in if you want, if you have a really bad clay soil or sandy soil. It does benefit to till into that soil.

Shelley:
Because you are enriching the existing soil.

Neil:
Exactly, with all the organic matter. Or, you can plant it directly into the decomposed organic matter.

Shelley:
You're planting into a weed free bed, basically.

Neil:
As long as you didn't bring in any weeds in the organic matter. That's what so nice about leaves and grass clippings. They're essentially weed free since that whole surface layer doesn't have any weeds in it.

Shelley:
Sounds like an easy way and I still don't have to dig.

Neil:
Right.

Shelley:
I like it.

Neil:
Great.

Shelley:
Thanks, Neil.

Neil:
Thank you.

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