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Planning New Beds for Fall Planting

After a busy summer of gardening enjoyment, plant expansion and new ideas, it is time to think about next year's garden. Adding and subtracting from existing beds is one way to improve or change the appearance. With the plants you remove or divide, those you've decided you can't live without and those which you are bound to acquire in the spring, why not plan a new bed or beds in another area of the garden?

As the passion for gardening takes hold of you, your yard will quickly be transformed from an expanse of lawn with token foundation plantings into green pathways which take you to the ever expanding beds throughout the garden. In my own garden, I can tell what year a photograph was taken based on the beds which are present at the time. Every fall I simply must remove a portion of lawn and replace it with a garden.

Each year there are surprises and disappointments, depending upon the weather. The exceptionally hot and dry summer we have had in Southern Ontario accelerated the flowering of many of my perennials, caused others to shrivel up and turn brown and certainly gave a discouraging face to a usually robust and jolly late summer display. With this in mind, some of my additions this fall will be more drought tolerant perennials and shrubs and more trees to offer shade. I will also include more of an assortment of annuals as borders to the perennial beds which can be easily watered during a drought. My quest for additional mulching materials will begin in earnest so that I am more prepared in future.

Fall is the best time to plan and prepare a new bed, whether it be a flower or vegetable garden. The first step is to decide where this bed will be. From a design point of view, the bed should be located such that it fits in with the existing gardens. It should be situated so that you can see and enjoy it from various perspectives such as from the kitchen window or from your favourite sitting spot. It should have a path leading to it.

The size and shape of the bed will be determined by the location and by your plants and resources. I find that 150-200 sqft is about the ideal size for me to handle in one go. Any smaller than this and the bed tends to get overcroweded very quickly. Any bigger and there is too much new ground to work with all at once. This is both hard on the back and it is difficult to keep up with the weeds.

To prepare the soil the first step is to kill or remove all of the existing vegetation. This can be done by smothering the plants with straw or plastic, or by spraying the area with Round-up. Either method will take over three weeks until the soil can be worked. Both methods will add organic matter to the soil since the vegetation will have died on the spot. Another back breaking but effective method is to dig the soil by hand and remove the existing vegetation. This does not work well when perennial weeds such as twitch grass are present but can work very well when you need a new bed in a hurry. In my experience, the emergency beds are always a bit unsatisfactory and always require more work than the properly prepared beds.

After the vegetation has died, spread compost and/or manure as thickly as your supply allows, all over the surface of the area. If you are planning to plant the bed this fall, then dig or till the material into the bed. If you won't be planting until the spring, such as with a new vegetable garden, then leave the compost/manure mixture on the top. It can be worked in during the planting stage next spring.

When planning the content of the new bed, be sure to consider using sculpture, ornamental grasses and ornamental shrubs along with your list of perennials. These structural components will help to provide year round interest just in case weather conditions work against your favourite plants.

Getting a head start on spring is always a good idea when gardening in Canada. Too often, projects are put on standby due to lack of time and energy in the spring. Preparing the beds now will ensure that you gain that extra gardening space for the future.

Daisy Moore, 1998.




Other autumn garden tips:

(click on the tip you want to read)


Fall Perennials
Planning New Beds for Fall Planting
The Garden in Transition
Dividing and Transplanting Perennials
The Dos and Don'ts of Staking Trees
Re-Seeding or Sodding the Lawn
Bulbs: Always Worth the Effort
Fertilizing the Lawn in Late Summer or Early Fall
Preparing the Vegetable Garden for Next Year
Growing Garlic ...For Food or Ornament
Priorities for Fall Gardening
Preparing the Garden for Winter





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Daisy Moore 2006