by Connie Oswald Stofko
It’s spring! If you want to start a new garden in your yard, you will have to remove the grass first.
Darren Cotton, founder and president of The Tool Library in Buffalo, shares the steps he followed when he and his partner Michael Reyes created new cutting gardens last year. (The purpose of a cutting garden is to grow flowers that will be picked. Reyes is a floral designer.)
Cotton, who is an urban planner and graphic designer, also discusses the tools you can use for various steps of the project. The names of the tools link to photos in The Tool Library, which is helpful if you’re unfamiliar with the tool.
Planning, then removing grass
Choose a site for your garden. Remember that you need access to water.
Cotton and Reyes created rectangular beds. They used a measuring wheel to measure out each bed. Then they used marking spray (which you can get at a hardware store) to mark the outlines.
Tip: If you are creating a curved bed, use a garden hose to lay out the curves. It will be difficult to bend the hose a great deal, so you will get wide, lazy curves that will be easy to mow around.
To cut and remove the sod, they used a mattock. (The Tool Library doesn’t have sod kickers, which are manual, or sod cutters, which are powered, but you can rent or buy those tools at hardware stores.)
Tip: Use that leftover sod to patch bare spots in your lawn. You can also compost it.
Preparing the soil
Cotton and Reyes used a rototiller. Because we have such hard, clay soil in Western New York, “You may have to rent a heavy-duty gas tiller for all the heavy-duty work,” Cotton said. “We don’t have gas-powered tools at The Tool Library.
“The electric cultivators that we have really aren’t meant for tilling new beds. They are best for amending/turning over existing beds.” The Tool Library has manual cultivators in addition to electric cultivators.
Easier–but much slower–way to remove grass
Using this method won’t allow you to plant directly into your garden bed this spring, but you won’t have to spend time digging out the grass.
Lay down newspapers and black landscape fabric over the spot where you want your garden to be. This will kill the grass, but it will take many weeks. Cover the area with decorative mulch.
Buy the perennials you would eventually like in the garden bed. Plant the perennials in large containers and set the containers on top of the mulch. The perennials will flower in the pots and the area will look nice during the summer.
In autumn, the grass will be dead. Incorporate compost and topsoil into the new bed and transplant your perennials into the bed.
You could do this with vegetables, too. Plant vegetables in containers. For vegetables such as tomatoes and peppers, keep them in the containers all season. In autumn, incorporate compost and topsoil into the garden bed. The next year, you can plant directly into your garden bed.