Winter 'TO DO' List- How to properly prepare a new garden.

YES- This winter there are still things on your 'To Do' list that you can be working on to get your garden ready for spring planting. One of the most beneficial tasks would be to amend and till your landscaping beds now. That way once the warmer weather of spring arrives, you will be ready to hit the nursery!  Please find the instructions below on what are the best practices for proper bed preparation.

Planting Beds for Shrubs and Trees

For typical southern homes with clay soil, amend your landscape beds with the following:

A properly amended and tilled bed

A properly amended and tilled bed


(3) Three cubic feet bags of soil conditioner per 100 square feet of bed.

Triple-super phosphate at the rate of 1 pound per 100 square feet.

Lime according to soil test results, at a rate of 40 pounds per 1000 square feet. Free soil testing is available through the NC State Extension service.


1. Delineate the bed shape using a garden hose to create the bed outline. When you have the shape you want, mark the bed shape using spray paint.

2. To eliminate grass,  spray the bed area with an herbicide such as Round Up.  Wait about a week before tilling. A second application may be needed.

3. Before tilling, cut a smooth edge around the bed are using a flat spade. The edge should be in the shape of a V, about three to five inches deep and two to three inches wide.

4.When you are ready to begin tilling your bed, spread the soil amendments evenly over the area to be tilled. Then, till everything in at one time. Till thoroughly, but don't till too closely around shallow-rooted trees since root damage can lead to the eventual death of the tree.


Proper bed edging with a flat spade

Proper bed edging with a flat spade

If you choose to add topsoil to your bed areas, choose a sandy, loamy topsoil. This soil type will aid in good drainage and allow water to percolate into the substrate. Use caution when piling soil against tree trunks, this can lead to damage and disease of the tree.

Planting Beds for Annuals and Perennials

For these areas, follow the same technique outlined for creating general bed areas, but for each 50 square feet of bed, add:

Two (2) 3-cubic foot bags of soil conditioner

One (1) 25- pound bag of Plant Tone

One to two (1-2) 50 pound bags of cow manure (NOTE: the more clay in your soil increases your need for cow manure)

One (1) five pound bag of garden lime (dolomitic limestone) according to soil test.


One of my customers just completed this task, you can see a picture of his handywork above. He did a great job- better than most landscapers!

Lastly, some of my customers also prefer to cover their new bed with weed barrier and mulch until ready for planting. This allows the soil to stay soft and moist until planting time. So get going on that bed preparation and you will be ahead of the game this spring!

About the Author:

Lori Hawkins, RLA, ASLA has been a registered landscape architect and active in the landscape design/build industry for over 29 years. For additional inspiring project pictures, design ideas, or great garden gifts, take a look at these websites: