Garden Bed Prep

Gardening is a great way to get outside, connect with nature, add diversity to your yard, and provide food and habitat for people, wildlife, and pollinators. But how do you get started building a garden? Garden bed prep is essential for growing a successful garden. Below are some tips we have on how to prepare your garden bed for success.

Why Prep Your Garden Bed?

Prepping the garden bed will help you grow better all season long. Garden prep helps:

  1. Prevent weed issues
  2. Promote successful establishment and growth
  3. Address any soil problems such as drainage or compaction issues
  4. Ensure proper nutrients and conditions for plant growth

How to Prep Your Garden Bed


Location, location, location

Site selection is the most important decision! When selecting your garden’s location, consider the following: 

  1. Sunlight. Knowing how much sunlight hits different spots of the garden will help you pick the right plant for each space.
  2. Previous land use. Generally, you want to avoid planting edible plants close to houses built prior to 1978 (potential lead paint residue!), as well as any areas with a known history of heavy pesticide use, oil spillage, or any other potentially harmful pollutants.
  3. Convenience. Choose a spot that’s accessible and make sure you can reach all the plants, for easy maintenance. The garden needs to be easy for you to get to, irrigate, weed, and harvest. If you can’t reach the middle of the garden bed from the sides, build a path or reduce the size of the garden (you don’t want to accidentally trample any plants trying to get to the ones in the back!).
  4. Size. Make sure the site you pick is big enough to plant what you want to plant – and make sure you allow room for your plants to grow. Check your seed packets or container inserts for specific spacing requirements.
  5. Protection. Think about how you’re going to keep unwanted visitors (pets, pests, wildlife, soccer balls) out of the area. Fences are great for protecting larger areas, and incorporating plants that deter pests or attract beneficial predators can also help in some cases.


Pick your garden type.

Now that you know what you want to plant and where it’ll be located – it’s time to choose a place to dig in!

  1. Container gardens are great for small spaces and patios, and can be used to grow ornamental arrangements, veggies, and even some native plants. Container gardens also are great for beginners, because they don’t require a ton of prep – just select a container, fill with potting mix, and you’re ready to plant your plants!
  2. Raised beds help bring the garden up to you (no more stooping!) and are great for yards with poorly-drained or unhealthy soils.
  3. In-ground beds can be great for ornamental, native, wildflower, or veggie gardens of any size.

Sunday ProTip: For in-ground or raised beds with a soil-base, we always recommend starting out with a soil test, so you have a baseline to build off of.


Ensure seedling and plug success.

In order to help your new plants establish, you’ll need to clear out anything that could compete with the new plants for water, nutrients, or sunlight. This includes any debris, grass, weeds, or other vegetation that may currently be growing in your soon-to-be garden bed (raised or in-ground). We recommend the following, depending on when you’re prepping:


  1. Ahead of Planting: Cover your preferred planting area a few months ahead of planting with a layer of wet cardboard, followed by grass clippings or other green materials, followed by a layer of mulch. You can plant into this area after a few months, and the materials will add a beneficial layer of compost to your bed.
  2. Time of Planting: If you didn’t get a jump-start, don’t fret! Dig out any grass or other vegetation in the planting area when you are ready to plant. Make sure you get roots or as much of the root as possible.

Sunday Pro Tip: Make sure you have your new plants ready to go when you clear the soil, or, if you clear the soil prior to planting, make sure to plant a cover crop or lay mulch. This will help prevent soil erosion and will help keep weeds out and retain moisture.


Add some compost.

Once you remove any debris, you’ll want to add back some organic matter to help boost soil health, hold on to moisture, promote good drainage, and add nutrients back to the soil. Mix in some fresh compost before or at planting.


Grow Your Green Thumb

Now that your garden bed is ready, it’s time to plant! Get creative and play around with textures, colors, shapes, scents, and flavors. Make sure to weed and water as needed, and don’t forget to feed your plants with the proper nutrients so you can enjoy them all season long!

Cited Sources

Richmond, J. Planning Your Garden. West Virginia Extension Service. 

University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension. Preparing a Vegetable Garden Site.