English philosopher Sir Francis Bacon famously declared that “Gardening is the purest of pleasures.” He was so right. Gardening is good for your health and a known stress reliever and it can be a real joy.
A well kept lawn and garden is a terrific way to keep your family food budget in check or to brighten your yard with a breathtaking array of bright, fresh flowers. Even beginners can learn to grow fresh produce, berries, herbs, or flowers from their own home garden.
Luckily, gardening doesn’t have to be hard, even if you’re a novice. Follow the 10 basics outlined here to get the dirt on turning your lawn into a garden.
1. Find the Best Spot
Realtors know the best properties are all about “location, location, location.” And fans of gardening know the same rules apply to personal gardens too. The first thing you’ll want to do is evaluate your property to identify the best space to use for your garden.
What makes a spot perfect for a garden-to-be? You’ll want to find a location on your property that’s level and gets plenty of sun. Aim for an area that gets a lot of early-morning sunshine and will continue to have sun throughout most of the day.
Be sure to avoid any areas of your property that routinely become waterlogged after it rains as these spots may not offer enough drainage. You’ll also want to avoid the root systems from a tree or bush since roots can spread far and disrupt your plants. Try to go at least 10 feet from the furthest spot a tree or shrub’s branches reach.
You also don’t want to build a garden where strong winds could be a hindrance. Remember, a generally stable environment is best for establishing garden placement.
Tip: The closer your garden is to your water source, the easier this routine chore will be for you over time.
2. Tools for Testing Your Soil
Healthy garden soil produces healthy plants. You want to be sure the soil has a good amount of basic nutrients before you begin tearing up your yard. So, you need to know more about your soil.
Begin by testing soil samples from various parts of your preferred garden area to get readings of your nutrient levels. Do you have sand, clay, or is your soil acidic, alkaline, or phosphorus? What’s your soil’s pH level? Does your soil have vital minerals like lime, potassium, and gypsum?
Is your soil at risk of contamination from a nearby road or a century’s old structure with lead-based paint? Some urban gardens are.
Use a low-cost home soil test kit from a garden store or contact your county extension office, since many provide budget-friendly soil testing. Following the test instructions will help you know your soil’s particular characteristics, and what you might need to do to improve your soil for healthy growth before you begin.
3. Design the Space
What’s in your mind’s eye when it comes to your future garden? Don’t start converting part of your lawn into a garden until you have a plan. Do you want an in-ground or raised garden?
Your garden can take on a lot of different shapes, depending on your yard’s existing design and your own inspiration. Your garden perimeter can follow the gentle curve of your landscaping or yard structures or be set up in a more traditional rectangle.
Big or small … in-ground or raised … identify a garden shape and size that fits your plot of land and works with your budget. Tip: Some beginners prefer to start small and simple their first year to get a feel for gardening and how much time the process takes, you can always add on later if need be.
4. Clean Up Debris
Now it’s time to do some basic chores before cutting into your sod. Mow your entire lawn, including the area chosen for your garden. Collect fallen leaves, grass clippings, twigs, acorns, rocks, and any other debris, then remove the unwanted material from the area.
Be sure to compost any organic discards, adding the removed sod, leaves, grass clippings, and roots to your compost pile. Tip: Plan to spread the composted material over your garden next year to use its nutrients.
Then use landscape paint or even a garden hose or rope to mark the perimeter. Then checked the marked site from all angles and various vantage points to ensure you like the placement. But don’t dig quite yet, it’s time to call 8-1-1 (in the United States) to “know what’s below” and have your underground utilities marked for free. (You’ll have to identify your own property’s underground sprinkler lines, if any.)
5. Say “Bye-Bye” to Your Sod
Drive wooden stakes around the perimeter and stretch a string between the stakes to form an outline of your future garden’s boundaries within your yard.
When it’s time to actually begin digging, use a power sod cutter, this tool can be rented from home and garden stores, to make quick work of sod removal inside the designated area.
Gently shake the sod pieces over the exposed soil so any excess topsoil is returned back to the ground, or use the removed sod to patch up bare spots in your yard. Be sure to collect and remove any lingering, large roots or rocks. Tip: Sod removal is much easier when the sod is cut into workable sections.
6. Prep the Soil
Use a rototiller or hoe, two great tools to completely break up the soil within the garden space and remove any additional rocks, weeds, roots, or other debris like surface garbage. Carefully preparing your garden is important for success during the growing season.
Once you have tilled the garden plot, rake the exposed dirt with a steel rake, another great tool, to even out the land and further work the soil.
7. Line Your Borders
Lining the borders of your garden bed not only helps it look neat and tidy, but it helps prevent inadvertent damage from lawnmowers and weed trimmers.
There are many ways to clearly mark your garden boundaries. Consider landscape edging, timbers, rocks, paving bricks or even a small fence for the job. Adding borders to a garden will help your garden transformation look more complete and will make your garden easier to care for in the future.
8. Top it Off and Water
You still need to do a bit more groundwork before preparing to plant.
Add a load of fresh topsoil to your garden. Use the results of your earlier soil testing to add soil amendments, such as fertilizer, lime, or compost to help what’s lacking. Your local garden center can give you guidance specific to your garden’s needs.
Now rake again but this time, be gentle so the soil is smooth but loose. Tip: Be careful not to walk over the new plot since you don’t want to compact your soil and un-do your hard work. Next, be sure to moisten the whole garden plot with a sprinkler or hose. Allow the soil to rest and be sure not to walk on it.
9. Plant Your Favorites
Deciding what to plant in your garden doesn’t have to be stressful. A great rule of thumb in gardening is to grow what you love. Seeds can be purchased from your local home and garden store, flower shop, or online, which is less expensive than ordering bulbs.
Beginners probably don’t want to choose things that are delicate or hard to grow. It pays to know your United States Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zone and your property’s elevation. Then, start with plants that fit, require minimal care, and suit your budget.
The professionals at your local garden center are often gardening enthusiasts and great resources in helping you narrow your choices. Be sure to follow the specific planting guidelines for your flower or vegetable, and the geography in which you live. Finish vegetable beds with a two-to-three-inch layer of straw or compost.
Tip: Ask friends for cuttings from their garden so you can pot, tend to, and (in time) plant and grow your own as it’s a resourceful way to begin.
10. Enjoy your Garden
Sure, your new garden space will need ongoing weeding and watering but it’s now time to enjoy the many rewards of Mother Nature. Sit back and enjoy your hard work!
Your work at turning your lawn into a garden will be rewarded with a beautiful plot that lifts your mood. The therapeutic power of gardening will indeed give you the purest of pleasure for years to come and demonstrate the truth of Sir Francis Bacon’s words.
As you transform your dull lawn into a beautiful garden, either with practical vegetables and produce or the beautiful flowers and ornamental plants, your greenspace at your home will captivate visitors. Having an outdoor hobby will bring great pleasure, and tending to your garden can be the highlight of your time at home.