I first lay out the new area with a hose as an outline for the new garden bed, then I begin hand digging all of the sod out of the area with my trusty shovel. Some people have better luck using a flat shovel, but I find the curved shovel works best to dig into and remove the sod.
Once the sod is all removed I place it in a wheelbarrow or my lawn cart for transplanting elsewhere in the garden. I estimate I have transplanted about 10,000 square feet of sod in this way. Sometimes I wind up moving sod more than once! The reason why I end up moving so much sod is I continue to make the mistake of planning new gardens too small. I am finally beginning to realize it is best to go ahead and go large to begin with, and save myself work further down the road.
The hardest part making a new garden for me is removing and transplanting the sod. I get so impatient I sometimes start planting before all of the sod is removed. It is a bad habit I have had to work on. I am doing better and enjoy it so much when the garden is done all at once and is completely ready for planting and planning.
Then the fun part begins with designing and planting. I almost never plan a garden on paper. I used to diligently plan the vegetable garden on paper each year, but now have a procedure of rotation which does not require and in depth plan. Thank goodness because I really just want to dig. Flower garden plans ALWAYS change once planting begins anyhow, so what is the point?
The garden in the pictures was created in 2006. I found it was too small to adequately circle around the oak, so I decided to enlarge it this past fall. It really would have been so much easier to have made it big to begin with! I would like to say I learned a lesson and will plan big from now on, but realistically I know that I won't. I think that the beauty of gardening is change. Reworking a garden is change so I am trying to go with the flow. Really, what I am trying to say is even if I plan big, it is likely I will change the garden somehow at some point. That is just the way I garden. I once heard you are not truly a gardener unless you move plants around, but I don't fully believe that because I know people who actually do plan well and never move plants. They are few and far between though as I KNOW most gardeners move plants around. Trees, shrubs, decks, bulbs, vines-you name it and we have moved it!
Once the sod is safely removed and replanted, I then use my shovel to hand turn the soil. I give the soil a really good working over and when I am done, my soil is raised about four inches above the surrounding sod. Making sure the soil is good and moist helps in this endeavor. I then add some compost (if available, if not then just a layer of good mulch), greensand, and plants. Greensand is an organic amendment which helps change the composition of clay soil. Something we have a lot of in Tennessee.
Once all is done, I mulch with either shredded wood mulch from Bi-County or with leaves and/or pine needles. If the garden is next to the house the mulch will never be shredded wood mulch. It takes a few years for the garden to grow in but I find the time is passing rather quickly, and I try to be very patient.
The far garden in the top picture was created in February 05. The mulch still showing on it is the initial mulch I used when creating this garden. I purchased it from Bi-County for just $10 a pickup truck full. I think it took about three truck loads. What a chore on my poor back! I will not mulch it again in this way, preferring instead to use leaves and pine needles once the garden is set in.
The second method I have used in creating a garden is the lazy gardener's method. It requires no digging initially. This time of year is the best time to make a new garden using this method. All I do is layer a bunch of newspapers (5-6 layers) over the sod in the new garden area, then cover the newspapers with a thick layer of shredded leaves. The garden sits all winter, then come spring I turn over the whole area and re-mulch. I don't like this method as well as the first because you wind up with many more weeds as lawn grasses are tough to kill, even under a deep layer of mulch. It takes about two years to get this type of garden established to the point the first type is in just one year. By being established I mean with very little weeds left to grow through the mulch and with the soil being friable and workable.
The number one mistake I see people make when creating new gardens is to rototill or turn under the soil without first removing the lawn and/or weeds. It is pointless to begin a garden in this way because you will spend more time pulling weeds than you do enjoying it. If you are digging under a tree and there are roots close to the surface, you should not remove the sod. I usually lay sod down over the area upside down, cover with newspapers and lots of mulch and use the lazy gardener method to garden in this type of location. Plants I use close to trees and roots are going to be different than what I would use in another garden further away from the tree. I do try to balance the trees needs with my need to cultivate and grow beautiful things but this can be tricky. I will talk about gardening under trees in another post sometime.
No garden will be truly weed proof, but ensuring you properly prepare the garden prior to planting will prevent much heartache later on. The double benefit of removing the lawn is you have new instant sod to replace thin areas of your yard. If there are only weeds in the new garden area, then put them directly in the compost bin and don't bother transplanting them. Sometimes I like it when I have only weeds to remove because it saves on the labor of transplanting the sod. Even with all of my hard work on the sod I do still have thin and weedy areas so I always try to create gardens here first. So where does all the sod go? it goes....
in the garden....expanding my gardens and moving sod.