How to Prepare a Garden Bed – 5 Ways to Start New Vegetable Plots

Are you ready to start a new vegetable garden? Preparing a new garden bed is exciting, but can be a lot of work. We’ll dig into the five different ways you can transform your backyard into a beautiful thriving vegetable garden.

There are many benefits to gardening, from getting outside in the sun to the satisfaction of knowing you grew something you and your family can eat! Having a garden can be very rewarding.

This may be new territory for some of you, and you may not know the different ways to prepare the soil and remove existing grass, weeds, or plants. Since gardening is an age-old practice, mankind has had plenty of time for trial and error to weed out (pun intended) the methods that work, compared to those that don’t.

We’ve taken the top five ways to create a new garden plot and laid them out to help you make an informed decision on which one is best for you! However, before we get to those, the first step is the same for them all. You need to claim your ground!

Identify the Best Location & Claim Your Ground

The most important step in creating a new garden is to make sure it meets all the requirements to grow healthy productive vegetables.

Take a good look around your yard or wherever you plan on having your garden, and find the prime location. If you happen to see a dark earthy plot of land that’s rich in soil, then you’re all done! That’s probably not the case for you though. This is where your imagination is going to have to come into play.

Where in your yard do you envision this garden? You’ll want a plot of ground that receives sunlight at least 8 hours per day. That’s one requirement that is non-negotiable in order for your corps to reach their full potential.

After you find your plot of ground, stake it out. This will help you keep from making a garden that’s too big or awkward looking. Grab 4 stakes and mark the 4 corners. Next, tie a small rope or string onto one stake and wrap it around the perimeter so you have a good visual of the boundaries of your vegetable plot.

5 Ways to Create a New Garden Bed

Now that you’ve marked off your plot of land, you’re ready to get to work on one of the following methods to prepare new garden beds ready for planting.

gardener digging a new vegetable plot with shovel

1. Dig Dig Dig – The Traditional Way

Tools Required:

  • Gloves
  • Shovel or Hoe
  • Tarp if Double Digging

Digging new beds is the most common way to start and is the quickest if you aren’t afraid of a little physical activity. There are two ways to dig your garden.

The Dig and Flip

The first is to simply take your shovel, dig it in the ground the length of the blade, bring the dirt up and flip it into that same spot you dug with the roots in the air and the grass in the ground.

As you’re digging and flipping, break up the soil if the clumps are large. You want to break it up as much as you can to help break the grass’s rooting to starve it of nutrients. The grass will break down providing organic matter to the garden soil.

Also, be sure you’re digging deep! If you’re not digging deep enough – at least 12 inches, you may need to add more soil.

Double Digging the New Bed

The second method is a little more technical, but not by much. You’re going to need the tarp for this one.

Layout your tarp beside your garden plot, and just as you began the first, dig the shovel into the ground the length of the blade. This time instead of flipping it back into the same spot, turn the soil onto your tarp. Do this for the entire garden.

Then, go through the entire garden again, but this time dig & flip the dirt back on the same spot. After you’ve done this, take the dirt on the tarp and place it on the garden bed with the grass side facing down.

While both methods work just fine, the benefit of the Double Dig is that you have more earth for the plants to take root since you’ve broken up the soil a bit deeper. Since they can take root deeper, your garden may be much more fruitful.

Digging Your Garden Beds With a Hoe

If you want to be a little more adventurous, do this same method with a hoe. It’s a little more fun and gets the job done just as well. Use the same motion you would for chopping wood.

Once the blade of the hoe lands nicely in the ground, pull it toward you and a chunk of soil will raise out of the ground. Flip that chunk and repeat for the entire garden bed.

Pro Tip: Keep a close eye on the garden bed to make sure the grass you flipped is dying. You want the grass to die so your fruits and veggies aren’t competing for the soil.

If you notice some exposed grass is still green, chop it up to ensure it can’t survive. Ideally, this should be done several weeks or even months before planting to ensure the grass and weeds have enough time to break down.

2. Get It Done Fast With A Rototiller

A rototiller is by far the fastest tool to use for carving out your new vegetable garden. While many gardeners say it’s not the ‘best’ way, your fruits and veggies won’t tell the difference.

The size of your garden plot will depend on the size of tiller you need to use.

tilling a new garden bed with a rototiller

Tools Required:

  • Gloves
  • Rake
  • Rototiller

Once you have your tiller, set it at the highest setting. This will help pull out the grass first, which will make it a lot easier when you dig deep. Go over the patch of land, letting the rototiller pull as you guide it.

After the first pass is complete, take a garden rake and rake out as much of the grass as you can so you are left with beautiful looking soil.

Once you have that clean soil look, you’re ready to dig a little deeper. Lower the setting on your tiller a few notches and do two more passes, this time really digging deep and churning the earth.

After the second pass at a deeper depth, you should be left with a lovely loose-dirt garden.

Pro Tip: Be cautious with tilling, overdoing it can cause damage to the soil and leave you with an unhealthy garden. We recommend doing this once a year at most.

3. Raised Garden Beds: Build it, And The Plants Will Come

Raised garden bed filled with vegetables. Man in background weeding his plot.

Ok, not really. But if you plant and nurture them they sure will!

This method of gardening is great if you don’t want to dig old areas. It will require some basic construction skills, nothing you can’t handle though.

Tools Needed:

  • Shovel
  • Garden Rake
  • Raised Bed Kits

The first step is optional. Some people remove the top layer of grass and others feel it doesn’t make a difference. Since you’ll be covering the grass with dirt, it will die and add to the nutrients of the soil, so you are fine with skipping that first step.

The next is setting up the garden border on the patch of land you want your garden to be. Just follow the instructions on your raised garden kit to build the raised beds.

From there, you’ll simply fill the area close to the top border of your raised garden box. Then, you’re ready to plant! As simple as that.

For the fruits and vegetables to take root and be lavish, you’ll want at least 12 inches (1 foot) of loose soil, so be sure to buy a kit that caters to those needs if you’re planting food. For a simple flower garden, you’re fine with a shorter height. Add a layer of compost or organic matter and mix it into the garden soil.

Pro Tip: For those of you with a larger plot of land, you can either build a custom box or use multiple small boxes. Raised gardens are helpful for older gardeners who may have a bad back and need a little easier access to their garden.

4. Make Some Lasagna – Garden Style

Leaf layer in lasanga garden

This is another no-dig method that may be a better option for those of you who aren’t into the physical labor of digging their new vegetable garden beds. Mother Earth News describes the lasagna method as the following.

An easy method of gardening that lets you accomplish more with less work.

Mother Earth News

The basic process is to layer green matter (grass clippings, vegetable scraps, and coffee grounds) with brown matter (leaves, cardboard, and newspaper) which represents the lasagna noodles. The sauce of the lasagna is the water that brings it all together.

However, this process can be time-consuming and take up to a year to be ready for gardening, much longer than your average Lasagna takes to finish cooking, but it’s just as good.

Tools Required:

  • Newspaper, Leaves
  • Green Grass Clippings, Organic Material or Vegetable Scraps

The first step is to cut the grass in the area you’d like the vegetable garden and remove all weeds. Get those pesky garden killers out of there!

After you do that, you’ll need to kill the grass in the existing area by blocking the sunlight. This can easily be done by laying newspapers or cardboard over the surface area.

Remember how we told you to cut the grass in our first step? This is where that comes in handy. Spread a layer of those green grass clippings over the newspaper. If you don’t have green clippings, you can also use coffee grounds, vegetable scraps, or fertilizer.

As you’re going along, spray water on every layer to keep it moist. This is needed to speed up the composting process. Continue this cycle until the garden is at least 18 to 24 inches deep.

After you’ve reached this depth, cover it with a fabric cover to protect it from the weather while allowing air in to keep the composting active and healthy.

After about a year, your garden bed will be ready to plant seeds, and grow fresh fruits and veggies!

women raking new garden bed

5. The Big Cover-Up

The final and possibly easiest way to cultivate your garden bed is to simply cover it with cardboard.

Tools Required:

  • Cardboard or Weed Block
  • Garden Hose
  • Mulch

The first step however is to cut the grass as short as you can get it. Next and pull out any larger roots or weeds to ensure the ground is flat. Remove any loose grass, especially those with weed seeds to prevent them from being mixed in the garden soil.

Once you’ve done that, cover existing garden soil and the cut grass with cardboard or a thick layer of newspaper. Be sure you’re layering it! Don’t be stingy, it’s okay if the cardboard is overlapping another piece of cardboard.

For faster results, you can first place a few layers of newspaper on the ground before laying down your cardboard, since the newspaper will decompose faster.

You can add a layer of mulch or large rocks to hold the cardboard in place and keep the weeds underneath.

The next step is simple, wet the cardboard to speed up the decomposition process. After you’ve done that, place a thick layer of mulch on top. Choose the type of mulch based on the types of crops you plan on growing.

Then it’s easy, just leave the cardboard in place for 6 months to a year. If you do this in the Fall (September), you should have a garden bed ready for planting in the Spring.

In the spring, you can either remove the cardboard entirely or leave it in place and cut holes for your new plants. Add a layer of mulch on top to keep the weeds from reemerging through the growing season.

Large vegetable garden with cabbage squash beans tomatoes and brocolli

Final Tips to Prepare Your New Garden Beds

Whatever approach you take, here are a few final tips to give you optimal results with your fruits and veggies:

  • Don’t compact the soil. In every case, you need the soil to be loose.
  • Plan ahead and develop your garden bed a minimum of 6 months before you’ll need to plant.
  • Test your garden soil to determine if amendments or compost is needed.
  • Keep your soil thick. Most fruits and veggies will need a deep garden bed to really take root and grow well. We recommend a minimum of 12 inches.

And that sums it up! We wish you the best on your gardening journey, and please don’t hesitate to leave any tips and tricks, or ask questions in the comments below. We’d love to hear from you.

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Planning the vegetable garden - location size and timing - pinterest collage.