Quick Guide: Preparing & Planting Your Garden


If the site for your new garden is currently an existing lawn, you will need to prepare the site for planting. There are several options for preparing the site:

  • Choice 1 – Smother the lawn, or chosen area, using a large sheet of black plastic, a tarp, or a layer of cardboard. Using this method, you must keep the area completely covered for a full growing season.

 Start smothering in early spring, and plant your garden in fall.
  • Choice 2 – Using a sod-cutter, or a (sharp) flat square-shaped spade, remove the top 2–3 inches of grass and soil, then till the cleared area lightly before installing.

  • Choice 3 – Cultivate the planting area, either with a soil-tiller or by hand-digging, three times, at one week intervals.
 In very loose well-drained soils you can often start tilling in early-to-mid spring. In clay soil you'll need to wait a little longer to begin (mid-to-late spring) to avoid tilling wet clay.

Tip: Prior to smothering or digging, mark the outline of the garden area with clothesline, other light colored twine, or landscape spray chalk.


In general, native plants don't require any soil amendments. Simply choose native plants, or a pre-planned garden that is a good fit for your existing soil/conditions. Learn more about choosing plants for your site conditions.


  • Follow your garden plan, and layout the prepared area by placing the potted plants on the ground where they will be planted. Space and adjust them according to the layout plan that you're following. Or, if you are designing on the fly, the layout process can help you visualize the final outcome. Think about mature size, rather than what the plants looks like in its small pot.
  • Plants can be installed directly into dead sod. By not disturbing the surrounding soil, weed seeds are not exposed, reducing weed growth in the new garden. Whether planting into tilled soil or dead lawn turf, you may cover the soil around each new plant with mulch.

Tip: when planting a very large area, a drill with an auger attachment can be used to dig the holes for small transplants.


We recommend applying mulch after planting — Mulch helps reduce watering and retain moisture for your new transplants during their establishment phase. We recommend mulching with 3-4 inches of clean, weed-free straw. Bark chips or nuggets are not recommended, as they contain compounds that are toxic to many herbaceous plants.


During the first two months after planting, water the garden whenever the soil begins to dry out. A single deep soaking is better than numerous light sprinklings. Once the plants are well-established watering should not be necessary, except during periods of extended drought.

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