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.

 This works best if the lawn has very few, if any, weeds.
  • 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 landscape spray chalk or a clothesline.


  • If smothering was used for site prep, your new plants can be installed directly into the dead sod. By not disturbing the surrounding soil, weed seeds are not exposed, reducing weed growth in the new garden.
  • Follow your garden plan, and place each potted plant on ground in the prepared area, where they will be planted.  Space and adjust them according to the layout plan that you're following. If you'd rather do your own planting design, this layout process can help you visualize the final outcome.
  • Once the plants are in position on the ground you're ready to start digging and planting. You might decide to work in sections within a larger planting, in order to keep some plants out from underfoot as you go. Decide on a digging strategy and start planting.
  • 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.

TIP: Planting a very large area?  A drill with an auger attachment can be used to dig the holes for small transplants.  This works best in soil is relatively loose to start with, and is more difficult in clay or compact soils.


Whether planting into tilled soil or dead lawn turf, cover the soil around each new plant with mulch. We recommend applying mulch after planting — Mulch helps reduce watering and retain moisture for your new transplants during their establishment phase. We recommend mulching new plantings with 3-4 inches of clean, weed-free straw. Mulching with leaves is best for a shade garden.  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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