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Making a Garden in Lawn

Beds of flowers, roses and shrubs look amazing against the rich green of lush lawn.  This classic combination suits almost any style garden whether a parterre, formal, native or even edible garden.  Of course, the first step to having such a garden is to remove the grass in a manner that ensures that it doesn’t come back and become the bane of the gardener’s life.

When preparing garden beds in lawn, the size and shape of each one really does matter and should be thought through carefully.  Very small beds or complicated ones with tight curves will simply make them difficult to maintain with a lawn edger and mower.  Sweeping and gently curved edges as well as straight lines are far easier to maintain with motorised equipment.

Be aware also of the width of the garden bed as well as whether there will be easy access to all areas so that you can get in and weed or prune.  Keep in mind the size that the plants will become when fully grown and ensure that the beds are at least that wide.  If the shrubs hang over the edge it will make the lawn difficult to trim but also cast shade over it causing it to become thin and prone to weeds.  Always plan carefully considering maintenance and not just beauty.

A hose is invaluable when marking out curved garden beds.  It holds its place and curves gently so that it can be easily moved until the desired shape is formed.  For straight lines, use a string line to get the correct size and shape and then for both, use a can of marking paint to transfer the outline to the lawn.

The easiest and possibly the most effective way of dealing with the grass is by first killing it using a herbicide that contains glyphosate.  This is the active ingredient but it is available under various brand names at shops such as Better Pets and Gardens.

Glyphosate is a very effective herbicide.  It is taken up through the leaves and will kill the whole plant, including the roots, ensuring that nothing will regrow.  With most grasses, even the smallest piece of root will reshoot and spread underground before it unexpectedly pops up in the middle of a new garden bed so killing all parts of the grass will provide the best results.

It’s important to remember that glyphosate will kill any plant that it comes into contact with even if it’s just the very fine spray that drifts onto a nearby plant.  Roses are particularly prone to damage so applying glyphosate, especially when there is a breeze, should be done with care to ensure that it doesn’t drift into areas where it isn’t wanted.  It is even worth using plastic to protect nearby plants just whilst the spray is being applied.

Mix the glyphosate in a pump or backpack sprayer making sure that you read the mixing and safety instructions carefully.  Some gardeners swear by adding a teaspoon of urea to the mix as the nitrogen in this makes the leaves of the lawn take up the liquid faster and so the poison should work faster as well.  Adding food colouring to the mix will help you see where you have sprayed.

Minimise the spray drift by adjusting the nozzle to a spray pattern that is narrow with large droplets and pump it just enough to deliver the spray.  Keeping the sprayer at high pressure will cause the droplets to be smaller and more prone to being carried by the wind.  Another good idea is to cut the top 10cm off a 2L cool drink bottle and then tape this to the head of the wand.  It will act like a shield to reduce the amount of spray going off in unwanted directions.

Whilst spraying, work in a pattern from one side of the bed to the other so that there is no need to step on the wet lawn and risk leaving a trail of foot-shaped dead patches across the rest of the lawn as you leave.

Once the lawn has been sprayed you must leave it for three to seven days to give the glyphosate time to get down to the roots.  If you start digging too early there is a risk that not all roots have been killed and those remaining will reshoot.  Don’t allow the reticulation to come on and hope that it doesn’t rain for at least 24 hours.  After the waiting period has passed, the dead lawn can be dug out of the garden bed.

For those that don’t like using herbicides, it is possible to dig out the lawn without spraying it first but it will take a lot more effort as the depth will have to be much greater to remove all the roots.  Start by first using a sharpened spade to cut a strip around the edge of the bed and then digging out the remaining lawn.  The more soil that is dug out the better as any grass roots that remain are sure to regrow but the aim would be to dig down about 45cm for the best result.

After all of the grass has been removed, line the entire bed with about 10 layers of newspaper.  Wet the newspaper first or hose it as it is placed down to stop it from being picked up by the wind.  At this stage, the garden bed is ready to be filled.

The success of the garden bed relies on the quality of the topsoil that it is filled with.  It’s worth visiting a landscape supplier to choose the mix to make sure that it is exactly what is needed.  Look for a rich, dark mix that is full of organic matter but has very little sand in it.  It should have been screened to remove rocks, roots and sticks and be quite free draining.  Ask questions about each of the mixes and pay a few extra dollars if it helps get the best one as it will be worth the investment in the long run.

The bed will need to be filled with topsoil to between 20 and 30cm deep.  Mound the topsoil so that it is higher in the middle if it is an island bed or higher at the back if it is against a fence or wall, this will help drain the water in the correct direction.  Keep a shallow trench around the edge of the bed to make it easier to edge the lawn when mowing.

The layout of reticulation is a really important consideration.  Sprinkler heads that apply water to lawn are not necessarily the best option for garden beds since both will probably require different levels of applications and may not suite being on the same station.  Before going too much further, take a plan of the current reticulation as well as the new garden down to a specialist reticulation store and ask them for their advice.  It is easier to add the reticulation now before anything is planted than to try to fit it in amongst the plants later on.

Once the reticulation has been added, apply a granular wetting agent just to make sure that the water gets down to the roots of the new plants.  Most topsoil will already have this in the mix but it is best to assume that it hasn’t.  Simply sprinkle the granules over the soil at the rate suggested on the bag but remember that it won’t be activated until it is watered.

Planting is of course the fun part where all the work starts to pay off.  Water the plants first whilst they are still in their pots or punnets to make sure that they cope with being transplanted and then place them throughout the garden in the position that they will be.  Take into account their size when fully grown and not their height at this stage.  When the plants are in their final positions, dig their holes and place them in the ground, lightly pressing the soil around them.  Only worry about loosening the soil around the rootball if it is very tightly packed.

Water the plants within a few minutes of planting using a seaweed solution as this will help them settle in.  For seedlings or potted colour, apply this gently with a watering can but larger plants can be watered with a click-on hose attachment with a soft spray.  Water very, very well at this stage as the application of water will ensure that the surrounding soil is in good contact with the root ball and the seaweed extract will encourage root growth and reduce transplant shock.

Sprinkle a suitable controlled release fertiliser around each plant as this will continue to provide them with nutrients for about three months and make sure that they get a good amount of water for a couple of weeks until they settle in.  After a few weeks, the amount of water can be reduced.

Mulch the garden bed well to ensure that the water stays in the soil and to reduce weed growth and if seedlings have been planted, consider snail traps or pellets.  Although snails are slow moving creatures, they can quickly do damage to young leaves in just one night.

If any grass or lawn reshoots inside the garden bed, instead of pulling it out and risk leaving some roots in the soil to continue to grow, use a paintbrush to apply glyphosate to the leaves.  By keeping on top of this initially, the garden bed will be full of nothing but beautiful flowers and foliage.

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