Monday, May 31, 2021

This Is How I Start a New Mulch Bed from Scratch

How do you start a brand new mulch bed over grass for the first time? Here is my method that I've used a few times but it's certainly not the only way to do it. I'll show step by step photos and talk about the pros and cons of this method compared to other ways to do it. 

The very first thing I like to do is to visualize the shape of the bed by laying out a garden hose in the shape that the bed will be in eventually. I like nice gradual curves, so a garden hose is the perfect outline to start planning, then you can step back and make sure you like it. 

Using a garden hose to plan out the shape of the new mulch bed
Using a garden hose to plan out the shape of the new mulch bed

I'm glad I did this because when I took a step back I realized I wanted more of a concave curve at the top rather than convex to basically make the whole thing look like a kidney bean or fat boomerang. The kidney bean shape is very common in landscaping and the gradual curves are pleasing to the eye. The benefit of the curve on the high side of the yard is that water will flow around it on its way down hill. 

My next step while the hose is still in place is to just nuke everything with roundup. You could also edge around the whole thing with a half moon edger and peel up the sod, but this grass has been growing here for a few months and the sod is really hard to dig up. Plus I want as much topsoil as I can get in the new bed so I don't want to remove the sod layer I want to keep all that material in the bed and even build it up from there. 

I let the roundup start to take effect before removing the hose to make sure I have my outline. On a hot day in direct sunlight, the roundup should have a noticeable impact on the grass even in a couple hours. 

hose shape of mulch bed
Remember to rinse your hose off because now it's covered in RoundUp

The next morning it looked like this...

Shape of new mulch bed in dead grass
Shape of new mulch bed in dead grass

I did have to go back and touch up a few parts with extra grass killer, a few days later it was evenly crispy. I let it stay like this for about a week and a half - I didn't want to plant anything into a bed of roundup right away. I wonder what the neighbors thought with this big bean shape patch of dead grass. 

Shape of new mulch bed in dead grass

Next we bought a bunch of plants to fill the bed, in this case we got a few colors of Drift roses. Knowing I wanted to raise the bed up a little above the sod line, I dug shallow holes for the plants and mounded fresh topsoil mixed with peat moss around them. 

arranging plants in new bed shape

Having the shape of the bed outlined in dead grass made it easy to arrange the plants how I wnated them. It's at this point I also went around the entire bed with a half moon edger and cut a crisp line the whole way around. Then I went back around again with the edger at an angle to cut a V shape (or in this case more of a moat) into the edge. 

drift roses in mulch bed

The whole thing basically has a 2 inch deep moat around it cut below the sod line. When you then back fill it with mulch it comes up to a deep vertical edge that helps to keep the mulch in place and also helps prevent the grass from spreading into the mulch bed because it hits air instead of soil when it tries to spread horizontally. 

bed edge with air gap

So there you have it, here is a before and after photo. I just love how odd it looks having a perfectly sculpted patch of dead grass in the yard and then the after photo making it look like the mulch bed has been there all along. That's really the goal to make it look like it's natural or supposed to be there and now that you just came along and spilled mulch on top of the grass. 

before and after new mulch bed
Before and after

Sunday, May 9, 2021

New Additions: Inkberry, Castle Spire, and Bird's Nest Spruce

We've been trying to figure out what to do with this front bed, and maybe it's the slow cold spring we're having or the fact that we're already looking forward to Christmas this year, but we're going with a mostly broadleaf evergreen front bed with different kinds of holly. 

We're already a week into May and the lows are still hovering around 34°F at night. I'm so glad I didn't order a bunch of perennial flowers because I'd be frantically running out to cover them every night. That could be why the prospect of a holly garden was so appealing. 

We also had a stroke of luck or catalyst push us to action, we were going on a walk and decided to go down the side street that is still under construction and saw a bunch of holly pushes on the curb. I asked the owner if he was just throwing them out and he said yes, so we ran to get the RAV4 and loaded up 4 free American holly bushes (and 3 forsythia that we don't know what to do with). 

These new bushes were the catalyst that made us go to Lowe's for topsoil and mulch, and then I found Shamrock Inkberry that we've actually been on the hunt for for about a week (we bought the only 2 they had), and Chris saw these cute blue holly called Castle Spire (Ilex x meserveae 'Hachfee'). Chris helped and we planted all of them along with 3 of the 4 free holly that night before the rain started. I also got my bird's nest spruce in the ground that I knew I wanted I just didn't know where to put it. It will get much bigger than the current spot allows but it will be years to go. 

plants in pots with shovel before being planted
Left: free American holly shrub, Shamrock Inkberry, Castle Spire blue holly

plants piled in back of SUV
Free plants loaded up in the back of the car (that Chris just got done vacuuming out)

holly shrubs under window
Two additional free holly shrubs under the window in the front side bed

Shamrock Inkberry (right) and Castle Spire holly (left)
Shamrock Inkberry (right) and Castle Spire holly (left)

Bird's Nest Spruce
Bird's Nest Spruce

I hope the spacing is adequate, I hear the holly can get pretty big - but we are excited to have some variety in our mostly broadleaf evergreen front bed for Christmas lights, red holly berries, and year round structure. 

broadleaf evergreen landscaping plants
Hoping for year round structure in a front bed that will never die to the ground