Thursday, June 6, 2013

DIY Landscaping, Prep Work

Visualize Your Design

As with any DIY project, prep work and planning can make or break your landscaping endeavors.  Now that the design has been more or less finalized it is time to do some prep work before we break ground.  The first thing to do is take a tape measure and some garden hose and mark out the approximate shape of the landscaping bed.  Use the tape measure the find key features of the design and layout the garden hose, making sure to not have sharp bends.  Around trees it is sometimes nice to have a well-shaped circular edge.  Any easy way to do this is with some string and a screwdriver.  Tie one end of the string around the screwdriver and drive the screwdriver into the ground where the tree will be.  Then hold the length of the string that you want, in our case we used 5ft, and slowly walk around the edge moving the garden hose into place at the end of your string.  This will give you a nice circular edge.  Make sure to leave the screwdriver in place as it will help later.  Once you have the general shape made, take a step back and look at your soon to be landscaping.  Make adjustments where needed continuing to keep in mind how everything looks from the street.

Marking Your Territory

Now it is time to use something more permanent to mark the edge of the landscaping bed.  A lot of people like to use chalk, but I ended up using water soluble paint.  You can pick these up at your local hardware store, but be sure to get paint that you can use while it is turned upside down.  Regardless of what you use, remember that it will either wash away or the grass will eventually grow and you won’t see it anymore.  Before you get started, if you plan on using edging take note of how long the garden hose is and how much you needed to mark out your landscaping.  You will need to get the same length of edging.  Start at one end of your garden hose and slowly move the hose out of the way and mark the ground with your paint or chalk where the hose was.  Depending on how long the hose was in place there may be a groove in the grass where the weight of the hose compressed the grass.  When you get to the areas that are circular use the screwdriver string trick to ensure you have a nice edge.  Continue around all the edges marking them as you go.  Now go back around the edge and smooth out any sharp bends or make any last adjustments to your landscaping bed perimeter.

Breaking Ground

If you have grass in your landscaping bed it needs to be removed.  Start by using a nice garden spade, go around your edges and remove the sod nearest the border.  You should have a good 6" border now where grass has been removed.  Continue to work inwards from you edge removing clumps of sod as you go.  If you need to save sod for anything, cut the edge of a 3ft x 6ft section out of the grass and starting at one end roll it up.  Set the sod aside somewhere in the shade and keep it moist.  Once you have removed all the grass, take a break and pat yourself on the back.  You should now have a feel for what your landscaping will look like.  If you have clay soil like we do you will need to take a shovel and turn over as much of the clay as possible.  This is fairly easy to do, just start at the edge of your landscaping bed and drive the shovel into the ground and pry up the soil.  Continue moving inward until you have overturned the soil.  Now use a roto-tiller, I really recommend using a power tool for this, and till up all the clumps of clay and the other soil in your bed.  This will help make for better drainage and your plants roots will love you for it.  Once all the roto-tilling is done use a garden rake to even out the soil and shape how the bed will slope away from your house.  Finally walk on the soil to make sure it becomes more compact, you don't need to tamp the soil, you just don't want a lot of settling later.

Get Out Your Calculator

The last part of prep work is figuring out how much soil and mulch you will need.  This part can be a little intimidating but is not too bad.  The easiest thing to do is to make a little sketch of you landscaping bed and then block out square sections following logical breaks in the shape of the bed.  Using a tape measure, measure the squares in your prepared bed and write them down.  Now calculate the square footage for each block and add them up.  This is your total square footage.  To find out the amount of top soil and mulch you will need multiply the square footage by the depth of topsoil/mulch in feet.  For us we did 6" or 0.5' deep topsoil and 2" or 0.167' deep mulch, giving us ~6 cubic yards of soil and ~2 cubic yards of mulch.  You'll notice that we didn't calculate the section on the side of the garage in our estimate.  This wasn't a big deal as it is a small area, and the overlap we had in using squares for approximation circles more than covered it.

If you don't have a truck or anyway of hauling the topsoil or mulch this step should be done well in advance of any other work on your landscaping.  This will give you an opportunity to schedule with your local landscaping outfit a time and date to delivery your needed supplies.  Even if you have a truck, topsoil is really heavy, up to 1 ton per yard, so plan accordingly.  We ended up taking 8 trips total to get all the topsoil and mulch that we needed in the half ton truck that we were able to borrow, 6 trips for topsoil, and 2 trips for mulch.  With the landscaping place being within 5 miles this was doable.  If you live farther away from your source of soil and mulch it may be cheaper and less of a headache to have them delivered.  You can also have them deliver the amount of edging that you calculated earlier and all your plants if you so desire.  A couple of notes:
     -When talking to the landscaping outfit ask them about what type of soil mixture they use when doing landscaping, it is typically not just topsoil, in our case a 50/50 mixture of topsoil and compost.
     -Landscaping places will typically have heavier duty edging as opposed to your hardware store, it is pricier, but well worth it.

Getting the Edge on Things

At this point most of the prep work is done, but there are a few more things to do before planting your shrubs.  So at this point if you decided to put in edging, now would be a good time.  The process is very simple but one thing you want to make sure is that there is a deep enough groove at the edge of you landscaping bed to fit the edging.  Then just place your edging up against the grass moving from one end of the landscaping bed to the other and place an edge union when you need to join two pieces.  Then you need to secure your edging so that you don't have issues during the winter months with lots of heaving.  I put my stakes in like illustration one, but after some research online I see that some people prefer to put the stakes in horizontal as in illustration two.  Thinking about it some, I wish I had done it this way, but if I have any issues in the spring I can reset my edging and try it that way.  Anyways, edging your landscaping will create a nice barrier from mulch ending up in your yard and weed/grass ending up in your landscaping.

Getting Down and Dirty

Adding the topsoil compost mixture to your landscaping is a fairly simple, but time consuming process.  A couple of notes:
     -Try to make sure that you have fairly even coverage, especially in the inner parts of your landscaping, you want your plants to benefit from the nice rich soil you just put down.
     -Back fill your edging to help keep it in place, be mindful to keep the level of dirt a few inches below the top edge of the edging so that you have room to add mulch later.
     -Walk the dirt in similar to what was done before, no need to compact the soil a lot just remove some of it's fluffiness.

At this point you are ready to start planting, more posts on that process coming soon.

Posts in this series
Finished Product

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