The Q&A Archives: Cultivating

Question: I am a complete novice at this. I am looking to dig up a stretch of grass in front of my house (about 6'x12')and plant some shrubs and bushes. What is the best way to do this from start to finish and about how much time am I looking at??

Answer: When you think in terms of shrubs or bushes, you need to consider their size when they grow and mature. When you plant a shrub, generally you would allow ample width for it to reach its full mature size. So although this sounds like a big area, you do not have room for too many plants. Depending what you select, you might be digging just one or maybe two planting holes. That means you probably would not need to dig up the entire area.

At planting, you can dig just one hole per shrub. Use a sharp spade to remove the sod (slice horizontally just under the grass and it will peel off) then dig your planting hole. The hole should be several times wider than the container (for a larg shrub, the wider you dig the better) and about the same depth. Loosen the soil at the sides and bottom of the hole as well, to encourage rooting into the surrounding soil. As you plant, return all of the soil to the hole. Then water thoroughly to settle any air pockets. Then mulch with organic mulch to a depth of three inches. Spread the mulch in a flat layer over the root area.

After planting, you can create a mulched bed between and around your shrubs quite easily. Removing sod is fairly difficult, so it is easier to smother the grass. Layer damp newspaper about five sheets thick over the entire area you want to mulch, overlapping the edges to exclude light, then place a thick layer of organic mulch over top of that. Replenish the mulch as needed. This will kill out the lawn grass in a few months. Later on, if you decide you want to plant flowers between the shrubs or a groundcover, you will have a nice area for planting.

I do not know how long it will take you to do this, it depends how fit you are and on what type of soil you have. Clay soil can be difficult to dig, and digging in general is fairly strenuous. Good luck with your project!

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