A Simple Way to Make a New Garden Bed


It takes my husband two hours to mow with our electric mower. In my opinion that’s a complete waste of weekend hours! So, I’ve declared that the time has come to decrease the grass in our yard and increase the gardening space.

As the garden expansion at my house continues I am looking towards next spring. I know I want to plant more fruit trees, raspberries, decorative trees and shrubs, perennial flowers, and expand my vegetable garden. Most of the areas where I’ll be planting are grass now. I hate removing grass with a sod stripper or shovel and avoid it at all costs.

Instead, I prefer to smother it. And fall is the perfect time to get started on your grass eradication project.

The side of our house, which is south facing, is devoid of landscaping. It gets great sun and is highly visable to our neighbors and passersby. Our plan is to order shrubs and perennial flowers next spring and create a planting bed that will run along the entire length of the house.

Instead of struggling to plant into or remove grass next spring we are preparing that area now. And by preparing I mean we’re simply killing the grass and building up some organic matter.

To do this in your own yard all you need is some cardboard and woodchips. I scavenge large pieces of cardboard from the dumpster of a furniture store near my house. The woodchips come from my dear arborist husband, but many cities offer them for free.

This task is definitely worth some time this fall because the extra effort will save you a ton of labor next spring.

How to Use Cardboard to Prep Planting Areas

Step 1: Use spray paint or a hose to figure out the footprint of the planting area. The hose allows you to play with the curve of the bed.

Step 2: Spread the cardboard out to cover the entire planting area. I just flatten each box and use it as a double layer. There is disagreement in our house whether to remove the tape and stickers or not. (I vote no.) Make sure you are overlapping each piece of cardboard. No grass should be visible.


Step 3: Spread a thick layer of woodchips over the cardboard – 4-6 inches. Feather it over the front of the bed where the cardboard meets the grass. I like it thick here because it’s going to be a trouble area. Grass likes to move into the woodchips.


You’re done! Leave the bed for the winter.

Next spring when you’re ready to plant most of the cardboard should be pretty decomposed. I simply push some of the woochips aside and dig a hole for whatever I’m planting.

A few notes:

  1. This technique is best for areas where you’ll be planting trees, shrubs, perennial flowers or woody fruit.
  2. Woodchips are for the vegetable garden aisles ONLY. If you want to use this method to establish vegetable garden beds you will need to remove the woodchips from the area where you’ll be planting in spring. When mixed into the soil, woodchips tie up nitrogen because they are made of so much carbon. This will steal much needed nitrogen from your vegetable plants and possibly stunt their growth.
  3. Feel free to add compost, leaves or other organic matter either underneath or on top of the cardboard. I usually add compost to each hole I dig when planting the next spring.
  4. Each season you’ll want to refresh the woodchips so they are nice and thick to keep down the weeds.

And once you’re ready to plant your new garden, make sure you don’t make this very common perennial garden mistake.


Learn how to get better results.

Let's starting with talking about the top 5 mistakes most gardeners are making.


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    I like mowing.

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    I have an area I’d like to clear that was a rain garden gone awry. It’s a dense stand of goldenrod now. How would you recommend doing this?

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      Hi Betsy – If it was my yard I’d whack it down and then cover it with a thick layer of cardboard and woodchips. Some of the goldenrod might end up returning, but then you can dig it out if needed. This seems easier than trying to clear it out by hand. Hope you are well!

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    I read in the British magazine “Permaculture” that you can plant anything especially veggies in nothing but woodchips with great success.

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      Hi Jenny- This has not been my experience. Even my annual flowers get a little grumpy in woodchips. I’d suggest doing an experiment in your yard and seeing what you think!

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    Love the idea of less lawn! I am trying to figure out where to source large cardboard now as I am ambitiously planning on doing my whole front lawn. One thing I wanted to suggest (and this depends your preferred aesthetic) is to plant with the end goal of no longer mulching. I’ve read some great pieces on it, like this one: http://landscapeofmeaning.blogspot.ca/2013/08/mulch-addiction.html Good luck with your project!

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      Thanks for stopping by to say hi! I read the article you linked to and she makes some great points. I’m married to an arborist, so we get lots of free woodchips, so we’ll likely always mulch. But I definitely agree with planting tightly in the veggie and flower garden. Keep us posted on your front lawn project!

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    It’s spring and we started a garden. I don’t want to wait until next fall to get rid of the grass nor do I want to dig it out like my husband has suggested. I do want to grow some vegetables. Can I go ahead and cover the grass with cardboard then dirt and have the same result? I’m guessing this year I would have to put things in containers while the cardboard decomposes. Thanks!

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      Hi Risa- Great question! I have put cardboard over the grass and then soil and planted a garden. The cardboard breaks down really quickly once it’s wet, so you can do it right away if you want. Just make sure you have a foot of two of soil so the plants have room to grow.

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    Linda C in Colorado Springs, CO

    I wish I would have seen this article sooner. I had forgotten about this tip. I have an flower bed in the whole back of the yard. I think the weed barrier has broken down as tons of grass comes up all around the rocks. We are so tired of weeding it all the time. I ordered some ground cover to put there but need to get rid of all the grass first. One end I have given up and am going to let the grass come in. I’ll put up a barrier of some kind to stop it there, hoping that helps. Thought about using like vinegar to kill the weeds, but then nothing else would grow either. Kinda a lost cause. May try the cardboard next fall.

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    Linda Welch

    Oh, your flower gardening is really so sweet! LOVE IT.
    Hey, could you talk about the barley??? I have been trying to understand how to do soil enrichment in the home garden for some time…and there you are doing it! Thanks Megan! Linda

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