New planting beds should begin in autumn in the Midwest because the freeze/thaw cycles of winter, work to break up the clods of clay.
Most soils in the Midwestern region are alkaline and consist of high concentrations of clay. Contrary to some opinions, there are more plants available for this soil type than any other.
Choose a location that meets the criteria for the types of plants being chosen i.e. sunny location for annuals and vegetables, or a shady location for a woodland garden.
A quick, preliminary check of the area’s soil for bad drainage should be done first. Dig a hole about one foot deep and observe the color of the soil. Black or red/orange soil is good, as it implies that there is organic matter [black] or minerals [red/orange] within the soil. Blue to grey soil implies lack of drainage [and/or lack of oxygen] and is extremely difficult to change. You may need to investigate the reason for the drainage issue. Consider either a raised bed or another location.
It is well worth the money to rent a sod cutter if sod is what is to be removed. Weeds, on the other hand, are a bit more difficult to eradicate. Either pull them out, use herbicide sparingly, or if time permits and the area is sunny, solarization [as this needs to be done the summer before].
Solarization kills not only the existing weeds, but can also kill seeds that are in the top part of the soil.
- Cut weeds back, but not to the ground.
- Cover the area with a dark plastic, tarps, or garbage bags.
- Weigh it down around perimeter to keep heat in.
By autumn, the plot should be weed free.
After the area has been marked off and weeds or grass has been removed, the digging begins.
To aid digging, use a garden fork to puncture the soil.
Dig a small area [2 X 2 feet] about the depth of the spade [1 foot] place the soil to the side. Work a 1-4 inch layer of organics into the bottom of the hole; this can be any one or more of the following;
- Rotted manure
- Chopped leaves
- Wood ashes [not from charcoal briquettes or if fuel was used to ignite]
- Sand [use in combination with another organic]
- Shredded straw
There is no one recipe for what amendment or how much of it to use.
After the amendments have been added, dig the next hole, and place this soil in the previous hole.
There is no need to breaking-up the clay clogs now, leave the clogs to be broken up by winter’s freeze/thaw cycle.
In the spring, well before planting time, check the consistency of the soil, if more amendments are needed, add them now.
© Ilex Farrell ~ Midwestern Plant Girl