Tips and Techniques


The longer I do this, I'm learning little tricks of the trade. Warning: you shouldn't necessarily expect the same results.  You're dealing with NATURE after all.


    • Creating New Flower Beds from Lawn
    • Cutting Back Tall Grasses in the Spring


    • Avoiding Anaphylactic Shock: Flowering Plants Near Your Child's Play Area
    • Dogs Like Manure 
    • Water Kills Plants
    • Buying Plants: Catalogue's Vs. Storefront


Creating New Flower Beds from Lawn - I've tried just about every way to get rid of grass in order to convert the turf lawn into a flower garden, but there are two ways I've found work best.

1) Mow your lawn low, then cover the grass with 10-15 sheets of newspaper.  It's helpful to get the newspaper damp, because if you do this on a windy day, the papers can fly everywhere.  Be sure to overlap the newspaper so that no light can get through.  Cover the newspaper with a thick layer of compost or mulch or compost/mulch mix.  Let sit for about 3 months!  The grass will die, the newspaper will break down, and you can plant in your nice new bed.  I like this method for getting rid of large areas near the sidewalk.  If you think your soil is crappy, you can also throw some fertilizer or compost on top before you put the newspaper down. Note: you might want to take off a layer of turf edge near the sidewalk so that the compost can mound.  Just throw the pieces you hack off on top of the lawn before you cover it with paper. For an island bed, dig a trench or moat first about 6 inches wide and  6 inches deep, again throw the hunks on top of the future bed, then cover them with newspaper.  The Garden Lady has an article about this method.

2) With a shovel (the kind doesn't really matter, just the sod-cutting ability) remove your sod.  Lay the pieces of sod somewhere close.  Dig about 10-12 inches into the soil and throw the soil into a bucket, barrel or wheelbarrow ( a piece of tarp works too).  Place the pieces of sod in the trench you've just dug with the grass side down.  Throw the dirt on top.  This method has the benefit of no worrying about where to put that sod and you can plant immediately, but it is also very hard work and depending on the size of your new bed, could take a few hours.  If you want to be a really good doobey, you can add some nice compost or fertilizer as you throw the soil back into the trench.  Rob (of Rob's Plants) also writes about creating a new bed this wayNote: it helps a lot to do this after it has rained.  Makes the soil much easier to work with. 

Cutting Back Tall Grasses in the Spring - Grasses like Panic Grass or Maiden Grass, or Switch Grass are usually cut back in the Spring to make way for new green growth.  A friend back in St. Louis (thanks Winfield) told me about this trick.

If the circumference of your grass is really large, like bigger than a hug, get a helper.  First, get some twine or leftover rope, wrap it around the grass about 1/2 down, or 1/2 way up from where you will make your cut.  I usually cut mine at about 6 inches above the ground.  Make sure you cinch the rope around the grass tightly, otherwise the grass blades will all slip out.  Take a hedge trimmer,  I use a Black & Decker electric model, and cut through the dead grass.  As I cut, my hubby grabs the bundled grass and generally keeps the pile together.  Dispose of the dead stuff as you see fit, preferably not dumped in the neighbors yard.


  • Don't put flowering plants near your child's Play Area - The flowers will attract bees and by the end of summer, the bees get drunk and fly around like dive bombers.  Now bees cannot be entirely avoided outside, but plunking a Veronica (a bumble bee magnet) near your kid's sandbox is a bad idea.
  • Dogs like Manure - They like to roll around in it, sniff it, dig it up, and eat it. I discovered this after I had top-dressed a plant.  My dogs decided it would be great fun to then dig up as much of the manure and the plant in the middle of the manure as possible, killing aforementioned, lovingly fertilized plant.  Dogs eat poop! Weird...
  • Don't water your plants too much - Most plants, unless they are for ponds or bog gardens can handle going without water for at least a week.  I killed or nearly killed many plants my first year because of my water zealotry (and had a ridiculous water bill). Exceptions are grass (no amount is too much, especially if you like to mow), and containers, which may need to be watered more than once a day in those really hot days of July and August.
  • When to Buy from Where - After 3 years of buying plants and seeds every which way (online, big box stores, garden centers), I've figured a few things out: buy plants online during the Winter, buy from a store in the Spring or Fall, order seeds after New Year's, and avoid buying during the hottest months.
  • Online/Catalogue - In New England, you should buy plants online or from a catalogue during the Winter (they arrive in Spring), in the Spring (though many plants are sold out, and in the Fall (really late Summer).  Try not to buy in the Summer as plant selection will be poor and survival will be sketchy (shipping during high heat just skills the plants).    An exception is ordering Fall planted bulbs like Lilies, which can and probably should be ordered in the Summer, but won't arrive until the Fall.  Really your best bet is to study the catalogues in the Fall and Winter, and wait for Spring arrival.  No instant gratification, but worth the wait.  One more thing: if you can select a delivery date (many online retailers do), select a later delivery date than necessary.  If your plants arrive as early as the store will ship it, it's probably too early.  Your ground won't be prepped or there might be a late thaw.  It's just too risky.  Around here, I'd say the fail safe delivery date is May 15!


    Storefront - Here's the problem with buying from a store (any, including my favorite, Kane's).  Retailers generally put out plants when they are bloom, making you want to buy them). Problem is, once you get them home and put them in the ground, they will  finish blooming very shortly.  It's also really stressful for the plant to worry about putting down roots when it's still blooming.  Your pleasure and success with this method will be pretty low.  Though I've bought at mid summer and Fall plant sales plenty of times, but you shouldn't expect much out of the plants until the following year.

    If you are going to buy from a store, do it in early Spring  (think April 15 - May 1st) from a garden center (Kane's, Mahoney's, Northeast Nurseries).  The plants will be very small, and won't be blooming, but are a great value, and will bloom when they are meant to, already in your ground.  An exception to this guideline (no rules here), is that you can buy shrubs pretty much anytime, especially if you're buying them for their foliage.  Though the height of summer is pretty much a bad time to plant anything, because you'll have to water it constantly.  Here in Massachusetts, early November is really the latest you can put anything in the ground.


    Seeds - The best time to buy seeds is generally in the Winter, after New Year's.  If you wait much longer, Catalogue Houses/Online Retailers might be out of stock of more rare seeds.  You can wait a little longer to buy them from store fronts.  Some seeds can be planted in the Fall, but this is a little more risky, as hungry birds and squirrels may get to them first (which is a risk at any time, actually).


    No matter what you do, if you're really desperate for a particular plant, you really must order it through a catalogue or online.  Waiting for your big, blooming, dream plant to come to the garden center is probably not going to work!