Building & Bordering Your Flowerbed

(Last Updated On: March 2, 2017)

A great and simple method to creating a new garden bed actually uses natural elements such as the sun, weather and earthworms to transform bare turf into rich, fertile soil. When you layer cardboard, newspaper, and compost on top of the turf then wait a couple of months, the turf decomposes into six to eight inches of topsoil. If you build the bed at the beginning of one season it should be ready for planting by the following season.

Here’s how:

  1. First decide where you want your flowerbed to be. Then mark the plot’s perimeter using stones or bricks. Spread corrugated cardboard on top of the lawn. Saturate it with a garden hose. On top of the cardboard spread a layer of newspaper, about six sheets thick.
  2. Spread a three to six inch layer of compost on top of the paper. If you don’t make your own compost, come see us for a great commercial one you can use. Now let the weather and earthworms do their jobs as they decompose the layers.
  3. After just a couple of months you’ll have a great planting bed. Now’s the best time to install drip irrigation or a soaker hose, before you plant. Edge the bed with decorative materials such as bricks, stones, or landscape timbers. Check with us before you do; we have the best selection around. If the bed is especially large, lay out paths before you plant.

Once your flowerbed is built, you’ll need to border it. Bordering keeps unwanted plants and animals from invading your garden.

Savvy gardeners swear by heavy-duty, molded plastic for shaping neat edges of beds. Available at our garden center in rolls of plastic, the edging installs easily. Using this edging, you’ll save yourself from countless hours of removing the grass and weeds that would otherwise creep into your bed.

Try This Method:

  1. Cut edge of turf: First, trim the edge of your bed. Make clean cuts, using a spade or a bed-edging tool (designed with a sharp, curved blade specifically for this task). Then scoop out enough soil to accommodate the plastic edging (three inches or so deep).
  2. Install plastic edging: Cut the edging to fit the dimensions of your bed, working in small sections. Be sure to get high-quality edging; the cheap stuff tends to fall apart after a few years. Press the edging into place. Push soil in around both sides of the edging, allowing the top of it to extend one inch above the soil so it prevents runoff of water and soil.

Build A Brick-Bordered, Raised Bed
For a decorative and long-lasting bed, brick is a great choice. Building with brick can be rewarding work, but it takes some practice before you become proficient. Once finished, your attractive, durable wall will be strong enough for a planting bed up to two feet high. Anything higher requires a double brick wall. It will take a couple of weekends to become competent at bricklaying, but the results will be well worth the effort. The completed project will be a permanent landscaping feature you can be proud of.

Before You Start:
Choose bricks that will survive well in continually wet conditions. Common brick may not be strong enough. See us for an extensive variety of brick we carry specifically for this purpose. Be prepared to give us the length and height of the wall you plan to build. Make sure to have your bricks resting on a strong pallet near the job site.

Consult us for the right mixture of cement, lime, and sand, or buy mortar mix. You will need a mortar board (a three foot-square piece of plywood nailed to two 2 x 4s works fine), a wheelbarrow or large container for mixing mortar, a mortar hoe, a brick-set chisel, a mason’s line with line blocks, a pointing trowel, a joint raking tool, and a joint pointer (either convex or V-shaped).

Make a story pole – a length of 1 x 2 with evenly spaced lines marking the height of each course of bricks. Install a level concrete footing, combining a 12-inch deep, reinforced, and concrete-filled trench twice as wide as the brick wall will be with concrete footings every four feet that extend beneath the frost line.

How To Build It:

  1. Lay out your wall. Chalk a guideline to position the bricks on the center of the footing. Make a dry run: Lay out the bricks without mortar, spacing them evenly. This will tell you if you need to insert a short brick near the end of the run. If necessary, increase the spaces to avoid putting in a very small piece of brick. Mark the locations of the first and last brick.
  2. Set the first bricks. Mix a small batch of mortar. Set the first two bricks, one at each end, laying down a one-inch thick bed for each. Check for level in both directions, tapping gently with the handle of your trowel to make adjustments. String a mason’s line to mark the level of the first course of bricks. Hold the line in place with bricks.
  3. Lay the first course. To lay down a bed of mortar for a course of bricks, first fully load your trowel. Then, with the trowel face up, set the tip of the trowel at the beginning of the line. As you pull back toward your body, rotate the trowel so that you lay a bed of mortar about one-inch thick, nearly as wide as the brick, and about three bricks in length. Furrow the mortar by gently running the trowel tip, facedown, along the center. Bricklayers call this step throwing.
  4. Assemble the corners. Build the lead – the beginning point for your courses. This is six courses high, with each course half of a brick shorter than the one below it. (Remember that a brick is half as wide as it is long.) Level and plumb each course, and use a story pole to check for height. Lay down mortar and add the first course. Butter the end of each brick where it abuts another. Add the mortar by making a swiping motion along all four edges of each face.
  5. Fill each course. Duplicate the lead on the other end of the wall. String a mason’s line as a course guide, using line blocks to hold the line flush with the face of the bricks. Using the line as a guide, fill in each course, remembering to throw, furrow, and butter. Cut bricks by first scoring a line around the brick. Then crack the brick using a mallet and a brick set.
  6. Check for level. Continually adjust for level and straight courses, tapping gently with a mallet and 2 x 4. As you proceed, scrape off excess mortar with your trowel, taking care not to smear the bricks. Every so often, press the mortar with your thumb. If it feels firm and your thumb impression does not change shape, the joints can be finished.
  7. Finish the joints. Using a pointing tool, first smooth out the vertical joints, then the horizontals. Gently brush away excess as you work. Wash any smeared spots carefully with a damp rag. Once the mortar has set, it will be difficult to remove.

Of course, we at Wentworth Nursery specialize in this sort of thing. If you feel you’re in a little deep here, feel free to come in and talk with us about turning this project into a reality for you!

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