Unless your soil is just rock and hard clay, there’s a new way of gardening which is much easier – No Till.
The basics of No Till are to cover you soil and weeds with cardboard and then six inches of compost. I would probably cut the grass and weeds as close as possible to the ground, but you don’t need to till or dig the soil. Brand new compost which you buy from a supplier can be quite “hot” literally so you may need to let it cool off before you do any planting. Ideally, you would put it on in late fall. I buy my compost from https://www.stlcompost.com/compost. If you have a friend with a pickup truck, you can buy compost for $28/yard.
Even though I put down a tarp, I burned the grass since this compost was so hot. I now have it delivered to my concrete driveway.
Another advantage to using compost is that you don’t need any fertilizer.
Below is a demonstration of the No Till method. He calls it No Dig, but it’s the same as No Till.
If you want to either start a new garden bed or renovate one, LandscapeCalculator.com has a free calculator to do basic calculations. Just enter the Square Foot, and the Spacing between the plants and it will come up with the number of plants to buy. Note that you still need to do some research to see how large each plant will ultimately grow.
It also has a mulch calculator to figure how many cubic feet you need to buy for your area.
March in St. Louis is a good time to start to cleanup your gardens. It’s warm enough to work outside and most of the plants are just starting to bud out.
The first thing to do is bring your arsenal of weapons. I use lopers, hand pruners, lawn trimmer, rake, a leaf blower, hedge trimmer and even a sawzall for larger branches. Make sure you sharpen your tools before using them. I use twine to bind the larger pieces and paper recycling bags for the small stuff.
Hopefully, you will know the difference between your annuals and perennials. In general, I prefer to cut both groups off near the base and leave the roots in the soil to decay. For shallow rooted annuals, it may be easier to just pull them out of the ground.
Clean from the outside in. You want to stay off the soil as much as possible so that you don’t trample plants and compact the soil.
I cut off most plants as close to the soil as possible.
You may notice that I use concrete blocks to define my garden. I find that it has a few advantages. It helps to define the garden and slows down the bermuda grass invasion. It also catches seeds and provides a lot of new plants in the spring.
Some plants require a bit more finesse. Each plant is a bit different and you will need to know its growing habit.
Buddleia – I cut to 9″ above the ground
Hydrangea paniculata – just trim off 6″ of the top growth. I am going for a eight foot hedge.
Roses (Knock Out) – I cut back to 18″
Trees – yes I even cut back one tree, hackberry, to a six foot height.
Viburnum – cut back to keep its size in check.
I do add a layer of compost/mulch after everything is cleaned up. It not only makes things look good, but also feeds the soil. I don’t use any fertilizer. In St. Louis I like the Black Forest mulch which is fine aged mulch mixed with compost.
One of the things a gardener has to do every year is to fertilize the garden. If you clean out the garden every year, all those plant clippings are taking nutrients out of the soil that need to be replaced.
You have a number of choices every year from standard 10-10-10 fertilizer to organic fertilizers, but another choice is to just use compost.
A video series I have been watching recently is by Charles Dowding and his practice is to put two inches of compost on top of the soil every year and that’s it. He doesn’t dig it in, but lets it sit on top of the soil. He does this every year and is able to get two crops of vegetables every year.
While it is possible to make your own compost, it’s a lot of work. What I prefer to do is just buy it from StLCompost.com for $25/cu yard.
They even have a calculator so that you can figure out exactly how much you will need.
I did the calculation for a 4′ x 8′ garden bed and you would need .2 cu. ft. of compost. If you do the math, that works out to just $5.00
The only catch is that you will need to bring a pickup to get the compost. They will dump it into your truck. If you don’t need a full cubic yard, you can share it with your friends and neighbors.
Here is a video by Charles Dowding and his method.
Every year I like to feed the soil with a mulch/compost mix (Black Forest) or just straight compost. In 2018 I am trying 3 yards of Black Gold compost from St. Louis Composting. It looks very similar to the Black Forest Mulch, but is a bit more expensive.
It’s always amazing to me how compost and mulch just disappears over the period of a year. You can buy the compost relatively inexpensively for $25/yard, but you will need a trailer or pickup. To buy it by the bag, one cu. yard would cost $101.25.
My cost delivered to my house was $140 for 3 cu. yards = 81 cu feet. Black Gold Compost
Note to Self – Buy four yards in 2019.
It took Joe R. nine hours to spread three yards.
In 2019 I am spending $459.00 to pay Mark to clean up all the beds and put out 3 yards of Black Forest mulch/compost. I figured it cost $570 to have Linda do the work and Joe spread the compost from St Louis Compost.
I just attended a program on Compost and Mulch at MoBot. Ron Alexander was the keynote speaker. His website – http://www.alexassoc.net/ has lots of great information on the benefits of using compost and mulch.
Composting Blanket – they talked about this concept to cover eroding soils and to get seeds to germinate.
Composting that is done at commercial companies like http://stlcompost.com/ reaches a high enough temperature to kill off pathogens. I was concerned about putting plants with mildew into the yard waste, but they indicated it would be killed off. They also indicated that home compost may not reach high enough temperatures and thus you should throw diseased plants into the landfill if you do home composting. One of the MoBot leaders indicated that when they took out the diseased roses, they did not put them in the compost pile, but threw them away in the trash.
Incorporate two inches compost into the top six inches of soil – for new gardens.
Lawns were shown that had been core aerated and then had compost put on top and raked in. They looked much better than surrounding areas.
MoBot seems to mainly use leaf mold for their mulch.
Planting Seeds – you can plant seeds deeper if you cover them with compost versus soil.