A man and a boy preparing plants in a vegetable bed
Creating a new vegetable bed or refreshing a tired border is an ideal spring activity. As with many things, preparation makes a big difference to the end result and is easy, rewarding work.

Here are just a few ways this task can help you:

  • It's a good workout that'll raise your heart rate, but do pace yourself and take breaks as it could lead to exhaustion if you push yourself too far.
  • Great for building strength and stamina, but again pace yourself, keep yourself hydrated.
  • Works our balance and reach but try to keep your back neutral, minimise bending at the waist, don’t lift when your back is twisted or turned.
  • Good for gross motor movement, working muscles and co-ordination, but remember to move your feet, positioning yourself close to the bed particularly when lifting.
  • Great catharsis, tackling stress and anxiety through exercise
  • Make time to rest as you work, notice the sounds and scents of nature. Hopefully you will quickly have a robin or blackbird for company waiting to tuck into some insects that you have kindly unearthed for them to feed their young
  • You can take your time and do this over a number of days or even a couple of weeks - pacing yourself is important.
  • You can use long-handled hand tools to work soil from a seated position. Our Carry on Gardening website has details here.
  • If you use long-handled grabbers in the home, they can be useful in the garden too.
  • If you are gardening from a seated position or have had injuries that prevent you from heavier work like digging you may need a friend to help begin this process, or the same principles of removing weeds and loosening soil can be applied to container gardening.
Girl Unsplash
  • Children can get involved with removing stones and roots.
  • Children may be able to add compost as well using scoops or trowels.
  • Older children may be able to help fork over but remember to work at a safe distance. If two people using long-handled tools can touch each other, they are too close.

If preparing a new bed or border, start by identifying the right part of the garden. For vegetable growing, you want as much sun as possible and probably need a minimum of 4-5 hours of sun hitting that bed each day over the summer.

Go outside early between 7-9am and note which parts of the garden are sunny. If you know where the sun sets you can probably work out which areas of the garden get the most sun.

But if your garden has trees or building bordering and you are new to gardening, come back outside once every hour or so and keep checking how the sun moves across your garden.

Flower or shrub borders can accommodate shade and the selection of plants for the space changes to accommodate how much sunlight the border will get.

Plants and seeds usually indicate that they are suitable for either Full Sun (6+hours of direct sun each day) part shade ()3-5 hours of direct sun each day), shade (less than 3 hours each day). Choosing the right plants for a new border also needs consideration for soil type as well.

Make sure you are dressed for gardening. Wear sturdy non slip shoes, loose fitting clothes and a hat if it is sunny, even in spring the sun can burn if we are out for long periods:

To prepare a new bed or border, start at step 1.

For refreshing a bed or border, work from step 6.

Step 1

Use or make some garden line markers (you can tie string between two 30cm stakes or to create curved beds either use a rope or peg the string into the ground with pegs) to mark out the space.

Bed prep

Step 2

Lifting the turf, use an edging spade for straight lines or a garden spade for curved lines, dig one third a spades depth down around the turf and take up (placing a tarp or weed fabric next to your digging to place soil and turf on so you dont damage other ground) and keep, at this stage it is best to remove any perennial weed like dandelions from the turf and deposit in a bucket or container.

Bed prep 2

Step 3

Loosen the soil with a fork and then dig one full spades depth down depositing the soil to the side either on the tarp or on the new bare soil for 1 half of the new bed shape. Take out any large stones, roots or other large organic material as you do so and deposit in a bucket or container.

Step 4

Place the turf grass down at the bottom of this hole or trench and turn over the deposited soil on top of the upside-down turf.

Step 5

Repeat steps 3 and 4 for the other side of the new bed/border

Fork in soil 2

Step 6

Lightly fork over continuing to remove any large stones, roots or other larger organic material. Keep doing this until the soil is broken down to pieces around 5cm round or smaller. If you already have plants you want to keep in the border then try to avoid forking near to them, late spring when most perennials will be starting to show new growth is a good time to do this.

Step 7

Add some new soil improver if you have some, (compost, well-rotted manure, leaf mould) and fork in to distribute evenly. (different soil types need different materials to improve them for plants and vegetables). If refreshing a border a top dressing of mulch such as compost or leaf mould is very effective at improving soil nutrition and suppresses weeds.

Bed prep 4

Step 8

Rake over removing any stones from the surface and breaking the soil pieces down to less than 2cm round or smaller. Remember to avoid treading on the new soil so you don’t compress it, plants need air in the soil as well as moisture and nutrients for growth.

The bed or border is now ready for planting, if it is going to be more than a couple of weeks before you plant out it could be good to cover with a weed suppressant material to keep the soil weed free if not weed before planting to minimise root disturbance for new plants.

Finding materials

  • The HTA offers useful information about where you can get plants during lockdown.
  • If you're out shopping for essentials at the supermarket, see if they also have compost available.
  • If you combine preparing beds and borders with mowing the lawn, grass clippings could be added at the bottom of trenches and holes before returning soil over the top to improve the soil condition and available nutrients.

Seed sowing in trays

This is a simple summary of how to sow seeds so that you can grow herbs, veg and flowers at home.

Find out more

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Connor and Billy enjoying the gardens