Plan, prepare landscape beds carefully

Heather Kirk-Ballard

LSU AgCenter Horticulturist

(03/29/19) The weather feels perfect! Nights and early mornings are still cool, and the days are beginning to warm up and get longer. Drive through any local neighborhood in the evening after work and on the weekends and you will see folks working out in their home lawn and gardens. People are excited about spring. Landscaping your home not only provides a great form of exercise, and a great reason to spend time with your family and neighbors, but it can actually increase the value of your property. In fact, it adds value immediately. And that value increases as the years go by.

One way to add to the beauty of the landscape and increase the value of your property is to create landscape beds. Traditionally, most beds are created surrounding the house, particularly jutting out from the front and back foundations and creating a framework to accent the home. When planting and creating beds around the home, take into account the architectural style and consider the maintenance beds will require throughout the year.

When deciding on bed placement and the plants that will be planted there, it is important to consider the following:

  • The amount of sunlight the area gets. Is it in full sun? Mostly shade? Does is get direct morning sun or direct afternoon sun?
  • How well does the area drain? It is important to note any poor drainage and correct the issue. Additionally, it is important to note the availability of water to the bed. Will you install irrigation, water with a hose or just rely on rainwater?
  • How large will the plants get at full maturity? You must consider how roots and plant height and width could affect the foundation and eaves of the house in five years, 10 years, 20 years or more.
  • Perennials vs. annuals. Perennials will require less maintenance and return year after year. Annuals provide great opportunity for yearly changes that can give more freedom on texture and colors each year.
  • Evergreen plants vs. deciduous plants. Evergreen plants will provide green color year-round while deciduous plants will drop leaves in winter.
  • Shrubs vs. small landscape trees vs. bedding plants. Trees provide the most area covered by height and width. Shrubs will provide medium coverage. And bedding plants will provide the most diversity for the landscape regarding color, size and texture.

Once you’ve done some planning, it’s time to get beds ready. First things first: Louisiana One Call must be your first order of business before digging to avoid underground utilities. Representatives will come out within two business days and mark where underground wires or pipes are buried. Phone 800-272-3020 or 811.

Next, know what kind of soil you’re working with by getting a soil test. Plants get their nutrients from the soil, and they cannot escape nor correct the surroundings they are placed in. Ideal pH of the soil for most plants is 5.5 to 6.5. You can send in samples to the LSU AgCenter Soil Testing & Plant Analysis Lab. Mailers and instructions are available at many nurseries and garden centers. Or you can purchase soil test kits at local nurseries for a good estimate of what you are working with. Adjustments to pH can be made with dolomitic lime to raise the pH and sulfur to lower the pH, if needed.

Last, check for adequate drainage in the area. If the area holds water, the drainage can be improved by installing French drains. Additionally, raising the beds or creating a “pitcher’s mound” or berm will facilitate drainage. Raised beds should be 8 to 12 inches deep.

To create a raised bed you will need to measure to calculate the amount of gardening soil or bedding soil to fill it. The size and shape are completely up to you. Most beds follow the form of the house and are square or rectangular. Circular, oblong or any shape imaginable can be made.

Use a garden hose to outline the bed in the shape you want. If the area is sodded or has other plant material, it must be removed. You can do this by applying a non-selective herbicide and allowing a few weeks for the material to die, covering the area with black cloth or plastic to kill all the plants, or removing the plant material by digging it out.

To calculate the amount of gardening soil needed, measure the area of the bed and multiply the area by 8 to 12 inches. That will give you the volume of soil you’ll need. All measurements should be converted to feet and divided by 27 to get cubic yards. Most bagged soils are sold by weight. A 40-pound bag typically measures between 0.5 to 0.75 cubic feet. These materials can be quite heavy, so be aware of the hauling capacity of your vehicle. Many local providers will have delivery services for an additional fee.


Here are two example calculations:

Oblong/Irregular shaped bed:

Area = length x width x depth

Length = 20 feet

Width = 6 feet

Depth of soil = 9 inches (divide by 12 for feet) 9 ÷ 12 = 0.75 feet

Cubic yard = 27 cubic feet


6 feet x 20 feet x 0.75 feet = 90 cubic feet ÷ 27 cubic feet = 3.33 cubic yards

Number of bags = 90 cubic feet ÷ 0.75 cubic feet bags = 120 Bags

Material Weight (dry) = 3.33 to 4.33 tons or (wet) = 5 to 5.67 tons

Circular bed:

Area = radius (half diameter) x πr2, where π = 3.14

Diameter = 11 feet, r = 5.5

Depth of soil (inches) = 9 inches ÷ 12 = 0.75 feet

5.5 feet x 5.5 feet x 0.75 feet x 3.14 = 71.24 cubic feet ÷ 27 cubic feet = 2.64 cubic yards

Number of bags= 71.24 cubic feet ÷ 0.75 cubic feet bags = 95 Bags

Material Weight (dry) = 2.5 to 3.5 tons or (wet) = 4 to 5 tons

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Using a garden hose or similar device allows gardeners to experiment with placing planting beds before removing the plant material that’s already there. Photo by Heather Kirk-Ballard/LSU AgCenter

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Garden soil can be added to planting areas to increase drainage and improve soil structure. It can be purchased in bags or in bulk. Photo by Heather Kirk-Ballard/LSU AgCenter

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Landscapers should call Louisiana One Call at 800-272-3020 or 811 to have any underground utilities marked before creating planting beds or digging holes to plant trees or shrubs. Photo by Heather Kirk-Ballard/LSU AgCenter

4/1/2019 2:47:22 PM
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