How to Lay Out a Foundation for Planting


The foundation for planting any living thing lies in the soil base of the garden. Creating the proper foundation for planting involves preparation of the soil of the garden bed. All soil benefits from some additives called amendments. These amendments include peat moss, compost, sand, humus and mulch as organic additives applied in a layer over the garden surface for mixing into the soil. Other amendments include the addition of phosphorus, limestone and potassium to enrich the soil. Garden centers and university extension centers offer soil analysis for homeowners at reasonable rates.

Step 1

Select an area suitable for the type of garden you'd like to plant and mark the outline with a garden hose. Observe the sun during the growing season to determine available sunlight. Full shade experiences no direct sunlight during the day. Partial shade/sun receives 4 to 6 hours each day and full sun exposes plants to light throughout the day.

Step 2

Schedule your foundation preparation before purchasing your plants. Some gardeners create a foundation right before installing shrubs, trees and flowers. This works well but the best choice involves creating the foundation in the soil in the fall. Early preparation allows plenty of time for all additives to work their magic enhancing the soil over 1 to 2 seasons.

Step 3

Remove all grass and weeds from the planned site by digging 6 inches deep into the ground with the shovel. Use the grass to patch other areas of the lawn or discard in the compost pile. Clear the entire garden area and rake the surface as smooth as possible. Spray herbicide such as Roundup works well to clear grass areas but these products need some time to kill the grass and roots.

Step 4

Use the shovel or tiller to turn over the top 12 inches of exposed soil. Focus on loosening the top layers of soil to create the perfect environment for plants to extend roots in light, fluffy soil. This labor-intensive effort will pay off in years of healthy, thriving plants. Turning over involves digging deeply, flipping the shovel over and busting up the soil clods throughout the garden. Smooth with a rake to break up all clods of dirt.

Step 5

Add a 3 to 4 inch layer of peat moss to the surface of the garden. Till this into the soil using the shovel or rototiller. Add another layer of 2 to 3 inches of compost and mix this in as well.

Step 6

Consult your soil analysis to determine which additives need to be added next. Mix additives into the foundation bed based on manufacturer recommendations using exact measurements.

Step 7

Smooth the garden surface completely using the rake. Use a sprayer end on a garden hose to lightly soak the top surface of the garden. Allow the water to absorb into the soil for a few hours and soak the garden again.

Step 8

Allow the garden to sit for a few weeks or through the winter if possible. Give the additives time to enrich this future planting site and you'll realize you've created the best environment for your future plants.

Things You'll Need

  • Soil analysis kit
  • Garden hose
  • Shovel
  • Rake
  • Rotoiller (optional)
  • Peat moss
  • Soil additives (based on analysis)
  • Water and garden hose


  • Texas A&M University Extension
  • Purdue University
  • University of Connecticut

Who Can Help

  • Peat Uses
  • Cornell University Soil Basics Information
Keywords: garden foundations, garden beds, preparing soil

About this Author

Currently studying for her Maryland master gardener certification, Sharon Heron has written professionally since 2006. Her writing includes hundreds of articles on a wide range of topics including gardening, environment, golf, parenting, exercise, finances and consumer how-to articles.