Basic best practices when prepping a yard for landscaping?

Asked March 7, 2015, 6:13 PM EST

I've heard some conflicting advice about basic best practices when prepping a yard for landscaping... some say root-till everything, others say root-till the yard but not the path we intend to fill with gravel, others say don't root-till at all to preserve the microbes that have built a healthy ecosystem over the last 10 years. That last bit makes sense to me, but so does airing the soil. Anyway, the plan is (was) 1. root-till the yard in general and dig out a path for the gravel walk way 2. screen mesh (filtration cloth, as thick as possible?) down in in the pathway and cardboard over the rest of the yard 3. fill in the pathway with (sand and then) gravel (and of course the metal railings) and fresh soil over the cardboard (and hay?) for the rest of the yard. Is this a good plan? Changes? To till or not to till? Other pitfalls? Thank you!

Multnomah County Oregon

1 Response

How to prep a yard for landscaping?

The main rule of thumb is to till your garden soil only when it will accomplish a useful purpose, such as turning under organic matter, breaking crusted soil or loosening a small area for planting seeds.If you can avoid tilling then all the better. Tilling will bring old weed seeds to the surface which may cause more weeds to grow in your garden.

If you are using the no-till method then mulch will be key to the success of your plantings. Here is a guide to mulching and layering.

If you have decided to till then knowing when to till is important. If the soil is too wet it can ruin the structure of your soil before you start. Here is a quick guide to knowing when your soil is ready to till.

We don't have anything official written about how to lay pathways but the general accepted method is to lay 2 1/2 inch stone pack and compact it with a compactor or tamper. Then lay landscape fabric over that. It doesn't have to be particularly thick if it is fit for purpose it should keep out weeds. Then lay your pathway gravel of choice over that. As you said, edging is a good idea to keep this all in place.

The layering method you mention is better known as the Lasagne Method. There is is a quick overview of how this works here:

But in a nutshell this is how you do it. Cover the ground with four to six overlapping layers of cardboard or newspaper (black ink on newsprint only) to keep out light and eliminate vegetation underneath. Wet the newspaper or cardboard thoroughly and cover with a thin, one-inch layer of a nitrogen source such as manure.

Top the nitrogen layer with an inch of leaves, straw, bark or other carbon material.

Thanks for your very interesting question!