Build A Garden

Asked June 7, 2019, 8:01 PM EDT

For the 1st time in my life I am trying to make a garden in my backyard. My husband & I dug a 13 ft. X 3 ft x 1 ft deep hole in our backyard. There were plenty of huge rocks, stones & lots of clay. I bought 1 cu yd. of organic soil to place in this hole but have not put it in yet. I want to grow organic. I have grown seedlings in my basement from organic seeds: zucchini, cucumbers, snap peas, carrots, beets, Roma tomatoes, reg. Tomatoes, 1 kale, bell pepper, watermelon. I would like to know if I should put something at the bottom for more drainage...? Should I put landscaping material at bottom so no weeds grow through? Could you advise me with what manure...? Or organic compost I should buy to use as fertilizer? Or if I should layer the soil into this hole with different things & what??? I am from Toronto, Canada area (Mississauga, Ontario) I also have a spot in my backyard that is 17 ft x 4 ft x 1 ft deep I want to do a raised garden with this what do you advise? Thank You For all your help!!!

Outside United States

1 Response

Thank you for contacting us about your new garden. The questions you have asked could fill volumes, but fortunately, there are some resources to help you. The following sites provide excellent information for new gardeners:

Also, the Master Gardeners of Ontario have very active chapters in Mississauga and Toronto, so you should check their website for garden clinics or presentations coming up:

I will try to answer your specific questions here. First, it is generally unwise to dig a hole and replace the native soil. Water does not readily pass between different strata so drainage may become a problem. Putting stones in the bottom will not improve the situation. You may end up with the equivalent of a pot with no drainage holes.

Fill the hole and then create a raised bed on top using the new soil. Try to build the bed above ground by 6-8 inches. This will help to allow excess water to exit at the bottom of the bed. The same holds true for the other new area. Build up, not down for drainage.

You can use any garden soil to fill your beds, but try to avoid bulk topsoils that may contain weed seeds. There are many kinds of compost (plant-based, animal-based manures, mushroom, etc) or you can make your own. The key is to make sure it is "mature"; that is, it should be decomposed to the point where you cannot see the individual components that initially went into the compost. I like to vary mine from year to year, but often just get some from my municipal compost depot which is made from yard waste. There is a golden rule: compost always goes on top of the soil. Do not till it or mix it into the soil. In fact, many gardeners like to use an inch of compost as mulch. Add an inch of compost in late fall or early spring. This should provide all the nutrients your plants need.

Here is the second golden rule: Never use landscape cloth in a garden bed. The only use for landscape cloth is as a base for a pathway. In spite of all the marketing hype, landscape cloth is not effective in stopping weeds, and it interferes with the natural processes occurring in the soil. (If you choose to start a new bed over turf, you can use several sheets of newspaper to smother the grass under the soil. The grass will die from lack of sunlight.)

Just for good measure, the 3rd golden rule is: never add fertilizers or amendments other than compost unless you have had the soil tested and a need is established. It is a waste of money and often exacerbates pollution of the rivers and streams.