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How to Plant a Garden From Scratch

Is your blank slate of a backyard overwhelming you and you don’t know where to start? I’m using our new backyard as an example to show you how to plant a garden from scratch that includes perennials, annuals, shrubs, vegetables, and more.

Our new backyard & how to plant a garden from scratch

One of the biggest draws for our new house was the yard. It’s big, flat, and pretty blank. Just a lot of grass. Which means endless possibilities (especially with no home owner’s association here!). But it can also mean overwhelm.

And A LOT of work. I mean, looking at these before pictures, I truly cannot believe where we’re at now. We made it our priority not long after moving in, and I’m so glad we did.

The goal of this post is to walk you through the entire process of how to plant a garden from scratch. This garden is mostly flowers (perennials and annuals) and shrubs, but I also put veggies into the lineup. I’d eventually like to do raised beds for my edibles, but I didn’t have time this season.

overgrown yard with an old chain link fence
The before
overgrown yard with an old chain link fence
The before

Putting in the new fence…

I wrote about why we chose this fence in my post Vinyl vs. Wood Fences & Our New Fence, so you can check that out if you’d like to. The home was built in 1962, and I’m pretty sure that’s when the fence went up, too. It was an old rusty chain link fence.

Obviously before we did any landscaping around the perimeter of the yard, we decided to have the fence put in. This was NOT a DIY and was well worth every penny spent! Our neighbors are lovely, but who doesn’t like privacy? I’m really glad we chose the beige vinyl instead of white, too.

The difference it made in the yard was shocking. I was giddy watching it go in! The three pics below show a bit of that process. They also show a few butterfly bushes that the previous owner later came to dig up and take with her to her new house.

installing a beige vinyl privacy fence in a backyard
installing a beige vinyl privacy fence in a backyard
installing a beige vinyl privacy fence in a backyard

So let’s jump in to how to plant a garden from scratch.

I’m going to try to break this up into actionable steps, but really I’ll probably just be rambling a lot and dumping pictures of the process in. 🙂

Step 1: Decide on the size and edge out the beds

Since this garden is going to be an in-ground garden, there was no building involved. But man was there a lot of digging! I invested in a manual edger for this process. (My mom uses a flat shovel and that works great for her, too.)

The edger helps you make deep, defined, clean cuts between garden beds and grass. You simply put the edger blade-side down, push it down, and then “scoop” up the dirt/grass. In particularly tough areas, I was also able to hold the handles on mine and jump on it. Old roots are no joke.

After edging the first time, you’ll probably want to go back in and clean it up a bit. Use measuring tape to make sure your lines stay even (or use a string and chalk if you have it).

trenching our garden beds by a fence
You can also see the start of our attempt at a DIY smoke-free fire pit in this pic!

Step 2: Remove the grass

This step was, by far, the most time-consuming. Essentially what we did was, when I finished edging out the beds, Mike began digging up the grass. And then I went behind him planning where the plants would go, digging holes, and planting. (Then mulching.)

A few things about removing the grass, though…it was a huge pain. We ended up with a HUGE pile that we needed to pay someone to come haul away. We don’t have a truck ourselves and also didn’t have anywhere to put it. The pic below is about half of what we ended up needing to get rid of.

If you have more patience, you can do what my brother is doing this year. He just bought a new house and wants to do a mulched garden in a big area of his backyard. So this year he sprayed the area down with a strong vinegar solution, covered the area with cardboard, and mulched it.

This will kill off the grass over the next year. The cardboard will degrade and decompose over time, and it will also stifle new grass or weed growth. Then next year they’ll be able to dig holes, plant, and remulch!

But we didn’t have that kind of patience. I wanted the plants to get rolling this year, especially since we moved in April and had most of spring and all of summer! So be forewarned. Digging it up is a bear.

digging our garden beds by a fence
woman dirty after working in the garden
Me at this point
pile of dirt in a driveway

Step 3: Plant your desired plants

After allllll of the grass was gone, I started shopping. I wanted to do mostly perennials, pollinators, and other native plants. This is all pretty new to me, so I just went to a local nursery and chose things. I loved how they had things labeled as “great for bees,” or “attracts butterflies,” or “makes great cut flowers.”

In addition to these plants, I also grabbed a few annuals. Perennials can take a while to get established and also usually don’t flower for too long. So I figured I’d fill things out with annuals. I chose mostly zinnias and cosmos. Super easy to grow!

Our soil is SUPER dense, heavy, and clay-based. So to plant my plants, I simply dig a hole about double the size of the pot for whatever plant I’m planting. Then I mix some clay soil in with leaf compost I purchased in bags at Lowes.

I also add in some top soil. It doesn’t have nutrients, but the soil is super light. So it also helps to break up the clay. Fingers crossed you have better soil than we do—then it will be a lot less work!

flowers in a cart
mulching a new garden

Step 4: Mulch, mulch, mulch

After planting, the last step is to mulch. We did two rounds of mulch because we made a mistake the first time around. We did the mulch kind of thin to stretch it out…and the weeds were SOOOO bad!

I mentioned cardboard and mulch before. That’s what we ended up doing. We decided to spray all of the weeds down with strong vinegar, lay a dense layer of cardboard, and mulch a SECOND round on top of that.

(We needed so much cardboard that I did end up grabbing some from neighbors and also having Mike pick up a big batch from someone on Facebook marketplace. But if you start saving up well in advance, you’ll have a lot to use.)

The cardboard has worked GREAT! The weeds still pop up, but at normal levels. And it’s also a great way to compost your cardboard boxes! It was a ton of extra work, but it was totally worth it in the end. Hoping we can get the weeds under control so we don’t deal with this again next year!

cardboard boxes laid down in a garden before mulching
mulching a new garden
mulching a new garden
mulching a new garden
mulching a new garden

And here’s where we’re at now!

Our garden has been in for about 1 1/2 months. And the progress is already astounding! I simply love going out and watering it every day. And I’m so glad I’ve taken so many pictures.

It can be so difficult to remember how far you’ve come—including how much your plants have grown in just 1 1/2 months! Our plants are doing amazing. I water once a day in the morning with the hose (still need to get a rain barrel set up).

I have done one round of miracle gro on everything to help jumpstart mostly the perennials. And things are responding really well. We’re starting to see a few sugar snap peas, pickable green beans, and some green tomatoes!

And of course TONS of flowers ready to cut for bouquets already. I’m trying to remember that perennials might not look super great until next year. The only thing I don’t really love that I’ve planted is my tradescantia andersoniana (spiderwort) “Sweet Kate.” We’ll see how it grow this summer though.

Below I’ve got a rose bush Ramona picked out at Lowes, white peonies, a cold-hardy lavender bush, two zinnias my grandma started from seed, and sugar snap peas.

beautiful garden with roses, zinnias, and more

Here are a few of the other things I chose for our garden—

  • Shasta daisies
  • More zinnias
  • Cosmos
  • Moonflower vine
  • Black eyed susans
  • Petite bee balm
  • Creeping rosemary
  • Cone flowers
  • Gold flame honey suckle vine
  • Lupine
  • Columbine
  • Bleeding heart flowers
  • Flox
  • And tons more!

For veggies, I planted bush beans, pickling cucumbers, roma tomatoes, jalapeños, sweet peppers, hot peppers (don’t even remember the kind, lol), and a bunch of cherry tomatoes. Actually, all of the cherry tomatoes—and the bit pot of basil—are all plants I transitioned outside from my indoor Click and Grow garden!

They are growing beautifully, and I’ll definitely update that post when I see how big they get. I am really hoping to get some raised beds in for a fall crop and plant more shrubs or perennials where I have veggies—but that might be for next spring 🙂

So if you’re wondering how to plant a garden and don’t know where to start, I hope this post helped. We’re far from finished, but I’m so happy with the progress we’ve made! Because that’s part of the process, right? Growth and progress. 🙂

beautiful garden along a fence with an assortment of shrubs and flowers
black eyed susan flower about to open
orange zinnia
beautiful multicolored zinnias
eucalyptus
orange cone flower bloom
bright pink cosmos flowers
magenta hydrangea bloom
beautiful garden along a fence with an assortment of shrubs and flowers
bleeding heart flower bloom
magenta columbine flower
bright purple lupine bloom
white shasta daisies blooming in a garden
basil growing in a pot
white cosmos
beautiful garden along a fence with an assortment of shrubs and flowers
hand holding a green bean on a bush
small green tomatoes on a vine
blooming vicks plan
jalapeno on the vine
pink flox
beautiful lilac bloom
gold flame honeysuckle
beautiful garden along a fence with an assortment of shrubs and flowers

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collage of flowers with text that says learn how to plant a garden from scratch
a beautiful garden with text that says how to plant a flower garden from scratch
collage of the process to put in a garden with text that says learn how to plant a garden from scratch
collage of flowers with text that says how to plant a flower garden

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