Step 1: Lay Out the Bed
Use a garden hose to lay out the shape of your bed. When you’re finished, step back and look at the line from several angles and adjust it until it looks perfect to you. If you’re making a new bed and don’t know where to start, consider the formality of your property and plantings. Curvy beds tend to give a more natural, casual look, while straight beds are more formal and architectural. Also consider the size of your existing plants. Ideally, you should have about six inches of clearance around plants for mowing purposes. Large areas of unplanted mulch may require frequent weeding.
Step 2: Cut the Edge
Drive a garden spade just in front of the hose at slightly less than a 90-degree angle to a depth of about 4 inches. Some people do a straight 90-degree cut, but I prefer a slight slant into the bed for stability. Overlap your cuts slightly to get a good, even line and tip the spade back with each cut to draw up the grass. If you have a large area of grass to remove, you’ll want to skim off the grass just under the roots rather than digging in.
Avoid damaging roots of valued plants that traverse the edge of the bed. My oak tree has some big surface roots that cross the edge of this bed, and I try not to disturb them. Better a bump in the edge than a perfect bed under a dead tree.
Step 3: Clear Grass and Leaves
When you’ve made it around the whole bed, remove the grass from the edges. Work off any dirt you can and throw the grass in your wheelbarrow for composting. I clear out leaves and weeds at the same time. The poly shrub rake is perfect for cleaning leaves out from under plants, such as rhododendron and azaleas, that have delicate surface roots and low-hanging branches. Since those plants like a light mulch of leaves underfoot, I don’t remove all the leaves.