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WMGV Ask MH Part 2 Aug 2020

Building a Dry Garden Bed

Ask Master Gardener Volunteer

Michele Hackmeyer

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In a previous blog, I described plants to consider using in a dry garden bed.  Now I will describe what it takes to create the bed.  Doing something like this is definitely a winter project or one with the help of others.

How the dry bed is created

The dry bed is created using piled up lime rock gravel covered with sand and topped with lava rock or small decorative gravel.  The idea is to raise the planting area up so that it drains completely and stays very dry.  The rock and sand used will insure that.  Before you start making your bed, I strongly urge you to clear the ground of all vegetation.  If you have plants such as Purple Nutsedge (the bane of my existence), you will want to carefully dig it up or sift the soil to remove as many of the nutlets (tubers) as possible.  It’s much easier to do at this stage rather than after you have all those rocks and sand to deal with!

Years ago I was given 3 Century plants, Agave americana, and several Adams Needle Yucca, Yucca filamentosa.  The bed we created was a 12-foot circle.  This turned out to be too many plants in the space.

I had acquired 3 new large agaves from the NFREC-Quincy Plant Sale, so I planned the bed expansion around those additions allowing for plenty of room to grow and add new, smaller plants.

Original bed 1

Original bed with planned expansion. Photo by: Michele Hackmeyer

 

Type of rock gravel for the base

We used lime rock gravel for the base, about 6 cubic yards, and began developing the mounds and contours.  Then 7 yards of course sand was added and the contouring refined.

Cleared old bed and began adding rock. STEP 1
Cleared old bed w rock 2

Cleared old bed and began adding rock. Photo by: Michele Hackmeyer

 

Added sand and continued contouring. STEP 2
Added sand bed 3

Added sand and continued contouring. Photo by: Michele Hackmeyer

 

Large new agaves planted with plenty of room between each. STEP 3
Large Agave bed 4

Large new agaves planted with plenty of room between each. Photo by: Michele Hackmeyer

 

Ready for top layer of decorative gravel. STEP 4
Top decorative gravel bed 5

Ready for top layer of decorative gravel. Photo by: Michele Hackmeyer

We had acquired some rocks over the years and added them to the area.  My husband builds model train layouts and has a great eye for developing the mounds and placing rocks.

Current bed.
Current bed 6

Current bed. Photo by: Michele Hackmeyer

The plants needed a little water for the first few weeks, but after that, I just left them alone.

 

Some things to consider:
  • The slope of the mounds should be very gradual. If it’s too steep you end up with gravel sliding down to the bottom edge.
  • Some kind of edging or space should be used to separate the bed from the surrounding lawn. I keep a 4-5 inch space of bare ground.  This allows for easy mowing without throwing rocks around and also allows me to see the grass that’s trying to creep in.
  • Even rock-covered beds will grow weeds eventually as dust and pollen silts into the crevices. Weeding in rocks around all those plants with spines and thorns is very difficult and dangerous.  So I use a granular pre-emergent herbicide in late winter to eliminate this problem and I always make sure I read the label before applying.  This works very well and doesn’t seem to bother the wild purslane that I have allowed to grow in the bare edge area.

To see this concept on a grand scale, consider driving to the North Florida Research and Education Center – Quincy, https://nfrec.ifas.ufl.edu/quincy-map/.  Their dry garden is about 65 feet long!

For gardening information or to find answers to your gardening questions go to UF/IFAS Gardening Solutions, https://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/.

 

If you have any questions or suggestions for future articles please email to wakullamg@ifas.ufl.edu
The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information, and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions, or affiliations. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Cooperative Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A&M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating

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