Starting A Garden At Home or Work

Plant in hand

Please note: If you are thinking about starting a garden near your work area, be sure to follow your units' facility and administrative policies.

Garden Setup Help and Support

How to create a new garden bed and prepare the soil:

  • Don't start too early. If the ground is semi-frozen or soggy, digging in the soil can compact it and harm its structure. How do you tell whether it's ready to be worked in? Grab a handful and squeeze - it should fall apart, not form a mud ball.
  • Clear the surface by first removing plants, weeds, brush, and rock. If necessary, mow the site to cut back the grass and weeds close to the surface of the soil. If your garden area contains a lot of perennial weeds or if you need to clear an area of a warm-season lawn (like Bermuda grass), make sure that you first kill these weeds or grasses. You can kill weeds and aggressive grasses two ways:
    • Hand dig and sift: For a small garden dig up the earth and carefully sift the soil, removing sod and root parts that may come back next year as weeds.
    • Apply a covering: An easy, chemical-free way to clear your garden is to cover it with clear or black plastic, cardboard, or even old rugs. After a month under these impermeable coverings, existing plants die from the lack of sunlight. You must plan ahead to use this method, and it may not look pretty, but it works like a charm - especially on annual weeds. For perennial weeds, you may need to dig out their roots, too, after applying the plastic. You can buy plastic in rolls at hardware stores or home improvement centers; check department stores for old pieces of cardboard and carpet stores for old rugs. Use the thickest plastic or cardboard you can find - it should be at least 2 millimeters, but 4 millimeters is even better.
  • Most plants are content with 6 to 8 inches of good ground for their roots to grow in. If you're planning to grow substantial root crops (potatoes, say, or carrots), go deeper still - up to a foot or more. Add lots and lots of organic matter. Try using compost, dehydrated cow manure, shredded leaves, well-rotted horse manure (call nearby stables), or a mixture. If your yard happens to be blessed with fertile soil, adding organic matter is less crucial, but most soils can stand the improvement. Mix it with the native soil, 50-50, or even more liberally.

Additional Gardening Resources

Starting a Garden

For Dummies® How To Garden

MSU Extension

Community Gardening

Home Gardening


Planting Calendar - Vegetables

MSU Extension, for Michigan

Compost for the Garden

DIY (Do It Yourself) different types of compost bins

Tips for making compost


Coffee grounds make good plant fertilizer. They can be collected from staff kitchen or Starbucks. Learn more.


How to make mulch from leaves, compost and grass