Preparing neglected “flower bed” for spring


I’m so glad I discover this group because you’re local experts! We bought a house recently with a yard that’s overgrown and not well cared for. I’d like to prepare the long strip of soil for planting a variety of blooming perennials next spring / summer.

There’s a very large and mature Norway Maple in the centre of the yard so it’s a shady yard. The soil feels sandy. PH is around 7.5. It is currently full of weeds, especially goutweeds and some kind of black nightshade are prominent. There’re a few Japanese barberry shrubs. I know that once i’ve tilled and pull out the weeds, I will need to mulch. Is using the fallen leaves from the maple as mulch a good idea here? If not, what type of mulch would you recommend? Should I also mix in compost before I put on a layer of mulch? What type of compost would you recommend given the PH level of the soil? I read that shade loving perennials prefer slight acidic soil.

I know very little about outdoor gardening so I apologize for my very basic questions. Thank you!!



Thanks for contacting Toronto Master Gardeners. Given that there is a maple tree in your yard and the soil is sandy, you can improve the soil fertility by spreading compost before applying mulch. Leaf mold, composted manure or commercial compost would be appropriate. The maple leaves are a fine mulch but they are more effective if they are shredded before applying. They will break down during the winter and will improve your soil. For more information for preparing your yard for the winter click here for a Toronto Master Gardening Guide on this topic.

Goutweed and black nightshade are very invasive weeds, moreover black nightshade is toxic. You will have to monitor them closely and hand remove these invasive plants on an ongoing basis.

One piece of good news is that not all shade plants need acid soil. Many of the shade perennials that are described as needing acid soil will tolerate or even thrive in alkaline soil. Examples of native plants that may work in your garden include: Aqueligia canadensis (red columbine), Asarum canadense (ginger), Dicentra spectabilis (bleeding heart), Phlox divaricata (woodland phlox), Polygonatum (solomon’s seal), Tiarella cordifolia (foam flower), Solidago flexicaulis (zig zag golden rod) and Waldsteinia fragarioides (barren strawberry). Other perennials include: Astilbe, Brunnera (Siberian bugloss), some cultivars of Epimedium (Bishop’s hat), Helleborus (hellebores), Heuchera (coral bells), and Hostas.

The key is to amend your soil each spring and fall and this will increase the number of plants that will thrive in your garden.