copyright by Joanne Neale d/b/a Garden MentorSM

“If you are planning a new garden bed, you can kill weeds and improve the quality of your soil without digging by placing a layer of newspaper (no more than 8 sheets thick) under a thick layer of mulch.

  • First, cut any grass or weeds as low as you can (around 2″), without pulling them out. A lawnmower works best for large areas.
  • Dig an “edge” around the bed to prevent grass and other plants from growing into it. Use an edging tool or a sharp spade.
  • Next, overlap the edges of the newspaper so no plants can sneak through the spaces. Let the newspaper drape over the outside “edge” of the bed. Water the newspaper to keep it from blowing/dislodging.
  • Optional: If you cover the newspaper with 2-3″ of compost or manure, then cover with mulch, you will have further improved the soil quality.
  • Last, cover with 2-3″ of mulch (shredded cedar bark, chopped leaves, etc.).
  • Watch the area and be diligent about pulling up any weeds that appear in the mulch. Over several months the newspaper will decompose, and many weed seeds will have been killed. At planting time, you can move aside the mulch and plant.

Note: If you want to speed up the decomposition process, you should layer newspaper/compost/mulch, and drape a sheet of black plastic over the area to keep it warm. Be sure to punch holes in the plastic so water and air can get in.

How long until you can plant in this new bed?

Sidewalk edge bed prepared in November and planted in April

If you start it in early to mid-March, you can probably plant in early May, although the longer you leave it, the better the soil structure will be. Ideally, you would wait a full year, or start in summer and plant the next spring. However, I have planted with success immediately after preparing an area, by digging large planting holes through the newspaper and further enriching the soil in the holes with compost.”



copyright by Joanne Neale d/b/a Garden MentorSM

“TIP #1  DON’T BAG OR BLOW LEAVES, CHOP THEM.  You can reduce the volume of fallen leaves to 10% of the original, simply by chopping them with your mower.  Be sure you have a sharp blade, then simply rake them into piles and mow over them several times.  (This works best with dry leaves; wet ones may clog your mower.)

BENEFIT TO YOU: If you’ve done it yourself in the past – less work bagging, less trips to the transfer station.  If you’ve always hired someone to “blow them away” – money saved and a quieter neighborhood.  In both cases – free mulch (See Tip #2.)

BENEFIT TO THE ENVIRONMENT: You’ve recycled a part of nature and reduced the use of those plastic “lawn and leaf” bags.

TIP #2   MAKE YOUR OWN MULCH.  After you’ve chopped those leaves, you can rake them onto your flower beds and shrub borders as a protective mulch. You can even let the leaves stay where they fall in autumn, except on the lawn, if the leaves are not too large and if they don’t pile up too high in some places.

BENEFIT TO YOU: You’ve saved the expense of having a huge pile of mulch dumped in your driveway, and the work of wheel-barrowing it to all the beds.

BENEFIT TO THE ENVIRONMENT: Fallen leaves are nature’s own mulch and provide great benefit to the soil as they decompose. Granted, they decompose faster than those bark mulches, but that just means they feed your soil faster. And you’ll have an endless supply each fall.


All my gardens are mulched with chopped leaves, and have been for many years. They are never watered unless there is a severe drought. Please check out this video in which garden writer Sydney Eddison explains the easy way to do it in your own yard.”



copyright by Joanne Neale d/b/a Garden MentorSM

  • The key to getting a new plant off to a good start is moisture. Water thoroughly after planting, and keep a close eye on the plant over the following week. If you see it wilt on a hot, sunny day, check the soil with your finger to a depth of about 1in. If the soil is dry, water thoroughly. But if the soil below the surface is moist to the touch, don’t water. The plant is probably wilting because the roots are unable to supply the top with sufficient moisture even though the soil is damp. The remedy is to contrive some means of shading the plant. Within a week or so, the roots should catch up, and you can remove the shading.
  • After the first week, give a new plant a good soaking once a week during summer unless rainfall is plentiful (more than 1 inch per week). Established plants can generally get by on less water, but most grow best if the soil remains evenly moist.
  • Be certain to water deeply.  Avoid overhead (sprinkler) watering if possible in favor of drip irrigation or soaker hoses.
  • Water early in the day to allow foliage to dry before dark – this helps prevent diseases and saves on evaporation of water.
  • Generally, “one inch of water once a week” if there has been no rain is a good rule to follow. You can measure an inch by placing an empty tuna can level with the ground; when it is full, you have watered an inch.
  • Carefully monitor soil moisture levels until your plants are well-established, which can take several years.  Many plants die from over- or under-watering.  Even established plants may require water during excessively dry periods.
  • Please note that more water is not better. When in doubt, don’t water.  A light sprinkling every day or two only makes your plants less able to withstand dry conditions – as a result, they will not do well if you fail to give them their “expected’ dose of water. This is a labor and water intensive method of watering, not a good practice!



Do you know that adding organic matter to your soil will make it much more water-retentive, allowing you to cut back on – or even eliminate – watering? Rich, moisture-retentive soil will enable your plants to withstand drought and make it easier to comply with watering bans. It’s easy to add a 1-2″ layer of well-decayed compost. You can buy it for a nominal fee at the Needham Recycling and Transfer Station, (the RTS or “dump”) or make compost yourself of autumn leaves, tucking vegetable food waste from the kitchen and healthy, nonwoody plant waste from the garden under the surface of the leaves. Put your compost pile in a shady, out of the way place in your yard where the pile will stay fairly moist. Well decayed compost can be thrown under shrubs and into flower beds and used as a mulch around trees.

See’s Composting guide.

Using a bin will keep animals from getting into the compost. Directions are included. In Needham, compost bins are available at the RTS (dump) for $65. Go to the RTS office and give them your RTS sticker number.




Plants like rainwater, because it’s naturally soft, and free of chlorine.  Plus, collecting rainwater is a great way to deal with watering restrictions and save some money on your water bill.

It’s surprising how much water you can collect from downspouts that spill into the top of your rain barrel. You access the water in a rain barrel from an attached spigot, then use it to fill a watering can. Or connect a hose to it, provided you don’t need the water to go uphill since they work on gravity.

The Town of Needham sells rain barrels.  Check out the Town’s website to learn more.

Here is a Massachusetts Office of Environmental Affairs page on where to obtain (or how to make your own) rain barrels:


Resources on the Web