My wife and I just bought our house this winter, one of the things that we liked so much about it was the 3 large garden beds. 20x17 each.

I've always lived in apartments growing up and have no clue how to prep a garden bed. I did the obvious stuff like removed the well established weeds and started researching what I need to do.

We'd like to plant all of the things (lettece, tomatoes to raspberry and strawberries)

What advice do you have to prepping a raised garden bed that hasn't been touch in a few years (5-10)?

Additional info: I live in the Denver metro area 5b zone - http://planthardiness.ars.usda.gov pH of 7.5 and n/k/p are all at surplus level according to Luster Leaf (I have no idea what the numerical number just that its "surplus")

  • What do you want to grow? What season is it now? What is the soil type? Mar 31, 2018 at 18:39
  • Which Luster Leaf test did you use?
    – greggles
    May 7, 2018 at 19:59
  • Raspberry will eventually eat your entire raised bed space. Best to set it free somewhere in the remote yard. Jun 7, 2018 at 14:06

3 Answers 3


Loaded question.... as different plants will need different soil balances. I would plan your gardens with the plants and then use the BioLife/Down to Earth products to "condition" your soil to what you need.... bagged compost can only do so much.

If you live in Denver County, they have a free mulch and very reasonable compost (cost) available for residents.... (check denver.gov) you can find the results of the soil test - that can help you decide what you need- but you will always have to add "conditioning" products even with new compost.

I do this each year as I move things around - and I'm still learning -I' in my 3rd year as a gardener in my home.

This year I am adding 1/2 raised gardens for two blueberry plants... I didn't want to dig the 20" for the Sphagnum Peat Moss, I also added a raised salad garden on wheels this season, because all my kale, spinach, and cilantro bolted because of the quick temp changes last spring.

I still have a lot to learn, but really like the down to earth products in my garden.


step one is to test the soil, you need to know not only the fertility but whether there are any heavy metals or other toxins present

colorado state university provides this service http://www.soiltestinglab.colostate.edu


If you were starting from weed-filled beds that hadn't been tended in years or a typical Kentucky blue turf lawn it would be easier to give you advice because the starting point is better known. Having some beds that someone else tended makes it harder to know exactly what is in the soil. In general in Denver you are likely to have either clay soil (metro Denver) or sand (many parts of Aurora) that is slightly alkaline. If you dig down 6 inches or 12 inches and repeat the test do you still get good results on N/P/K?

  • Research the types of plants you want to grow and whether they have any special requirements. For example, you might need "well drained soil" or "acidic" soil that both will require work to achieve them so it's better to focus those efforts of applying a soil acidifier and working on drainage to a smaller area.
  • You can easily do a soil composition test to determine the composition of the soil by digging down a foot, or so, gathering an equal amount of soil from each depth into a bucket, mixing it up, filling a glass jar about half full with the mix of dirt, adding water, shaking it, and letting it settle. The bottom will be sand, next will come loam, and finally clay. My guess for Denver area is that it will be mostly sand or mostly clay. The solutions for either are basically the same: add about 1-2 inches of compost each year and dig it in.
  • Mint, raspberries, and blackberries, and a few other items will expand quickly and be hard to remove in the Denver area. I suggest creating a strong barrier to them spreading like a deep physical barrier that prevents the roots from spreading.

You can get compost from a lot of places, but one fun choice unique to Denver is A1 Organics which is the company that processes the compost that is collected by the city of Denver.

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