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I am moving out of a rental in zone 6 of eastern USA where I built two small garden beds using thin cedar wood in an urban yard. The landlord is okay with the beds staying there or going with me, but I'm happy to leave them - enough to move already, and I like the idea of making it easier for someone after me to get into gardening.

What I don't want is to leave the beds in a state of rapid decline due to neglect, making it likely the next person will see garden beds as a nuisance and not something pleasant and accessible. I know any garden bed neglected long enough will get weedy and eventually crumble, but I figure there are better and worse ways to 'close out' the garden bed in case it goes unused for a month, or 12, or 24 before the next gardener digs in.

How should I close out these beds to keep them from being troublesome to the next tenant and to make it easier for the next gardener to get started?

I figure reducing weeds and improving soil health is the key. To do that I figured I'd spread cover crops and a nice layer of woodchips or coarse sawdust. What cover crop to use is a big question. I am thinking of rye seed as a cover crop that will have no problem occupying the space and reseeding itself to a large extent, maybe a little bit of clover to fix N although I think the soil is pretty fertile as is. Rye is also easy to crimp, cut, or pull out for the next gardener to plant in.

So far, with the beds neglected this season other than mowing/weedwacking around them, the beds get the usual dandelion and grass weeds, I suspect eventually they'd succumb to mints around here. The lawn grass coming into the bed does harm the wood quite a bit, so occupying the beds with rye or another cover crop seems best.

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  • I presume just tilling the soil and stick a tarp over it is out of the question?
    – Valorum
    Apr 10, 2022 at 22:30
  • @Valorum that is an option but not knowing what the future holds for these garden beds I am wary of adding more that could decay in a bad way. Right now if the garden is totally neglected, it will be a pile of screws and a lot of rotted cedar and fertile soil in the future. Adding fraying plastic from a tarp is a trade-off, vs using cover crops to keep the garden good for whatever creatures can enjoy it.
    – cr0
    Apr 11, 2022 at 13:15
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    This post argues clover is a nice fit.
    – Vorac
    May 25, 2022 at 8:04

3 Answers 3

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Since you say that these beds are small, one option would be just to plant vegetables, as if you were going to be continuing to garden - particularly lettuce, spinach and maybe beets. You could also plant carrots if it's warm enough where you live. Properly marked, these would be your cover crops. I would mulch between them with cocoa bean hulls (because they're common where I live), but you could use something similar - the key is that it's a "one-year" mulch (cocoa bean hulls decompose over a single year). I would not put down sawdust because that tends to form a semi-impermeable mass, nor wood chips because you don't want to restrict any future gardens to perennials (wood chips are tough to use with annuals).

You don't need to fill the beds, just plant the crops mentioned and leave a note for the new renters when you move out. Maybe something like "I've already planted a small vegetable garden in the yard and left space for you to add tomatoes and peppers if you want. Enjoy!" If you want, you could also add some "how to garden" web references to the note, maybe prefaced by "I don't know if you've ever had a vegetable garden before, but if not, I've found these sites to be very useful." Maybe add some weed management sites, too, since you seem to have had problems with them in the past.

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  • This is a nice idea! Thanks for the plant suggestions of what we could plant and walk away from. I figure tomatoes would be a nuisance if we planted and left, but good point that leafy greens can be 'let loose' to do their thing. We'll probably go that route and plant some flowers too.
    – cr0
    Apr 10, 2022 at 20:27
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    Yeah, if the timing allows, something unfussy like marigolds - beneficial to the garden, people and especially kids like them, so do pollinators...
    – Ecnerwal
    Apr 10, 2022 at 22:07
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It's tricky precisely because you don't know when (or if) it will be used again.

If expecting use in a month, a deep mulch would be easiest to just start using. But of course that will start getting weeds if not used for a longer time.

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Pelargonium

  • is pretty hardy against dry spells* and doesn't suffer from many diseases or pests
  • is easily propagated from cuttings
  • is free standing unlike e.g. tomatoes.

However

  • it will take 2-3 months for each one to cover its whole bed
  • is not frost resistant.

* - I once forgot to water one for an year and it nearly died

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