The weather is finally turning warm again, and that means a mad dash to get gardens going. Like most homeowners, you’re probably feeling the itch to plant right about now, but also wondering how you’ll ever fit weekend after weekend of yard work into your already cramped schedule. Don’t worry, though, because a garden doesn’t have to be a whole-month affair if you plan it right. In fact, all your prep can be fit into a single weekend.

This is your pressed-for-time guide for preparing your backyard to meet summer’s bounty. We’ll take you through the basics of setting up new raised beds, as well as some maintenance tasks you’ll need to perform on existing areas, and we’ll get it all done in one weekend so you’ll have plenty of perfect-weather days to enjoy.

Vegetable garden

Table of Contents


It’s Friday morning—can you feel how close you are to this season’s garden? But first, you’ll need to do a little planning. This morning before work, take a few moments to walk around your backyard and scope out your garden. Check out your existing beds to get a feel for what needs doing, and scope out a location for any new beds you want to put in. To avoid rooting up new ground, which can be grueling and unrewarding work, we’re going to explain how to put in 3×5 raised beds. So, while you’re walking your yard, measure your total area and plot out how many beds you think you’ll put in as well.

A quick note on space: unless you’re keen on growing large, leafy vegetables like squash or sprawling vines like pumpkin or watermelon, you can probably make due with two beds or even just one, if you’re resourceful. The trick to this is smart planting—you’ll get better yields and make more efficient use of your space if you layer the soil in a gentle arc and stagger plants rather than putting them in straight rows.

Friday night

While everybody else is busy making happy hour plans, it’s time to take on the home improvement store like a contestant on Supermarket Sweep. Here’s what you need to get to build one 3×5 bed:

  • A hose and soaker head (if you don’t already have one)
  • Deck screws
  • 4 4×4 posts
  • Lumber for 12 2×4 boards (6 cut to 35 inches and 6 cut to 60 inches)
  • Soil
  • Compost
  • Plants (if the last danger of frost is past for your area)
  • A shovel or hoe

And here’s what you’ll need for your existing beds:

  • More compost
  • Mulch
  • Fencing material for any warped or broken fences

You can usually get a store associate to cut the lumber for you if you don’t have a bandsaw at home. Also, always purchase untreated lumber if you’ll be planting edibles.


It’s up with the sun for you! The first thing on your to-do list this morning is to mark off the areas for your new beds, and then use your shovel or hoe to gently turn the sod inside the boundaries. At each corner, push one of the 4×4 posts into the soil and then screw the 2×4 boards to those so that they form a box with three 35-inch and three 60-inch boards on each set of parallel sides. Fill the box with soil and then top with a layer of compost, piling it into a gentle arc. Now, you’re ready to pop in your plants, assuming it’s warm enough in your area.


Today is maintenance day. Now that you have new beds set up, it’s time to go through and check on your older spaces as well. Focus on the following tasks:

  • Repair any broken or warped fences or trellises.
  • Clear out plant debris and fallen leaves.
  • Divide perennials if you didn’t already do so in the fall.
  • Pull young weeds out of existing beds.
  • Dress old, spent soil with a layer of fresh compost.
  • Mulch areas that need it, especially around trees and shrubs.

Sunday night

Sit back and relax—your work here is done. In just a few short weeks, you’ll be up to your neck in fresh vegetables and stunning flowers, which is cause to celebrate, indeed.