Not every garden is perfect, but you can get pretty close thanks to these outlining techniques. Begin by sketching out a plan for your garden before even stepping outside. Include any trees, shrubs, patios, fences, or paths in your sketch that could interfere with your proposed garden bed. This sketch doesn't have to be formal; it's just something to work with once you're outside and ready to start prepping.
If you're looking to create a more formal-looking bed with 90-degree angled corners, use scrap wood as a guide. Lay two pieces of wood at each corner of your garden bed, placing the wood perpendicular to each other, and mark from there. Curved garden bed edges create more of a natural look. When planning, don't overdo it on the size of your bed; you can always add on later if you decide that you want your bed to be bigger.
After using one of the following techniques to outline your garden bed, don't start digging right away. Examine the outline from multiple angles and perspectives to be sure that you're satisfied with how it looks before you break out the spade.
For a precise garden outline, plant stakes in the ground in your desired shape. Use a tape measure if you're making your garden bed a specific size. Tightly wrap twine around the perimeter of the stakes. You can also use tent pegs instead of stakes if you have them on hand. This method also works well to map out elevated elements of a garden bed, like a slope.
To create a circular garden bed, stand a stake where you want the center point of the garden bed to be. Attach twine to the stake and measure outwards at multiple points, planting a stake at each point. Be sure that every outside stake measures equally to the center stake.
This is perhaps the most convenient way to outline your garden bed—no need to run to the hardware store for supplies. Simply grab your garden hose and use it to outline your ideal garden bed on your lawn. This method is helpful if you're creating curves and arches in your flower beds. If no rain occurs, marks from the hose will be left in the grass, so you can easily remove the hose and start digging around the marks.
Another technique to outline your future garden bed is to use spray paint. Simply spray your lawn with the shape of your desired bed, using measuring tape or string as a guide. With regular lawn mowing, the paint will eventually disappear, but many home and garden stores offer grass-friendly, water-based paint that comes out in a rainfall.
Editor's Tip: Keep the paint away from any hardscape elements like pathways or driveways.
Use a string or a hose to form your garden layout. Sprinkle sand or flour over the top to create the layout line, then remove the string or hose. The great thing about this method is that if you're not happy with how your outline looks, you can simply wash the sand or flour away with water. Once you're satisfied with your garden outline, dig along the powdered pattern to construct your bed.