Friday, 12 October 2012

Happily building up our Soil through Sheet Mulching & the Lasagna Method


Fall is the perfect time of year to start building soil for next years garden
Lasagna gardening or Sheet Mulching is a no-till organic gardening method that results in rich, fluffy soil with very little work from the gardener. The name "lasagna gardening" has nothing to do with what you'll be growing in this garden. It refers to the method of building the garden, which is, essentially, adding layers of organic materials that will “cook down” over time, resulting in rich, fluffy soil that will help your plants thrive. Also known as “sheet composting or sheet mulching,” lasagna gardening is great for the environment, because you're using your yard and kitchen waste and essentially composting it in place to make a new garden.

No Tilling Required
One of the best things about lasagna gardening is how easy it is. You don't have to remove existing sod and weeds. You don't have to double dig just place your pitch fork into the soil and lightly rock back and forth to aerate the soil. The first layer of your lasagna garden consists of a good quality of compost (to introduce all of those beneficial microbes into the soil), soil enhancements like blood meal, bone meal, dolomite rock dust (minerals) and then either brown corrugated cardboard (unwaxed with little to no dyes and all packing tape removed) and or three layers of newspaper (most newspapers today are printed with vegetable dye) laid directly on top of the grass or weeds in the area you've selected for your garden. Wet this layer down to keep everything in place and start the decomposition process. The grass or weeds will break down fairly quickly because they will be smothered by the newspaper or cardboard, as well as by the materials you're going to layer on top of them. This layer also provides a dark, moist area to attract earthworms that will loosen up the soil as they tunnel through it. 

Ingredients For A Lasagna Garden
Anything you'd put in a compost pile, you can put into a lasagna garden. The materials you put into the garden will break down, providing nutrient-rich, crumbly soil in which to plant. The following materials are all perfect for lasagna gardens:
  • Grass Clippings (Green for Nitrogen and Brown for Carbon)
  • Leaves (Green for Nitrogen and Brown for Carbon)
  • Fruit and Vegetable Scraps
  • Coffee Grounds
  • Tea leaves and tea bags
  • Weeds (if they haven't gone to seed)
  • Manure
  • Compost
  • Seaweed
  • Shredded newspaper or junk mail
  • Spent blooms, trimmings from the garden
  • Organic Blood and Bone Meal
  • Dolomite Rock Dust - a soil enhancement that adds beneficial minerals
Just as with edible lasagna, there is some importance to the methods you use to build your lasagna garden. You'll want to alternate layers of “browns” such as fall leaves, shredded newspaper with layers of “greens” such as vegetable scraps, garden trimmings, and grass clippings. In general, you want your "brown” layers to be about twice as deep as your “green” layers, but there's no need to get finicky about this. Just layer browns and greens, and a lasagna garden will result. What you want at the end of your layering process is a two to three-foot tall layered bed. You'll be amazed at how much this will shrink down in a few short weeks.

Let's Build It - Place about 4”of compost over the entire area, add your soil enhancements like blood meal, bone meal, dolomite rock dust (minerals) and then top with a carbonaceous layer like cardboard or newspaper. Wet this all down then add a green layer or material that contains nitrogen like coffee grounds, green vegetation, food scraps, green grass clippings (that have had no chemical applications) , again, build up with more cardboard or newspaper and another layer of green topped off with mulch like dead leaves, brown grass clippings, straw, or wood chip.

When To Make A Lasagna Garden
You can make a lasagna garden at any time of year. Fall is an optimum time for many gardeners because of the amount of organic materials you can get for free thanks to fallen leaves and general yard waste from cleaning up the rest of the yard and garden. You can let the lasagna garden sit and break down all winter. By spring, it will be ready to plant in with a minimum of effort. Also, fall rains and winter snow will keep the materials in your lasagna garden moist, which will help them break down faster.

If you choose to make a lasagna garden in spring or summer, you will need to consider adding more "soil-like" amendments to the bed, such as topsoil, so that you can plant in the garden right away. If you make the bed in spring, layer as many greens and browns as you can, with layers of finished compost or topsoil interspersed in them. Finish off the entire bed with three or four inches of finished compost or topsoil, and plant. The bed will settle some over the season as the layers underneath decompose. 

You can sheet mulch your beds every fall building more and more nutrient rich soil with each application.

Planting and Maintaining a Lasagna Garden
When it's time to plant, just dig down into the bed as you would with any other garden. If you used newspaper as your bottom layer, the shovel will most likely go right through, exposing nice, loose soil underneath. If you used cardboard, you may have to cut a hole in it at each spot where you want to plant something.
To maintain the garden, simply add mulch to the top of the bed in the form of straw, bark mulch, or chopped leaves. Once it's established, you will care for a lasagna garden just as you would any other: weed and water when necessary, and plant to your heart's content. 

 Advantages Of A Lasagna Garden
While you will be maintaining a lasagna garden the same way you would care for any other garden, you will find that caring for a lasagna garden is less work-intensive. You can expect:
  • Sheet mulching helps to build up the microbial content and health of your soil providing healthier nutrient rich vegetables and higher yields.

  • Fewer weeds, thanks to the newspaper suppressing them from below and the mulch covering the soil from above.
  • Better water retention, due to the fact that compost (which is what you made by layering all of those materials) holds water better than regular garden soil, especially if your native soil is sandy or deficient in organic matter.
  • No need for chemical fertilizers because you planted your garden in almost pure compost, which is very nutrient-rich.
  • Soil that is easy to work: crumbly, loose, and fluffy.
Lasagna gardening is fun, easy, and allows you to build healthy, deep, rich soil quickly and economically.  Your plants will love you for it:-D


  1. Thank you for sharing this post! I love to do my own mulching, and I learned a few new tactics by reading this.

  2. Hi Dwayne, that make me really happy to hear that this posting has been beneficial to you. All the best
    Genesis Permaculture
    Alberta, Canada

  3. I came across this blog post and thought this would be the perfect low-cost method for preparing an area for spring vegetables and have been trying out this method since mid-December. However, I am a little worried that I am either doing something wrong or the space will not be ready come the Spring time, so I'm wondering if you can offer any pointers?

    I finished the a 6 layered pile in mid-December. Initially, there was just grass on the ground, so I placed soil, cardboard, coffee grounds, newspaper, another layer of coffee grounds, and then a final layer of leaves. I peek underneath the cardboard from time-to-time to see what's going on, and see that there are plenty of decomposing organisms down there (worms, roly polies, centipedes, and slugs) and that the cardboard is consistently damp and soft. It still doesn't appear to be breaking down into soil, though. We've had a few freezes, a good amount of rain and snow, and the temperature has ranged from the 20s - 50s over this time period. Do you think things will break down quicker once the weather gets warmer? Do you have any thoughts on what I can do to make this effort successful?

    If you are curious, you can look at photos of the project here:

  4. Hi Coy, thank you for your question; making soil takes time and depends on a number of factors such as moisture, nitrogen (green stuff, manure, coffee grounds) to carbon levels (all the brown stuff) and then Mother Nature herself plays a role. If everything is not 100% broken down come spring then you can do the following:
    - Add topsoil and plant your seeds; the sheet mulch will continue to break down and create a rich environment for worms and microbes.
    - Make crisscrosses in the cardboard then plant your seedlings right into the mix (we often do this when we do a one day transformation of a yard during a Permablitz and the plants grow right in the medium provided. We eve did this to do a community planting of apple trees covering the grass in cardboard and sheet mulched with crisscrosses cut into the carboard to plant in the trees - worked like a dream.
    Let me know how this works for you and please feel free to contact me at if you have additional questions.

  5. Thanks for sharing this about mulching! Do you know where I can find some more information about it?