Want some new garden space, but don’t have the time or energy to prepare the bed? Now’s the time to try Lasagna Gardening. This method of “sheet composting” is a no-dig, no-till organic gardening method. By literally composting the bed in place, you will get a rich, fluffy soil that will help all your plants grow. The name has nothing to do with the ingredients in lasagna, but with the layering of ingredients laid upon the ground where you’re going to plant.
And just what is this method that sounds too good to be true? Well, first, you don’t need to remove existing sod and weeds, nor do you need to double dig. In fact, you don’t have to work the soil at all. Simply place the first layer, newspapers or cardboard, directly upon the ground of the place where you’re new bed will be (be sure to choose a quiet day – wind can make this step an ordeal!). Next, wet the entire area down (partly to keep it in place) to 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.
The next layers are anything you'd put in a compost pile. Some examples of layers are:
- Grass Clippings
- Fruit and Vegetable Scraps
- Coffee Grounds
- Pine needles
- Peat Moss
You'll want to alternate layers of "browns" such as fall leaves, shredded newspaper, peat, and pine needles 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.
You can make a lasagna garden at any time of year, but if you are going to use this method this Spring, you’ll want to add more peat, compost, or topsoil so that the break down occurs more quickly. You can also add compost directly to the holes dug for plants to give them a boost for the growing season. Top off the entire bed with three or four inches of finished compost or topsoil, and the final ingredient is 2-3 inches of mulch. You’re now ready to plant. The bed will settle some over the season as the layers underneath decompose.
Fall is the optimum time to make a bed because of the abundance of materials from the garden, and the beds can break down for the entire winter and be ready for spring planting.
Now, besides not having to work as hard to prepare the bed, what other advantages does Lasagna gardening give? You can expect:
- Few weeds, thanks to the newspaper smothering 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.
- Less need for fertilizer, because you planted your garden in almost pure compost.
- Soil that is easy to work: crumbly, loose, and fluffy.
Overall, Lasagna gardening is fun and easy, and preserves your soil better than the old double dig method. In fact, it will enrich your soil almost immediately. Just try it, you’ll like it!