About 20 years ago, I owned a small property – a little over 1/3 acre – in a small town in Eastern Pennsylvania. The property had a small Craftsman-style brick home in the middle of a very big piece of grass. Aside from the overgrown rutabaga plant, a half-dead rose bush, and a pathetic lilac shrub at the rear of the property, it was all lawn. At the time I was an avid antique collector and devoted subscriber of Country Living magazine. I dreamed of creating a large English Cottage Garden with quaint tables, chairs, potted plants, walkways and flourishing flowers. So I rolled up my sleeves and went to work. I had little much money, and much less knowledge. I wanted to use my resources for perennial plants, and I wanted to enrich the soil, but I didn’t want to spend a fortune on fertilizer. So I figured that, since people used grass clippings as a dual duty mulch and fertilizer, wouldn’t it stand to reason that if you put grass INTO the dirt, it would also enrich the soil.
So I drew up my garden plan. I decided what plants I wanted to buy. I marked out my plots and paths. And I went to work. And work I did!
I basically cut off the sod, dug down about a foot, removed and temporarily relocated the dirt, laid the sod upside down (grass down – dirt up), laid down newspaper and cardboard to block any weeds, mixed the loose dirt with some good old fashioned cow manure, and layered it over the paper. Then I planted my flowers and mulched over with public mixed wood mulch courtesy of the city.
It worked! My garden was glorious, easy to keep, and I was sad to see the property go when my marriage failed and we put the house up for sale.
Fast forward about 18 years…
I was chatting with someone about gardening, and how I liked lazy gardening – planting well-mulched perennial gardens that needed little weeding and fussing. But I hated the process of starting a new garden. My new friend mentioned “lasagna gardening.” I asked her to explain. When she started to talk about layering, I remembered my garden in Pennsylvania. Oh no, too much toil and trouble! I told her about what I’d done and she laughed. It seems I got the concept right, but went about it all wrong.
Lasagna gardening does not require stripping sod. It does not require digging. It does not require mixing of dirt with manure. It does not require weeks of labor. It is a quick, easy, simple method of layering on top of the existing surface. Lasagna gardening, also called sheet gardening, results in a raised garden of nutrient rich, light and fluffy soil that’s perfect for just about any fruit or vegetable.
There is really no right or wrong but this particular method seems to work the best for me. It does not require any “cooking” time and you can plant your garden immediately:
• Mow or weed-whack the existing surface, getting it as flat as possible.
• Clearly identify the area you wish to cultivate. Use chalk, a garden hose, or something that will define the site’s perimeter. If you’re really industrious, you can put down a raised border. Or you can wait until after the layering is done.
• Layer with at least a ¼ inch of corrugated cardboard or large sheets of newspaper. Overlap, leaving no open seams.
• Water heavily – Get the paper material good and wet
• Cover the paper layer with peat moss- about two inches deep
• Add a very thin layer of newspaper – just enough to keep the peat moss in place – and water it down again
• Layer with organic compost or composted manure, about two to three inches deep
• Add a layer of mixed organic matter – grass clippings, garden trimmings, and fruit and vegetable scraps – about an inch deep
• Add a two to three inch layer of peat moss, decomposing leaves, pine needles, or used coffee grounds (you can usually get large bags from Starbucks, Seattle’s Best or Dunkin Doughnuts) and cover with shredded newspaper – and water it down again.
• Add another one inch layer of grass clippings, green trimmings and no-meat kitchen scraps
• Layer with another two inches of composted soil or composted manure
• Sparingly add some nutrients like bone meal, blood meal, and wood ash.
• Finish with a final layer – about 3 to 4 inches – of the best top soil you can find.
Now you’re ready to plant immediately. Add your fruits, veggies or flowers, water, mulch over, and water again. Your garden is good to go, and you’ll be rewarded with a plentiful harvest, or baskets of blossoms!