Smart Gardening: Sheet mulching

— Written By Mary Brennan and last updated by
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Wheelbarrow with leaves

Image by Nadine Ford

Sheet mulching is a smart gardening technique that provides multiple benefits to the garden and gardener. This technique saves labor while enriching the soil. Sheet mulching, also called sheet composting and lasagna gardening, involves layering of organic materials, in a similar ratio as for a compost pile, to prepare a new planting area.

To establish a new planting area, remove any groundcover first. Use a garden spade or a broad fork to pierce the soil and lightly loosen it. Add a layer of cardboard or newspapers on top of the loosened soil and moisten with water until damp. Next, add a 2-inch layer of a carbon-rich material on top of the cardboard or newspaper layer. For example, straw or dry leaves work well. Then add a 2-inch layer of nitrogen-rich materials, such as grass clippings, kitchen scraps from fruits and vegetables, and other plant material. Alternate layers of carbon-rich and nitrogen-rich material until the mulch reaches 1½ to 3 feet in height.

The gardener must employ patience with sheet mulching as biodegradation requires about six months. Sheet mulching is complete when the layers are indistinguishable and the material has a fresh, sweet aroma. Once cured, the sheet mulched area is ready for planting and is weed-free.

Fall is a great time to use sheet mulching, especially if you are unable to add cover crops to your garden crop rotation. If you sheet mulch in November, you will be ready to plant in May, just in time for warm soil temperatures. When you smother weeds and add organic materials to your soil with sheet mulching, new plantings have a head start with added nutrients, improved soil tilth, and less competition. Smart gardening will save you time and aching muscles, and it is likely to improve your harvest.
—Mary Jac Brennan

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