Recycle, compost, and make high-quality soil all at the same time with this easy technique.

By Megan Hughes
January 14, 2021
Credit: cjp / Getty Images

When you want to create a planting bed, lasagna gardening (also called sheet composting) is an easy way to get started, no digging required. Like the beloved Italian pasta dish this time-tested technique is named for, it's all about adding layers in the right order. It starts with newspaper or cardboard, which you top with brown and green yard and garden waste as it becomes available, such as grass clippings and shredded fall leaves. Microorganisms then turn all that into rich soil over time. Your lasagna garden will be ready for planting about six to twelve months after the last layer is added.

No Prep Needed

While lasagna requires a fair amount of prep and subsequent clean-up to create, lasagna gardening is just the opposite. There is no prep required other than clearing the soon-to-be garden plot of rocks and debris. You don't need to worry about tilling or turning the soil. (You are welcome to turn the soil with a spade to speed the composting process up by at least a couple of months but it is not necessary.) Fall is the best time to start a lasagna garden because you can harness freeze and thaw cycles over the winter to help break down the layers, but you can truly begin sheet composting anytime you have the materials on hand.

When choosing the location for your lasagna garden, consider the amount of sunlight that reaches the plot and what you would like to grow in the bed. Vegetables and herbs grow best in 8 hours of direct sunlight a day. Flowering plants also thrive in bright sunlight, at least 6 hours a day.

Paper Layer First

Lasagna gardening is all about the layers. The base layer of a lasagna garden is newspaper or cardboard. Smother existing grass and deter weeds with a layer of 4 to 6 sheets of newspaper or a single layer of cardboard. The newspaper or cardboard will prevent light from reaching the vegetation underneath, stopping its growth. Soak the paper layer thoroughly to jump-start decomposition and help it stay in place.

Alternate Brown and Green Layers

Just like quality ingredients impact the finished flavor of your favorite dish, the best compost materials create the most nutrient-rich garden soil. Top the paper or cardboard base with a two-inch layer of carbon-rich "brown" material such as chopped leaves, straw, sawdust, wood ash, wood chips, and pine needles. The smaller or more finely chopped the material is, the more quickly it will decompose.

Add a two-inch "green" layer on top of the brown. Components of this layer might be grass clippings, kitchen scraps from fruits and vegetables, well-rotted horse or cow manure, coffee grounds, and garden trimmings. It's not so much the color that matters, it's the fact that the material has moisture in it, rather than being dry and crispy like brown material.

Continue stacking two-inch green layers on top of two-inch brown layers until your new bed is anywhere from 18 inches to three feet tall. As the materials decompose, they'll shrink down quite a bit. For a finished edge, ring your lasagna garden with stones or bricks. If you want to create a raised bed in the space, add sturdy boards around your layers.

Waiting Is the Hardest Part

The microbes and earthworms working through the lasagna layers can take up to a year to transform the organic debris into nutrient-rich soil. Exact timing depends on several factors, including the size of the composted debris, temperature, and moisture. But the good news is all you have to do is sit back and wait.

A lasagna garden is ready to plant when the composted materials are no longer recognizable. The leaves, grass clippings, and components will all look like black-brown soil that is loose and ready for your trowel. Now you can start planting veggies, herbs, and flowers to your heart's content.


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