How To Make A Lasagna Garden

Learn this no-fuss technique to turn yard waste and kitchen scraps into organic fertilizer to grow new plants.

Gardening and Planting with Gloves on

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Preparing to convert a new area in your yard into a garden can require a lot of physical labor and time. Lasagna gardening is a no-fuss technique to prepare the soil so it’s ready for planting vegetables, herbs, or flowers as well as a way to minimize and reduce weeds. “Lasagna gardening, also known as sheet mulching, is the act of layering compostable materials in a raised bed or designated area where you want to start a garden,” says Jen McDonald, a certified organic gardener and co-founder of Garden Girls, a garden design company based in Houston, Texas. “It’s an easy option that requires minimal labor and also reduces kitchen waste.”

It’s named after the pasta dish because it’s all about layering. “It's called "lasagna" because you create layers of cardboard and organic material, that essentially crowd out the weeds, and gradually turn into fertilizer as they decompose,” says Camille Cimino, a landscape designer with The Nature of Things Design.

When Should You Use Lasagna Gardening?

This technique is simple to implement and is inexpensive since you use recyclable materials, such as cardboard, newspaper, garden trimmings, and kitchen scraps. “One of the best things about using the lasagna gardening method of growing food is that it is fast, easy, and works on almost any piece of ground,” says Ashly Tamayo, Director of Education at Recipe for Success and Hope Farms.  “The most direct benefit is that the lasagna method is very low maintenance and doesn’t require a lot of intensive labor or the use of machines, saving time, money, and natural resources.”

Lasagna Gardening Benefits for Preventing Weeds and Preparing Soil 

Whether you want to get rid of weeds that are overtaking your backyard or want to transform your lawn into a pollinator garden or you have a dirt patch that could be full of beautiful blooms, lasagna gardening is a straightforward technique. “If you have a patch of lawn that you’d like to convert to garden space, you generally have two options: Remove the sod by shoveling, or smother the grass with a thick layer of cardboard,” says McDonald. Lasagna gardening eliminates the need for applying strong chemicals that can contaminate the soil, water, and plants. “Cardboard is an excellent weed barrier in your future garden, avoiding the use of harmful herbicides that can be toxic to wildlife, pets, and people,” says Tamayo.

Creating nutrient-rich soil is key to a healthy and thriving garden. “Lasagna gardening is optimum for creating a healthy soil biome, and it can be done directly on the ground or in raised beds,” says Cimino. But when it comes to preparing an area to plant a garden, not all soil is the same. If you live in an area where there is a lot of clay in the soil, digging or turning the ground can be difficult and labor-intensive.  Lasagna gardening reduces the need for lots of physical labor to prepare clay-rich soils. “It’s especially effective for soil with high levels of clay like you find throughout the South,” explains Tamayo. “The lasagna method builds up layers of nutrient-rich soil on top of the notorious “gumbo clay” that makes it so challenging to dig down into.” 

What You'll Need

  • Gloves
  • Shovel
  • Hose
  • Mulch
  • Plants
  • Organic materials, like leaves, garden trimmings, plant stems, grass clippings, pine needles, vegetable and fruit scraps, coffee grounds, tea bags, shredded newspaper, and/or cardboard

You don’t need to purchase many supplies, which is one of the many benefits of this process. The materials you need can either be found in the recycle bin, such as cardboard and newspaper, or in the compost bin. Similar to composting, you’ll need a combination of carbon or brown matter and nitrogen or green matter for the process to work. “Brown matter provides carbon and includes fibrous plant waste and products like cardboard, newspapers, and dry leaves,” says Tamayo. “Carbon is essential for soil microbial health and a necessary component for plant growth.” 

Green matter is an organic material, such as kitchen scraps, cut grass, green leaves, and plant stems. “These materials provide nitrogen, which plays a vital role in photosynthesis and building the proteins that plants need to survive,” she says.  Cimino adds, “Don't use hay because hay has seeds which will germinate.”

How To Make a Lasagna Garden

Before you’re ready to start, you’ll want to make sure you have ample cardboard as well as organic waste and garden trimmings for this process. Make sure the space receives sufficient sunlight for this technique to be effective. “Choose a space with 6-8 hours of direct sunlight per day,” says McDonald. She suggests creating a garden border to contain the ingredients. 

“Begin with a brown layer like cardboard and newspaper to smother grass,” says McDonald. Make sure to wet brown layers to help with the decomposition process. “To speed things up, water well between each layer, and it's even faster if you can soak your browns in a bucket or empty trash can,” says Cimino. “A couple of hours is fine but overnight is best.” 

Then place a layer of greens over the cardboard and newspaper. “Cover the cardboard in a 4-inch layer of nitrogen-rich green matter before putting down another layer of browns,” says Tamayo. You’ll place a layer of browns, then greens, then browns, and layer it as if it were a garden lasagna. “Alternate between brown and green layers, watering each layer thoroughly to expedite decomposition and attract healthy microorganisms and earthworms,” says McDonald. “Layer until you reach a desired height, typically 12”-18”.” Tamayo recommends finishing the “lasagna” with a few inches of topsoil. 

When Should You Make a Lasagna Garden?

Lasagna gardening can be implemented at any time of year to eliminate weeds or convert an area into a garden plot. Many gardeners start in the fall when there is less going on in the garden and there’s plenty of time before the next planting in spring. 

How Long Does It Take?

There are many variables that influence how long the process takes before weeds are eliminated or the ground is ready for planting. “It is a slower method, and could take from six months or up to a year before the space is optimum for planting — depending on your climate, rainfall, and what weeds you are starting with,” says Cimino. “Generally, the more wet and warm the climate, the faster the decomposition.” 

However, invasive weeds typically require more time and work to reduce their growth.  “It could require ongoing work, especially if you have pervasive weeds, such as Bermuda grass, bindweed, nut grass, poison ivy, and brambles, which will take longer to get under control but if you are patient, it's worth the effort,” says Cimino. 

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