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The Garden Decoder: What Is ‘Lasagna Gardening’?

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The Garden Decoder: What Is ‘Lasagna Gardening’?

December 29, 2020

About a month ago, while walking our dog, I happened upon one of our neighbors frantically watering a mound of dirt, piled high, in the strip of grass between the sidewalk and the street. Curiously, newsprint peeked out from under the soil. Was I witnessing the actual death of print?

“I have to get to the airport soon!” she said to me, by way of explaining why she was stress-gardening.

Confused but not wanting to trouble her further, I nodded and walked on. Then I promptly went home, opened up my laptop, did some online sleuthing, and emerged with this phrase: “lasagna gardening.” What is it? Read on.

N.B. Featured photograph by Lori L. Stalteri via Flickr, from Landscape Design: 10 Gardens Transformed by Raised Beds.

What is lasagna gardening?

Above: At White Flower Farm, nursery manager Barb Pierson layers six to 10 sheets of newspaper under the flower beds, wetting each sheet with a hose. “I do it everywhere because I don’t have time to weed,” she says. Photograph by Sara Barrett for Gardenista, from Flower Borders: 10 Essential Tips from White Flower Farm’s Barb Pierson.

Just like the baked dish with which it shares its name, lasagna gardening involves layers. It’s also known as “sheet composting” and “no dig” gardening, which captures the main reason people continue to be enamored by it some 20 years after Patricia Lanza wrote an entire book—with a very compelling title, might I add—about the method: Lasagna Gardening: A New Layering System for Bountiful Gardens: No Digging, No Tilling, No Weeding, No Kidding!

Think of it as an all-in-one gardening method. With a lasagna garden, you’re basically composting and planting in the same spot.

What are the layers in a lasagna garden?

There are essentially four types of layers in a lasagna garden: newspaper or cardboard; dry, brown stuff (peat moss, pine needles, dried leaves, straw, sticks, wood chips, saw dust, and the like); wet, green stuff (for instance, compost, vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, and grass clippings), and gardening soil. The best time to start your lasagna garden is in the fall, when the brown stuff is readily available in your yard.

Start by laying newsprint (five- to 10-sheets-thick) or cardboard directly on flat ground. Soak it well to encourage decomposition. This bottom layer acts as a barrier against weeds and will smother any vegetation underneath it. Next, alternate brown carbon-rich layers with green nitrogen-rich layers; each brown layer should be about twice as high as a green layer. Once you’ve reached a total height of about two feet, water the raised bed deeply. Then the waiting game starts as the layers “bake” and decompose to create fluffy, nutrient-rich soil.

After a few months, the mound will have lost some of its height; simply add more layers. In the spring, top with gardening soil (about four to six inches), and you can start planting.

What are the drawbacks to lasagna gardening?

Build it and plants will thrive with little intervention? Seems too dreamy to be true? Well, there are drawbacks. It takes about a year for the lasagna garden to truly decompose. You can start planting before then, of course, but your plants won’t be able to enjoy the full benefits of lasagna gardening until later. And every fall, you’ll have to gather the ingredients to create the layers again.

For more on using newspaper in your garden, see Gardening 101: How to Sprout a Seed.

For more Garden Decoder posts, see:

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