Lasagna Gardening

By Deb Denzer I was introduced to this form of gardening when I attended a conference in Cleveland, Ohio. It was being used by a group of teenagers participating in a work study program called Green Corps, sponsored by Cleveland Botanic Gardens. These teens were using lasagna gardening, also known as sheet gardening, to create new planting beds and grow food crops. It offers an easy way to create new gardens without tilling or using herbicides. This form of gardening creates healthy, rich soil for plants to thrive in. I was intrigued, learned more about it, and thought I’d share with you.

Lasagna gardening is so named because you create soil by building layers, alternating browns (carbon) and greens (nitrogen) rich layers. In essence, it is similar to building a compost pile. Over the course of a few months to a year or so, it all breaks down, thanks to the action of beneficial microbes, insects and earthworms. What’s left is soil that makes the perfect planting mix to grow your garden.

Lasagna Garden Recipe First Layer The first layer that you’ll put down is a layer of brown corrugated cardboard, or 3-4 layers of newspaper. This layer will be smother any grass and weeds and will attract worms that will be part of workforce, creating healthy garden soil. Wet this layer down to help keep it in place, and to also jump-start the decomposition Next Layers Layer a selection of browns (materials high in carbon), such as dried-out leaves, straw, wood shavings, and pine needles. Wet each layer as you add them. Add a layer of greens (nitrogen rich layers) such as grass clippings, fruit and vegetable peelings, egg shells, tea bags, coffee grounds, and animal manure. Continue layering browns and greens until you have a bed that is about two feet tall. This will begin to decompose and settle over time. Timing A lasagna garden can be made any time of year. However, fall is the best time because of all the “free” waste you get from general yard clean up. You can then layer all this into your lasagna garden, allowing it to break down over winter. In spring, the moisture from the melting snow, and spring rain help keep the materials in your lasagna garden moist allowing them break down faster.

If you decide to create your lasagna garden in the spring, you will have to help it out a bit by adding more materials such as topsoil, peat moss, or composted manure. You still put as many layers of greens and browns, with layers of peat moss or top soil mixed in between. The very top layer should contain 3-4 inches of finished compost or topsoil. This method will allow you to plant in the bed right away.

Once your bed is ready, you can plant as you would in a traditional bed. If you used cardboard as your first layer, you may have to cut a hole in each spot where you are planting. If you used newspaper, your trowel or shovel will probably go right through, exposing loose soil below.

Maintain your lasagna garden by adding mulch to the top of the bed in form of straw, bark mulch, or chopped leaves.

Once you have this established, care for this just as a traditional garden. Weed and water as necessary, and plant whatever you need.

Lasagna Garden Photo 2


Deb Denzer is a Manager at Caan's Floral & Greenhouse in Sheboygan, WI and a member of Nourish's Program Development Committee.