Before we dive into how this type of gardening works, let’s first discuss just what it means to lasagna garden.
What is lasagna gardening?
Lasagna gardening is the process of layering organic materials with the purpose of improving your garden’s soil.
Just like your favorite homemade lasagna, the success of lasagna gardening lies in its layers. There are several layers that, when combined properly, can support a healthy garden. This method of using layers of different organic materials that you strategically place in your garden so it will, over time, “cook down” leaving you with nutrient-rich soil.
What are the benefits of lasagna gardening?
The biggest benefit is using what you have to improve the condition of your soil. Leaves, grass, compost can all be used to help fix your soil where it may be lacking.
Lasagna gardening is also beneficial to the environment because you’ll use yard waste, kitchen scraps, items from your recycling bin, and other natural compost to fertilize your garden.
Best of all, lasagna gardening is a no-dig, no-till gardening method that will help your garden flourish. The result is rich, fluffy soil that’s perfect for planting and doesn’t require a lot of work.
While you can certainly grow tomatoes and basil in your lasagna garden, the name actually refers to the layers of material that will create organic, nutrient-rich soil to help your garden thrive. Rather than just tossing things in it’s the layering where the magic really takes place.
Lasagna Gardening for Beginners
The good news is, you probably have most of the ingredients, you need to get started lying around your home and yard. And that means all you really need to supply are the basic gardening tools.
You’ll need some equipment including:
And a few materials such as:
· Timbers or stones for creating a garden frame or a purchased, ready-made large gardening container
· Rope or twine
· Organic materials which may include leaves, grass clippings, garden trimmings, pine needles, peat moss, kitchen scraps such as fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds and/or tea leaves, shredded newspaper, and pieces of cardboard.
· Seeds or seedlings
Step #1. Choose a Location for your Lasagna Garden
If you already have a garden, you can skip down to step #2.
Start by choosing a location in your yard that will get plenty of sunshine; once you start your garden you will most likely not want to move it so it’s important to select the right spot. Before you start creating your frame, watch your yard at various times of the day and track the number of hours certain spots get sunlight or shade.
This can be vital to the success of your garden.
Also, look for an area where the ground is the most level. This is important for regulating the water level of your plants. If you are just dealing with an uneven plot you can easily correct this by digging and/or tilling up the ground to help level things out a bit more. You will also want to remove any large stones are rocks as you are doing this.
Once you’ve chosen your spot, it’s time to lay down some boundaries. Creating a structured area will help the materials stay in place. Everything will be above ground; remember, this is no-dig and no-till gardening.
Next, you will want to decide on the dimensions for your garden and measure it out. Form an outline using rope or twine then create a raised bed on top of it. This doesn’t have to be anything too complicated you can stack stones, excess concrete block, or bricks on top of each other. You can also use boards or build a simple frame with excess lumber. Any kind of hardscape that will hold the materials in place as they decompose will work.
SLCG Pro Tip: Once you have your framework set in place, you will not need to turn over any grass, yard, or till up any ground. The benefit of lasagna gardening is you use this method to prepare the soil naturally without having to do everything by hand.
Next up is placing the layers and there is a specific order that you’ll need to follow.
Step #2. What to Use and Why You Need it
Layering your garden bed properly is the key to a successful lasagna garden. The layers will compost together, adding nutrients that your plants will need to thrive.
You’ll need various types of materials for layering:
Cardboard or Newspaper – this will act as ground cover and keep weeds from creeping into your garden. Don’t worry, it will completely decompose and add to your soil.
Water-absorbing materials – this includes dried grass clippings and straw, and/or bark.
SLCG PRO TIP: Do not use hay in your garden. Hay is different than straw because it contains seeds of both the grass and any weeds. This means if you use hay you will be adding in miscellaneous seeds that will then grow with your precious vegetable plants. Always be sure to use straw since straw only contains the stems and stalks with no seeds included.
Organic materials – this includes more grass clippings, dry leaves, pine needles, branches, mulch, kitchen scraps, and compost.
Step #3. Begin Layering
Start with cardboard or newspaper using it to completely cover the surface of the ground in your plotted area. Once in place, you will want to give it a good watering before adding any additional layers. The water will keep the material stay in place with the added benefit of promoting the decomposition of the materials. It also provides a dark and moist environment that is very earthworm friendly and those worms will in turn work to help loosen the soil.
Once you have your paper in place (the 1st layer) and it’s well watered, start layering your other materials, alternating between water-absorbing materials and organic materials.
Your organic materials should be roughly twice as deep as your water-absorbing materials. Continue alternating your layers and the steps until you have a bed that’s about two feet deep. This may be a little deeper than you’d like, but be aware that it will settle down as it composts.
Step #4. Let it Cook
Now that you’ve created your lasagna garden, it’s time to let it “cook.” It will need some time to settle and compost before you can plant and, in most cases, there’s nothing more you need to do. The materials should stay slightly moist to encourage the decomposition, but not overly wet or they’ll rot. A little morning dew and an occasional rain with dry periods in between will be just fine. But, if you’re experiencing a drought or you’re in the dog days of summer, you may want to give a little water as needed to keep it from drying out.
The time it takes for your garden to compost is entirely dependent on the conditions.
Step #5. Planting Your Lasagna Garden
Once the materials have started decomposing and turning into a uniform layer of compost material, you’re ready to plant.
Using a shovel or hoe, dig into your bed as you would any other garden. Don’t worry if you layered the ground with newspaper, you should have no trouble digging through it. If, however, you covered the ground with cardboard, you may need to dig down to it then cut a hole to access the ground underneath and this is where you want to plant your seeds. Remember, you want to plant your seeds in the very top layer of the soil underneath your garden.
Once your seeds are planted you can sit back and watch them grow.
Step #6. Maintenance of your Lasagna Garden
Maintain your garden by adding mulch-like materials to the top of the bed. Straw, grass clippings, chopped leaves, and bark mulch are all good options. The care for your lasagna garden is much the same as any other garden, simply weed and water as necessary. The biggest benefit of lasagna gardening is the nutrient-rich compost soil that will give you an incredible harvest of a variety of delicious veggies.
Advantages of a Lasagna Garden
While maintaining your new garden is much the same as maintaining any other garden, lasagna gardens are a bit less labor-intensive.
A few of the perks include:
Better water retention – the compost materials hold water better than regular garden soil. Better water retention means your plants get all the water they need and you don’t have to pull out the hose quite as often.
Less need for added fertilizer – your compost pile provides all the nutrients your garden needs so you don’t need to worry about adding fertilizers. And, it’s all organic.
Looser soil – the compost method creates a looser soil that’s easier to work with and easier to dig for planting. No more digging into the rocky soil.
Fewer weeds – the bottom layer of newspaper or cardboard keeps most weeds from poking through your garden.
When to Build Your Lasagna Garden
You can really build your lasagna garden at any time, but fall is really optimal. Organic materials such as grass clippings, leaves, and mulch are more readily available and your garden can sit and compost all winter long making it “just right” to plant in the spring. Plus, the rain and snow of fall and winter will keep your garden moist, encouraging compost without much extra help from you.
If you choose to wait until spring or summer to build your garden, add more soil-like materials such as topsoil or peat so that you can plant right away. Layer the soil-like materials in between your other layers and finish the bed with 3-4 inches of compost or topsoil, allowing you to plant immediately. The bed will settle over the seasons and will still decompose, feeding the soil.
Maintain Your Garden Over Time
To keep your garden soil healthy from season to season, replenish it each year by adding more layers. Again, fall is a great time to do this because there is plenty of organic material available right in your yard. You can keep lighter materials, like leaves, down by piling heavier materials, like mulch and top soil, on top of them.
Avoid adding any materials that have weeds in them, this will only encourage weed growth in your garden. And never add animal waste to your garden as it will spread pathogens.
Pros and Cons of Lasagna Gardening
As a beginner, there are some things to be aware of when it comes to lasagna gardening. There are definitely some pros, but there are also cons.
Pros to Lasagna Gardening
1. It’s cost effective.
The purpose of lasagna gardening is to create a garden bed out of layers of materials you most like already have available. Cardboard, newspaper, grass clippings, leaves, and kitchen scraps are all things you can find around your house and your yard. No need to purchase special materials.
2. It’s eco-friendly.
Since everything you use is recycled, it means less garbage. You’re simply recycling what would otherwise be garbage to create a nutrient-rich garden for your plants. What could be more eco-friendly?
3. It improves existing soil.
The nutrient-rich soil you create for your garden also enriches the soil in the ground underneath. You don’t have to worry about planting in an area where the soil is poor; you’ll be improving its qualities with your lasagna garden. The end result will allow the soil to hold more water, reduce evaporation, and keep your plant’s root system cool.
4. It’s low maintenance.
Once you layer your garden, it does all the work itself to create nutrient-rich soil. You only need to let it “cook down” before you plant. It’s no-dig, no-till gardening at it’s best. And the bottom layer of paper or cardboard will help to reduce weed growth so you won’t need to weed your garden as much.
5. Plant when you’re ready.
Lasagna gardening allows you to plant your garden when you’re ready, there’s no need to wait. You can either build your garden before you’re ready and let it “cook down” for a few months before planting, or simply add a layer of compost to the top and plant immediately. It’s a garden that’s ready to go when you are.
Cons of Lasagna Gardening
1. It can be time-consuming.
Gathering all of your materials, finding your garden spot, building a frame, and laying your layers all takes time. And, of course, if you do not add a top layer of compost, it will take time for your garden to “cook down” before it’s ready to plant.
2. Material source needs to be considered.
If you’re using cardboard from a box that came from overseas, keep in mind that their safety regulations are not the same as in the U.S. These boxes may contain petroleum products and other chemicals that can possibly contaminate your garden.
3. Garden size needs to be considered.
Lasagna gardens are best for smaller garden areas. With the work and time involved, it wouldn’t make sense to do an entire field with this gardening method.
4. They can have pest issues.
The warm, moist layers will be loved by worms, slugs, and snails. While worms will benefit your garden, slugs and snails can be harmful to it. You’ll need to be vigilant in keeping these pests out.
Organic Gardening Tips
These tips will help you maintain a healthy garden.
· Check regularly for moisture to ensure your garden is getting plenty of water without being overwatered. Cut back on watering a bit if you’re area is getting lots of rain.
· Keep an eye out for weeds and pull them right away before they have a chance to grow and sprout more weeds.
· Watch your garden for slugs, snails, beetles, and other pests that can be harmful to your plants.
· Layer your garden well for proper decomposition and nutrition. You can always replenish your garden with additional layers after harvesting your plants to prepare it for the next season.
Lasagna gardening for beginners doesn’t have to be hard or complicated; in fact, it’s probably one of the easiest ways to create your first garden. If you’re new to gardening, it requires the least amount of work with the highest return for a healthy garden.