How to Build a Lasagna Garden

Lasagna gardening was invented by Ruth Stout, who was quite a character. She ran with Carrie Nation during the Prohibition days, when liquor was illegal in the early 1900s. She was reputed to garden in the nude, and traffic on the nearby road slowed down to look. Her husband only commented that he always knew she was in the garden when the cars went slower. She did not call it lasagna gardening though, that name came later when more sophisticated methods were developed drawing from more complicated methods of composting.

Why Not to Till

Lasagna gardening is also referred to as sheet composting and is a no-dig gardening method. This style of gardening has many advantages. Tilling, on the other hand, has many disadvantages:

  • First, it disturbs your soil. Even though tilling seems to kill weeds, the fact is that it cuts up most perennial weed roots into pieces, which readily grow lots of new pesky weeds.
  • Second, it kills annuals, but leaves thousands of weed seeds on top to easily germinate.
  • Third, tilling destroys the natural texture and structure of the soil, initially making it inhospitable to earthworms and vital soil organisms.
  • Tilling actually destroys the fertility of your soil, over time, too. Rocks in the sub-layers of soil are constantly breaking down, but into particles too big to be used by plants. Microbes feed on the rock bits, breaking them down into particles that can easily be used by your plants. Tilling disrupts this natural cycle.
  • Over time, frequent tilling causes a deadpan directly below where the tiller blades make the soil compacted, which prevents proper absorption of water, so your garden will not drain excess water.
  • After tilling for the first time, you will spend many years battling the weeds that it allowed to sprout and germinate.

Advantages of Lasagna Gardening

Lasagna gardening is perhaps the easiest gardening method of any. It mimics nature, using natural debris to improve the texture and fertility of soil. This style of gardening has many advantages:

  • It requires no tilling, so will save you time, space and money by eliminating the need to  purchase, maintain, and store a tiller.
  • It composts organic ingredients in place, saving you the time and space required by traditional composting.
  • It is organic, so it improves your soil quality, protects the environment, and grows more nutritious food.
  • You can make a lasagna garden out of materials you would normally send to the landfill, so you will be recycling in the most convenient way possible.
  • Since it provides a deep layer of cheap organic mulch, you will not need to water as often.
  • Lasagna gardening turns your soil into deep, rich, and friable tilth where you can grow anything, not just food.
  • Weeding is reduced to almost nil, and even the weeds which germinate will be easy to pull out of the loose soil. Simply leave the pulled weeds on top of the rest of the mulch to decompose.

The best time to build a lasagna garden is in the fall so it will have time to break down. Over fall and winter, earthworms and soil critters will migrate into the area, churning your soil and breaking down minerals into usable forms for plants. Come spring, your soil will seem as if it had been tilled and will be easy to dig in to plant transplants.

You can build a lasagna garden any time of the year, but keep in mind that it will sink considerably. If you started out with a 24 inch pile, it will shrink to three or 4 inches high. There is also the possibility that the decomposition of the pile will cause a nitrogen deficiency for your plants. So if you do not build your lasagna garden until spring, make sure to add compost in each planting hole when you plant.

There are no hard and fast rules of how to build a lasagna garden, but there are some basics. Ruth Stout just threw down rotten hay and added all her kitchen scraps as they accumulated. You should not use animal or dairy to build a lasagna garden to avoid drawing rodents. You do not need to mow the area you have selected for your lasagna garden, simply knock down the grass or weeds.

To attract worms, the first layer can be made of coffee grounds including filters spread evenly across the area. The next layer should be made of 7 to 10 layers of newspapers or 1 or 2 layer of cardboard box. It is best to avoid shiny, colored boxes and newspaper inserts since the inks and dyes in these are made of chemicals. If you have compost, this would be your next layer.

The ingredients for the next layers depend on what you have available, as long as they organic. If you have access to rotted hay or rotted straw, this is an ideal top layer. Rotted hay or straw is actually better than fresh hay or straw because seeds that occur have germinated, found it inhospitable and died. Add grass clippings, tea leaves, weeds (unless they have gone to seed), sawdust, wood chippings or ashes (spread thinly), manure, seaweed, pine needles, peat moss, spent blossoms and plants, potting soil from plants, water from your aquarium or water garden, pet bedding, kitchen scraps, shredded newspaper, and shredded toilet paper and paper towel rolls, or anything else you have available.

How to Plant in a Lasagna Garden

You may need to cut a hole in your newspaper or cardboard box layer, making the hole large enough to accommodate the roots of the seedling without disturbing its roots. To plant seeds, pull mulch back and deposit seeds, covering to recommended depth. As always, it is best not to allow mulch to be against plant stems since it keeps them wet and susceptible to diseases.

After you have built your lasagna garden, you can continue to add materials to it all year long. Add grass clippings from mowing by spreading them thinly over the top. In the fall, mow and bag fallen leaves and spread these thinly over the top.

About Olympia

My name is Olympia Paz, and I am a graduate of Kansas State University.with extensive studies in soil science (agronomy), horticultural science, and biology. I have continued my own studies in these areas, especially soil science, and applied my knowledge to growing nutritious organic food in my home gardens, containers, and inside.

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