Hate having to dig, weed and get through rocks and roots when building a garden bed for your vegetables or herbs? Well, it’s probably time to learn how to make a lasagna garden.
This is a cheap, easy and time saving way to build your own garden bed without all the extra physical work. You don’t need any equipment either and instead will be using things that you’re probably going to throw into the trash anyway.
What Is a Lasagna Garden?
Lasagna gardening is an organic method of building a garden bed you can use immediately without having to engage in backbreaking work including double digging and tilling.
It is called lasagna gardening because it is created by adding layers of organic materials that will heat up and cook over time. This results in soil that is rich in nutrients that will help your plants grow optimally.
Just as importantly, it makes use of kitchen scraps, yard waste and other things that would have otherwise ended in the trash piled up by the later.
This is also why some people refer to lasagna gardening as sheet composting.
How Does Lasagna Gardening Work?
The reason why people call lasagna gardening sheet composting is that it work very much like composting.
By piling up organic materials and leaving it outside under the elements, you allow the decomposition process to start. This is a combination of the heat for the sun, the different materials, beneficial bacteria and insects all working together. And, all this results in highly nutritious soil.
More importantly, it mimics the way nature actually creates soil.
The big difference between lasagna gardening and traditional composting is that the layering process and by having the materials spread out, you don’t have to keep turning the pile.
Additionally, the setup also speeds up the decomposition process.
So, you don’t have to wait for the entire composting process to finish before you can use the soil (which is what happens in traditional composting). Instead, you can plant directly onto the lasagna garden bed.
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How to Make a Lasagna Garden
Up to this point, all I’ve talked about is concept. And, in gardening, concept or theory does not help nearly as much as actual practice or doing.
So, in this section, it is time to learn how to make a lasagna garden.
If you prefer learning through watching as opposed to reading, here’s a great video that will show you how to create a cheap and easy lasagna garden.
What You Need to Create a Lasagna Garden
- Garden gloves
- Garden host
- Plants you want to grow
- Organic materials – this includes kitchen and yard scraps like grass clippings, coffee grounds, vegetable scarps, fruit peels, old newspapers, cardboards and animal manure.
Step By Step Process of Building Your Lasagna Garden
Once you have all the materials ready, it is time to start building your lasagna garden.
Plan Out the Lasagna Garden and its Boundaries
The first thing you need to do is find the space for your lasagna garden. You’ll need to decide how big the garden bed will be based on how many plants you want to grow there. Then, choose the best location for it.
Once you’ve done that, it is time to mark out its boundaries. You can do that with a rope or any other kind of method as long as it helps you know where the garden will be.
Ideally, you want to choose a flat area to make things easer to plant on. Sunlight is also essential. In most cases, somewhere that receives 6 to 8 hours of exposure is good.
You’ll likewise need to water your plants. So, make sure your garden hose can reach that location. As you water later on, you’ll also realize the value of a well draining surface. So planning ahead goes a long way.
Finally, avoid areas where there are strong winds.
Start Adding the Layers
Once you’ve set up the boundaries and know where you want to put your lasagna garden, it is time to start creating the layers.
Just like composting, you want to collect enough “brown” and “green” materials.
- Brown materials are those high in carbon. This includes shredded newspapers, dry leaves, pine needles, twigs, straw, pieces of chipped branches and others.
- Green materials are rich is nitrogen (which gives you protein). These include grass clippings, manure, food scraps, coffee grounds and others.
You want to alternate the layers of brown and green materials. Just as importantly, you need to keep the ratio 2:1 in favor of the browns.
An easy way to do this is to eyeball your lasagna garden from the side as you build. Ideally, each brown layer should be twice as deep as each green layer. You don’t need to be precise, just an estimate will do.
Keep layering until you get to around 2 feet high. Over the next few weeks, the bed will flatten down as the pile shrinks due to the composting process.
I’ve found that it helps even things out before you begin. So, it is a good idea to trim the grass you’ll be starting your lasagna garden so it becomes even.
You can also add a layer of cardboard as your initial layer so you begin on a fairly “flat” surface.
Let the Pile Cook
Technically, you won’t be cooking anything. But, the term “cooking” is used because the pile will start to heat up and cook down.
You’ll need to water the pile just like you do a compost pile. But, be careful not to overdo the water or you’ll end up with a rotting pile that stinks your backyard.
Aeration is less of a problem with lasagna gardening compared to a traditional compost pile because you’re spacing everything out and the layers allow air to easily circulate. So, you don’t need to keep turning the pile and just let it cook on its own.
How long it takes for your pile to decompose and be ready for planting will vary depending on several factors. The key is to wait until it turns into a compost like material that’s uniform.
Once this happens, it is time to dig into the bed and start planting.
Maintain Your Garden
Once your lasagna garden gets established, you can take care of it like you would a garden bed. This includes watering when needed and planting what you want. You can likewise use mulch as heat insulation and to help retain moisture.
Advantages to Lasagna Gardening
Like all things, lasagna gardening has its pros and cons. I’ll go through both sides so you can see the advantages and disadvantages of this method and decide for yourself if it is for you.
- Cheap to Make – one of the main benefits of lasagna gardening is it is inexpensive to start and build. Since you’ll be using materials you already have, it really does not cost you a thing. More importantly, the green and browns that make up the layers of your lasagna garden are going to the trash anyway. As such, it is better to use kitchen and garden scraps for your garden rather than add it to the dump.
- Improves Soil – from a gardening perspective, lasagna gardening is valuable because it improves the quality of the soil. The organic materials you’ll be piling on will cook and provide nutrients to the soil. It also improves the water retention ability of soil. Plus, the benefits are longer lasting that fertilizer as they’re grown into the ground.
- You Can Plant Immediately – lasagna gardening is also versatile. That is, you can wait for the ingredients to cook (which takes a few months, much like composting). Or, you can add more top soil, peat or compost on the upper layer and start planting immediately. This lets you start growing your plants while the decomposition process works in the background. Over time, as the pile cooks down, it will turn into valuable soil amendment that will improve the quality of the soil in your garden bed.
- Low Maintenance – the real reason why lasagna gardening was invented was because Patricia Lanza wanted to reduce the amount of work her widowed grandmother had to go through to grow their family vegetable garden. This is why lasagna gardening takes way the weeding and plowing tasks. And, it doing so, it lets you enjoy your time in the garden instead of doing extra work to create your garden bed.
Disadvantages of Lasagna Gardening
Of course, lasagna gardening does not magically solve all the problems involved in creating a garden bed. And, while it offers many benefits, there are also some disadvantages to lasagna gardening.
Here are the main ones.
- Size of the Lasagna Garden – one of the most noticeable drawbacks of lasagna gardening is its limited size. You’re not going to be able to create an entire backyard lasagna garden even if you wanted to. That’s because it is very difficult to collect enough materials to do so. Of course, if you own a recycling drop off center and use everything people dropped off, you might be able to. But, you get the picture.
- Time – when it comes to lasagna gardening, time is usually spent on one of two things. One is gathering enough organic materials to create the pile. Secondly, it is the time spend waiting for the layers to break down. While you can argue that you can plant even while waiting for the pile to break down, it still takes a few months for the actual effects of lasagna gardening to occur (since it only happens after the materials cook).
- Potential Chemicals and Additives – in addition to using garden and kitchen scraps, you’ll also be using cardboard boxes. These can be questionable depending on what they used to contain. Some boxes may have been used for holding chemical products, petroleum or other additives. Thus, the cardboard will have absorbed some of these chemicals. And, when it breaks down into your pile, it can be toxic. That said, you can avoid this by making sure that the boxes did not go through dyes or contained any chemicals.
- Pests – the cooking process will get rid of most pests. But like all compost piles, it will attract worms and other critters like slugs and snails. These will ultimately end up in your soil and become problematic. As such, it is important to get rid of them when you spot them.
When to Make a Lasagna Garden
One of the best things about lasagna gardening is that you can do it any time. However, keep in mind that it takes a while for the pile to cook.
Starting a Lasagna Garden in the Fall
Since most plants will go through their active growing periods around spring and summer, this makes fall good time to get started.
Fall is also when a lot of garden scraps naturally fall to the ground. Thus, it makes it easier to use them in your lasagna garden.
Once you’ve set up your garden bed in the fall, the rain and snow (later in the winter) will help keep the pile moist through the end of the year.
Allowing your lasagna garden to break down during the winter also helps it be ready for planting come spring.
Starting a Lasagna Garden in Spring or Summer
If you decide to start your lasagna garden in spring or summer, you’ll want to prepare it so you can quickly use it. This lets you take advantage of the warmer, sunnier seasons.
To do so, you’ll need to use more soil amendments like peat and top soil. By adding more of these to your bed, you’ll be able to plant immediately without waiting for the pile cook.
Over time, as the pile cooks, you’ll likewise reap the benefits of the green and brown layers.
Tips for Making a Lasagna Garden
In addition to regular garden bed maintenance and caring for the plants you have in your lasagna garden, it is a good idea to replenish the green and brown layers annually.
This will keep the soil rich which will eventually help the plants to grow optimally.
Again, fall is a good time to do this because of all the leaves and garden scraps that start falling. If you don’t get enough, you can take your neighbor’s scraps as well as it will save them the time of throwing it away.
Like any garden, you want to always be wary of weeds, pests and pathogens. This means making sure any ingredient you add to your garden does not include any of these.
If you’re sure that your pile will cook at very high temperature, then the conditions will kill them. But, it is difficult to guarantee this. So, it is a good idea to avoid them in the first place.
Give Lasagna Gardening a Try
Hopefully, this article gives you a good idea of what lasagna gardening is, why it works, how to create your own lasagna garden and its pros and cons.
If you want to create a garden bed in your backyard for growing vegetables or flowers, but don’t want to do the backbreaking work of plowing and weeding, give lasagna gardening a try.