Many gardeners are writing about the benefits of lasagna gardening, and it thrills me to see this method used more widely. I’ve been using this technique exclusively for years because it is so easy and healthier for the soil. One question I often receive is: how soon can the garden be planted after setting it up? It is important to know this when planning to transition to this gardening method, so I’m here to walk through it.
How soon can you plant in a lasagna garden? It takes approximately 6-12 months for a lasagna mulched garden to be ready for planting. The exact time depends on the type of materials used and the weather. All the materials need to break down before the bed can be planted. The garden bed is ready for planting when all the layers are decomposed enough that they aren’t recognizable. Another tell-tale sign is that the bed smells and looks like fresh earth.
Lasagna gardening, also known as sheet-mulching, no-till gardening, and weedless gardening, is a slow process with exponential rewards. It shouldn’t be rushed. The materials used to create the layers must compost completely to produce the nutrient-rich, fertile soil that will cause plants to flourish.
As the old saying goes, “great things come to those who wait,” and it couldn’t be truer than in gardening. Rich soil doesn’t occur overnight. Sure, it would be great just to throw some seeds in the ground and see perfect, strong plants, but that’s not how it works. A prosperous garden requires care, attention, and a commitment to soil health.
Is it possible to plant right away in a new lasagna garden?
If absolutely necessary, a gardener can plant in the lasagna mulched bed right after building it. However, do not plant into the layers. The material just built up will start breaking down, decomposing, and isn’t the ideal environment for tender plant roots. It isn’t even actually soil yet; it is the raw material on its way to becoming nutrient-rich dirt.
It is possible to sidestep this problem, though. Add a three-inch layer of compost or garden soil right on top of the mulched bed, and plant into that. The plants won’t get the nutritional benefits of the lasagna mulching yet, but the space is at least usable.
He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.Ecclesiastes 3:11
Can I build a lasagna garden in different ways, where one way I can plant right away and one way it will be better to wait?
Different ways to build lasagna beds are available. However, none of them will change the time-frame in which it can be planted. Lasagna garden beds are a “cold-process” method; they take time to break down and become ideal planting grounds.
Should I start a new lasagna garden in the fall or spring?
A lasagna garden can be started anytime. The fall is the best time to create one, though, because it will have all winter to sit and decompose. Then, in the spring, it will be ready for seeds or transplants.
It is not completely necessary to plant in fall if a gardener prefers not to. A lasagna garden can be started anytime the materials are available. If it is started in the spring, it will likely not be ready for planting until the following year, but that’s okay. Some people spend the entire gardening season building a new bed, adding the layers as the material becomes available.
What is the difference between starting a new lasagna garden and planting vs. adding more material to an existing lasagna garden and then planting?
When starting a brand new sheet mulched lasagna garden, as explained above, gardeners shouldn’t plant in it straight away. The new layered garden is between 18-36” tall, and none of it is broken down enough to be planted.
It takes 6-12 months for the decomposition process to complete. That is unless the gardener adds 3-inches of compost on top for planting.
An existing lasagna garden is ready to be planted anytime. The organic materials have broken down and are rich and fertile, ready to nourish the planted vegetables.
When adding new material to the existing bed, it is only a few more inches on top at a time. So, below the new material is prime soil ready for growing plants. Once a bed is started, it can be planted continuously, with additional layers being added a few inches at a time, as needed.
Is a lasagna garden a suitable method for areas with poor soil?
Yes! It is one of the easiest, most productive ways to create a garden bed. It uses materials that are likely already lying around the house and it isn’t complicated to set up.
In many areas of the country, it is impossible to amend, or fix, the soil on specific land. The clay or sand content is too high, and mixing in compost isn’t enough to make it nourishing for vegetable or flower plants.
Other options are out there for creating gardens besides planting directly in the ground, like raised beds or container gardening. Raised bed gardens often end up quite costly, though, because the gardener has to build the bed, then fill it with store-bought soil.
Building a lasagna garden is simple and cost-effective compared to many other choices. All the layers use materials that likely are already available, like leaves, vegetable peelings, coffee grounds, leaves, grass clippings, straw, cardboard, sawdust, wood ash and newspaper.
Why do lasagna gardening instead of till-gardening?
Soil is a living organism; it needs care, attention, and often rehabilitation. Tilling is detrimental to the earth, especially after the land has been dug up for years, or generations. Bringing soil up from underneath to be exposed to the sun kills essential microbes that live in the ground. Tilling also cuts up and kills earthworms.
Earthworms are one of the top indicators of rich, healthy soil. Their castings are natural fertilizer, and they aerate the soil when they move through it. Ground with tons of earthworms is the best for growing food and flowers.
When soil is tilled, it brings weed seeds to the surface where they get sun, rain and thrive. The weeds love it when gardeners till! It’s best to keep them buried.
In some areas, till-gardening is not an option because the soil already there doesn’t hold enough nutrients to grow plants. Tilling and planting directly in the ground are not possible. For these situations, building up fertile soil is essential to plant anything at all.
Also, tilling a garden is a lot of work! It does take some effort to establish a lasagna garden, but once it is established, it’s much easier to maintain than a tilled garden.
Tilling requires the use of heavy machinery and hours of back-breaking work. Sheet mulching is an excellent way to turn grassy areas into functional growing spaces. Folks with limited mobility or who are unable to dig will find this method much more accommodating.
What are the basic steps to creating a lasagna garden?
Sheet mulching, or creating a lasagna garden, is simple. All it requires is access to organic materials and to follow layering instructions.
A lasagna garden uses alternating layers of “brown” and “green” materials.
- Brown Materials (Carbon Rich): Shredded leaves, pine needles, sawdust, straw, wood chips, cardboard, shredded paper.
- Green Materials (Nitrogen Rich): Manure, composted food scraps, coffee grounds, grass clippings, plant debris
Once you have all the materials assembled, it is simply a matter of arranging them in order on the ground.
- Cover the desired space with cardboard or thick layers of newspaper (4-6 sheets deep).
- Water the cardboard well.
- Spread green material, such as compost or manure on top, 2-3” thick.
- Use a brown material as the next layer – leaves, straw, or sawdust. Layer it 2-3” thick.
- Add the next layer of green material – grass clippings, more manure, green weeds, or a combination of these.
- Repeat the layering process until the garden bed is the desired height. Aim for a minimum of 18” up to 36”.
- Cover the last layer with newspaper, leaves, or wood chips.
- Water the entire bed thoroughly.
- Let it sit for 6-12 months.
Top 5 essential tips to creating a successful lasagna garden bed
- Remove any noxious plants from the area before starting. Blackberry brambles, poison ivy, quackgrass, and bindweed, for example, are particularly problematic and may impact the success of a new garden bed.
- Only use black and white newspapers – the colorful ink is made with chemicals that should not be near vegetables.
- Remove staples and tape from cardboard and paper. These do not break down easily and aren’t great for the garden.
- Every year, at the end of the growing season, add a few more layers to the lasagna garden to build it up. Over time, the layers naturally reduce. Maintaining it every year, even when it doesn’t look like it needs it, keeps the garden in excellent condition.
- Lasagna mulched garden beds are excellent at retaining moisture. They may not need as much watering as a traditional garden. Monitor watering needs to ensure no overwatering.
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University of Florida, IFAS Extension: No-Dig Garden Beds
Oregon State University, OSU Extension: Sheet mulching – aka lasagna composting
Clemson University, Cooperative Extension: Lasagna Gardening
Michigan State University, MSU Extension: Multiple benefits of a lasagna-style heritage garden