Q: “Everybody seems to be tearing out their boring lawns and putting in flowerbeds and gardens. All that digging looks like torture! Is there an easier way to do it?”
A: Yes: sheet-mulching. It may not be the fastest method to replace that dull grass with a bountiful new garden—you’re letting nature do it, and nature is slow—but it’s by far the easiest and best way to create rich soil. Start this month, when the ground is just dampened by the first fall rains (therefore diggable), but not sticky or sloppy. And if you do it now, your garden will be ready to plant by early spring.
1. Get enough compost to cover the area with about 12–24 inches of material.
2. Select the area you want to convert from lawn to garden.
3. Mark the area with spray paint, sticks, a garden hose, or string.
4. Mow grass short.
5. With a shovel, chunk up at least half of the area. As you dig, plop chunks back into holes they came out of, but upside-down.
6. Roughly fill in cracks and crevices with compost to create a vaguely level area.
7. Spread newspaper or cardboard over the entire area. If you like, dampen with the hose as you go to keep paper in place.
8. Add at least 8 inches of organic material on top. More is usually better, especially toward the middle of the new garden bed.
9. Sip hot chocolate (or a high-class brandy) while gazing upon your newly created garden bed all winter, dreaming of what you will plant in spring!
This article appeared in the October 2013 issue of Portland Monthly.