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Cover your lawn now for a garden in the spring

Finally the rains are coming!   This has been too long of a dry season.  I was trying to dig holes for daffodil bulbs and could not believe the dryness of soil far from any irrigation source.  Usually the soil has some moisture now.  It will be a welcome treat to feel drops of water coming from the sky.

It is always hard to think of something to write this time of year as the garden slows.   But I was enjoying so many front yard gardens today as I walked through town that I thought I would promote sheet mulching your lawn!

Though we promote it a lot in the spring, the actual best time to sheet mulch a lawn is now so it has time to break down and form some good planting areas by spring.  Wendy mentioned sheet mulching in her last blog but I thought I would go through it a little more thoroughly.  Sheet mulch is like making a lasagna layered bed on top of soil or lawn.  The idea is to mulch out what ever you don’t want anymore whether it is lawn or weeds. Most simply it is just putting down some compost then a layer of cardboard and then straw.  But there can be more to it and the more you put into it the better the end product is.

The more things that you layer into the sheet mulch that help build soil the better. Think  of it as a horizontal compost pile.  I like to put any of the following as  2 to 6 inch layers:

  •  lawn clippings  (too thick – they get slimy)
  •  leaves (they take some time to break down so not too thick)
  •  manure
  •  food waste
  •  garden waste- chopped up plants
  •  fertilizer- oyster shell, kelp meal, soft rock phosphate
  •  a sprinkle of wood ash
  •  seaweed
  •  mushroom compost
  •  compost

Make sure you water all layers, as moisture is necessary for decomposition.   After you  have created 4 to 12 inches of layers, you want to cover it.  The idea behind using cardboard is that cardboard keeps out light and really facilitates the killing of the lawn or weeds below.  When cardboard breaks down it becomes part of the soil as it is just ground up wood pulp.  Some people use newspaper but I find to kill a lawn you need something more substantial.  Make sure to give the cardboard a good soak of water also to help it start breaking down and for moisture to start going through it.  I soak it beofre I lay it down and on both sides so it doesn’t curl.  You want to overlap edges so weeds can’t find their way through.  When doing large areas it is worth going out searching for large cardboard boxes- appliance stores, furniture stores, bike stores, solar companies all have large boxes in their dumpsters.

Now you need to cover the cardboard as it looks pretty ugly and the wind will blow it away.  I usually use straw as it is easy to get and spreads easily.  Rice straw does not have seeds that will sprout so I like that better.  Wheat and barley straw often give you alittle wheat field in the spring which can be nice if you don’t mind pulling it all out.  You could also use something like vineyard mulch from Sonoma Compost or woodchips.  I would only use woodchips if you are planting perennials in the spring not vegetables as they are high in carbon and take a long time to break down and will bind up nitrogen in the process.  I have used leaves but they get really slippery when they get wet so you can not walk on the area at all.

Water the whole thing well, as straw will blow away if not wet.  Then just let it sit and slow cook itself into some beautiful soil.  In the spring just dig holes where you want to plant.  If you want more garden style beds you may need to rake or move the mulched areas into beds and then woodchip some paths.

It may seem like a lot of work but if you have ever dug out a lawn you know that this is way easier!

PS: don’t forget sprinkling some wildflower seed around before the rains and sticking in some daffodil bulbs for some springtime joy!