Every year in my large garden, there’s at least one area that needs renovation, and fall is a good time to tackle the job. This year it’s a shady bed between two pairs of crepe myrtles. Some of the perennials have died, and others need dividing. Weeds have taken over parts of the bed, and the annuals I planted this summer didn’t thrive.
Years ago, I would have started digging and tilling, but the crepe myrtle trees are older, and so am I. I don’t want to disturb their roots or strain my muscles and joints. The solution: a modified version of lasagna gardening.
Unlike “pizza gardens” with tomatoes, onions, garlic, peppers and oregano, lasagna gardens have nothing to do with what you plant. They get their name from the way you layer compostable materials to build the bed. Another name is sheet composting.
Lasagna gardens are constructed on top of the ground with no digging involved. They can be in a raised frame made of wood, cinder blocks, or other materials. Or they can be mounded without a frame.
In the area you’ve selected, cut down the grass and weeds and cover the site with a layer of cardboard or several layers of newspaper. In my modified version, I’ll dig up several perennials that I want to divide and pot them temporarily until I’m ready to replant them. I’ll fill in the holes so the area will be level.
Saturate the cardboard or newspaper with water, and then spread layers of organic matter on top. These layers can be anything you would put in a compost pile, which includes leaves, grass clippings, dead flowers, trimmings from the garden, and any food scraps you would find in a vegan’s kitchen. Scraps from animal-based foods don’t break down as quickly and tend to attract four-legged pests.
All these materials can be mixed together, or each category can form its own layer.The ideal combination calls for about twice as much “brown,” dried material as “green,” fresh clippings. I always look forward to the last mowing in the fall that yields bags of green grass clippings and brown leaves chopped together.
The top should be a layer of mulch to look neat and to keep the more light-weight layers from blowing around. If you have a mature compost pile or some bags of topsoil and mulch, include those things in your top layer.
In a sunny location, a new lasagna garden can be about two feet high and will settle down to a few inches during the winter. I won’t put more than six inches in my modified version because it covers tree roots that shouldn’t be smothered by piling too much on top of them.
A lasagna garden isn’t quite labor-free because you have to cart all that material to the site and spread it around, but it is easier than deep digging. By spring, it should be a loose, fertile bed ready for you to poke a few holes and insert new plants.