A Guide to Learning the Lasagna Gardening Technique

Tired of rototilling your garden every spring (or worse, turning it over with a pitchfork)? Want to save gas, energy, time, and water and increase your yield and the health of your garden at the same time? The answer is lasagna. What? Noodles, cheese, and tomato sauce? Well, no, but this no-till method of gardening involves laying down layers, as one does when making lasagna; hence the catchy name for the technique.

This method has so many advantages, it is hard to imagine why everyone isn’t using it. Read on, and we’ll explain it all and give you all the knowledge you need to get started with your own lasagna garden!

What is Lasagna Gardening?

Lasagna gardening was introduced in 1998, in a book by Patricia Lanza, Lasagna Gardening: a New System of Layering for Bountiful Gardens. Lanza was a busy innkeeper and mother of seven, and she just didn’t have time for conventional gardening, which involves lots of digging, weeding, and watering. She started experimenting with creating a garden bed using layers of different materials, and eventually found she was able to reduce the amount of time she spent on garden chores by 60 percent.

While most people associate lasagna gardening with vegetables, it can work equally well for annual flower gardens.

It does take some preparation, so you won’t be able to switch to this method mid-season, but you can start preparing your bed in the fall and be ready to plant in the spring. You can even start right at planting time, but you’ll have to add a final layer of compost to plant in.

Whether you have a large or a small plot, great soil or hard clay, and live in a dry or wet climate, this method can work for you, provided you have available the amount of sun needed by your chosen plants.

What are the Benefits of the Lasagna Gardening Layers?

There are many benefits of the lasagna gardening method. Among them are:

  • No tilling (this also means no heavy equipment like a rototiller needed)
  • No fertilizing
  • Less need for watering
  • Less weeding
  • Can be done in areas with poor soil
  • Beds can be established directly over sod with no digging
  • Increases the earthworm population
  • Can be used to produce raised beds for easy access
  • Materials are often free (newspapers, grass clippings)
  • Uses materials otherwise wasted (manure, coffee grounds, newspapers)

How do I Set Up My Lasagna Garden?

Establishing a lasagna garden bed involves layering different kinds of organic matter. You want three different types of layers: a base layer, green layers, and brown layers.

The bottom layer is usually something like layers of newspaper, sheets of cardboard, brown paper leaf waste bags, or even old carpet (be sure it made of biodegradable material, like cotton or wool). The idea here is to smother weeds or sod. This material does need to let water through and be biodegradable, as ultimately decomposition and the work of earthworms will cause the layers to disappear and meld into one another.

The following layers alternate between green (nitrogen-rich) and brown (carbon-rich) material. Alternating like this promotes decomposition and allows water to penetrate.

Obtaining this material does not need to be expensive. If you have a large yard, you may have a lot of the needed material on hand. Ask neighbors to save you their newspapers and cardboard (friends who have Amazon Prime are a great source of cardboard!) Most are setting this stuff aside for recycling, anyway. Coffee grounds can often be obtained from coffee shops (don’t worry, the filters will biodegrade, too) or neighbors who are caffeine fiends. Horse or chicken owners are usually drowning in manure, and will gladly let you cart it off for free. You can, of course, buy straw and manure if that is more convenient for you.

Materials Needed

  • Base Layer: Newspapers, cardboard, leaf waste bags, or biodegradable carpet (such as wool or cotton rag)
  • Green Layer: Food scraps (avoid meat, fats, and oils), grass clippings, weeds or other green matter (even seaweed—just rinse well first to remove salt), coffee grounds, and manure or barn litter (a mixture of manure and straw – one of my favorites). NOTE: Use only manure from plant-eating animals: cows, horses, goats, chickens. Do NOT use dog poop or cat litter. These can contain harmful organisms.
  • Brown Layer: Fallen leaves, straw, marsh hay, shredded newspapers, and wood chips.

Initial Bed Setup

  • Determine where you want to locate your garden bed. The most important consideration is sun. If you want to grow vegetables successfully, you will need a spot that gets at least 6 hours (preferably 8-10 for things like tomatoes) of sun during the growing season.
  • Decide whether you want one large garden bed, or smaller beds separated by paths. While this method can work for a large bed, I recommend setting up smaller beds separated by paths, for ease of access and to avoid compressing the bed by walking on it. These smaller beds can be any length you like, but keep them to a maximum of about 4 feet wide, so you will be easily able to reach into the center. Laying down cardboard on the paths can keep weeds from growing on them and keep your feet cleaner in wet weather. If you want very high beds (3-4 feet) you’ll probably want to use some kind of sides. There are many materials that can be used for this, but avoid pressure-treated lumber if you are planting vegetables. It contains toxic chemicals that will leach into the bed.

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