By Charlie Nardozzi
Fall is the perfect time to get your new flower or vegetable garden beds ready. If you are considering starting a new bed in a lawn area or an area with vegetation, instead of stripping the sod or digging up the plant matter, consider building your garden on top of the vegetation. Using sheet mulching, you can build a new bed on top of the existing soil without all the work of digging out the sod. Not only is this easier on your back, but it also preserves the organic matter and humus in the top layers of the sod for the plants to use. The key is to build layers that will kill the grass and decompose by spring so you can plant.
The first step is to mow the lawn area short. If you have aggressive weeds, such as bramble canes and burdock, in the area, consider digging these out before starting. They will grow through almost any organic mulch. For the first layer, place four sheets of black-and-white newspaper over the area. Moisten the newspaper with water first to hold it in place, and overlap the sheets so weeds don’t pop through. Black-and-white newspaper is free of harmful chemicals and will slowly break down over the winter while smothering the lawn grass.
For the second layer, place a 6-inch-thick layer of straw or hay on top of the newspaper. Finally, add a 2-inch-thick layer of compost on top of the straw or hay. The straw or hay will start decomposing over the winter. By spring, it will be broken down enough to plant through. The compost helps hold it in place and aids in the decomposition. The dead grass and organic matter will decompose due to soil microbes and earthworms. These creatures will devour the organic matter in fall and spring, creating healthy soil for the plants. In spring, even if there is some organic matter remaining, go ahead and dig holes, make rows, and plant your seeds and transplants in the bed. They will grow nicely.