You can look at “lasagna” gardening two ways. The first is to grow the herbs you would use to season the pasta dish such as oregano, basil, thyme, onions, garlic and parsley and designate it as your lasagna garden.
The other way, however, is not edible. It is a method of starting a new garden bed without the work of taking out sod, the garden chore I abhor more than any other. The basic principle of lasagna gardening is to put down layers of cardboard, paper, manure, compost and mulch in thick enough layers that they shade out any grass or weeds growing there. You can use whatever materials you have available.
And you can build the layers as deeply as you need to. If you are starting your bed on well-established sod, it may take deeper layering to make sure the grass goes away. Best of all, there is no need to till and disrupt the natural structure of the soil. We are actually mimicking what goes on in the woods or prairie naturally where leaves or grasses simply fall on the soil, making deeper and deeper mulch.
Not disturbing the structure of the soil means you will have a better growing medium, since the channels for roots are intact. Tilling breaks up these channels by filling in the pore spaces, and the roots have to work harder to move through the soil.
I have an area where the grass grows very poorly because of too much shade, so I decided to establish a bed of hostas. I saved corrugated cardboard boxes for several weeks. Since this area had little to no grass to contend with, I was able to transplant the hostas where I wanted them, just digging holes directly into the soil.
Then I got out my handy box cutter and began to lay out the bed around the hostas with cardboard. I laid the cardboard right next to the plants, covering as much of the soil as I could, and overlapping the cardboard. Then I covered all the cardboard with deep shredded hardwood mulch and watered everything in well.
Since this area is shady, it stays fairly moist so I don’t have to water very often. The plants don’t need deep watering more than once a week to establish.
In a new bed that has grass to contend with, it’s better to create the new bed before planting. In a sunny area, be sure to sprinkle the lasagna garden regularly to help break down the cardboard. In a new bed, you can be ready to plant right through the mulch and cardboard in about six weeks. The cardboard should be fairly well broken down or at least soft enough to dig through.
So if you start your new bed now while we’re in the heat of summer, you should have a beautiful new planting spot in fall.
Kate Jerome, a Kenosha writer and teacher, holds a master’s degree from the University of Wisconsin and is the former Urban Farm director at Gateway Technical College. She is the owner of the consulting business Kate Jerome’s Garden to Kitchen. Her website is www.kjerome.com.