JoAnne Skelly: Lasagna Gardening

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Seriously, “lasagna gardening?” Readers may remember my article on hügelkultur last year, a centuries-old Eastern European method of no-dig raised beds made out of logs, branches, leaves, grass clippings, straw, cardboard, petroleum-free newspaper, manure, compost and/or other organic matter. Topped with soil and it’s ready to plant.

Whether you call it hügelkultur, lasagna gardening, no-till or sheet mulching, it is a long-standing, widely used cold composting technique. By layering various green nitrogen-rich (grass clippings, meat- and oil-free kitchen waste, manure) with brown carbon-rich (hay, leaves, wood chips, straw) materials, decomposition occurs and a soil rich in humus develops slowly over time without digging. No digging is good for all the soil organisms and for your back. In most cases, this method begins with cardboard or newspaper laid over an area you want to garden. On top of this go alternating layers of nitrogen and carbon materials topped with soil and finally mulch, the parmesan cheese of the lasagna. The piles can get to two feet or more in height. Once the mound is created, it usually is allowed to overwinter to break down the various materials. It can take about six months for good decomposition to occur.

This method is an excellent way to convert grass to a vegetable bed or a perennial border. It improves the soil while recycling materials you have at home. You can do it on a big or small scale. For an exact recipe for your lasagna garden go to:

My friend Roni has a different goal for her “lasagna gardening”. She recently layered big logs, large branches and smaller branches, followed up with pine boughs, straw and finally soil and compost, all in a huge round galvanized water trough. She wasn’t trying to create a trough full of humus, so she didn’t alternate layers with nitrogen-rich materials. Instead, she was trying to fill up the bottom of the two-foot tall trough with anything that would take up space rather than having to fill the entire trough with soil. While not true lasagna gardening, the concept allowed her a clever use of materials lying around. She will plant herbs and other shallow-rooted plants immediately. However, I think over time as she waters and gardens, the fertilizers, compost and organic matter will leach down into the carbon materials and eventually break it all down. She will probably see the level of the soil drop in the tank as decomposition occurs.

Don’t you just love gardening?

JoAnne Skelly is Associate Professor & Extension Educator Emerita, University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. Email


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