What Is the Sheet Mulch Method?

What Is the Sheet Mulch Method? Join Our Community For Free! I have a lot of respect for Ruth Stout. She was quite a person, as a glance through one of her books will rapidly reveal. Her book Gardening Without Work: For the Aging, the Busy & the Indolent has been a cult classic since […]

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What Is the Sheet Mulch Method?

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I have a lot of respect for Ruth Stout. She was quite a person, as a glance through one of her books will rapidly reveal. Her book Gardening Without Work: For the Aging, the Busy & the Indolent has been a cult classic since the 1950s, and the sheet mulch method has come into new popularity recently thanks to author Patricia Lanza and her book Lasagna Gardening: A New Layering System for Bountiful Gardens.

The inspiring film Back to en also features a variant of this method as us by farmer Paul Gautschi. (You can read my review of the film here.)

Proponents brag that this method requires no tilling, no weing, and almost no work.

Could this be the best gardening method ever? Let’s take a look.

The sheet mulch garden uses layers of mulch to crush wes, keep the soil moist, and add matter. If you’re gardening on clay, it also has a major loosening effect over time. Stout’s preferr mulch was straw, rotten or fresh, but she advocat using whatever matter you could scavenge.

If you go for the modern “lasagna gardening” incarnation, you put down a layer of cardbrd or newspapers right over a patch of wes or lawn, then stack a foot or two of vari materials on top of that, including compost, manure, straw, leaves, or whatever you have available. Plant into that and you have an instant garden.

The great thing about the sheet mulch gardening method is what it does for your soil. As an example: I once had a few r k trees remov from my yard. When the men from the tree company took them down, they chopp up the trunks and larger branches and raking great big piles of smaller sticks and leaves together. That gave me an idea. Why not pile those in a corner of my yard and let them compost?

The tree crew hily oblig and we stack them up.

The next spring, the debris had settl. Curious to see what the ground was like beneath, I digging. What had formerly been dead, gray sand was now a rich, black lm, fill with earthworms and soil life. That patch of ground was one of the best spots in my yard for years. No tilling, no fertilizing or adding of amendments. Just a big stack of matter left to rot in place, and I was looking at grade-A soil.

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Imagine doing the same in your garden plot. I’ve done it multiple times now, and I can assure you that the results are impressive. If you’ve got bad soil, sandy soil or even clay, a deep layer of mulch will fix it.

Another benefit of the sheet mulch method is that it’s easier than traditional composting. Just chuck your leaves, kitchen scraps, cardbrd, etc., into the garden and bury them as ne. An impressive amount of soil life emerges in short order.

When I liv in Tennessee, sheet mulching transform a patch of hard clay and Bermuda into a rich patch of garden. Over time, the clay darken and loosen beneath my bs. I was amaz by the transformation. Tilling would have been a nightmare, but deep mulching gave me something amazing to work with.

One final benefit of this method: water conservation. Over time, the ground becomes so rich with humus that it acts as a sponge. Even during long dry spells, the layers beneath the surface are cool and moist. You can see in the Back to en film, as well—the comparison to the dry, bak dirt elsewhere on Gautschi’s property is astounding.

And now for the downside: Sheet mulching is not an easy alternative to double-digging, despite Ruth Stout’s assurances that it’s no work. Why? Because you spend all your time scrounging for materials.

This is not something you can do halfway. Getting lots of wood chips, straw, stable bding, leaves, pine neles, compost, and other mulching materials isn’t always easy. If you don’t own a truck and don’t have friends with large farms or liock, finding enough material to cover a large garden is a pain. You don’t want to just put down an inch or 2 of mulch, either. You want to put down a foot. When you do that, the wes don’t have a chance. If you skimp, you’ll pay for it. Ever try hog in mulch? It’s a royal pain.

Another downside: Back in Ruth Stout’s day, straw and manure weren’t contaminat with longterm herbicides like the infinitely evil Grazon(TM) from Dow AgroSciences. When you lasagna garden today, you’re often relying on materials from outside your tead—materials that may end up killing your garden for the next 5 years. That’s a risk I’m not willing to take. I don’t trust hay, straw, or manures anymore.

I got nail once—that was enough.

Here’s a video showing what a contaminat garden looks like:

Additionally, I list one of the benefits of sheet mulching as bg its ability to foster worms and other soil life. Unfortunately, this also carries over to slugs and snails. The second year I had a mulch garden, I end up with an incrible amount of slugs. After a week of tring and killing the buggers, I was free; yet they never would have been a problem without all the nice, moist mulch they’d been breing in.

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Finally, sheet mulching simply makes no sense if you’re going to garden on any kind of decent acreage. The materials are simply too tough to acquire in quantity or to deal with. If you had a modest 1/4-acre garden, covering it with mulch would be a full-time job. This may be a good method for small spaces—but it’s often a noner for larger plots.

After a day of throwing mulch around a large plot, you’ll be ready to quit gardening forever.

First, pick your garden plot and mark out the ges. If it’s full of tall or wes, mow it down, leave the clippings in place, and water thoroughly. You want it wet before you cover the ground with mulch.

Next, get yourself a bunch of cardbrd or newspaper and cover the entire space, overling to make sure nothing comes through. The same lies to newspaper: a nice thick layer is best. Though some will say you can get away with a single layer of cardbrd or roughly 6 sheets of newspaper, 2 or 3 times that is better. Some wes are hard to crush.

After this we-block layer is down, wet it thoroughly and adding mulch. A good mix is best. Basically, you’re composting in place, so if you can mix clippings with pine bark, straw with manure, leaves with coffee grounds, etc., things will break down better. But the main thing is: stack it high with whatever you can get—and water as you go.

You can watch me make a sheet mulch garden in this video:

If you want to plant right away, you can pull back some of the mulch, add pockets of compost, and then plant ses or transplants. The best results, however, come a year or so after you’ve establish your garden patch. By that point, the cardbrd has rott away and you’ve hopefully add mulch on top a few more times as the previous layers have settl. The ground beneath is now full of life and compost and your plants are strong and healthy from the abundance of moisture in the soil.

See some wes that manag to peek through? Throw yesterday’s bad news on them or suffocate them with mulch. Once you’ve done the groundwork, a deep mulch garden is pretty easy to maintain. Just don’t ever till it under or you’ll undo all your hard work.

There’s plenty to love about the sheet mulch/Back to en/Ruth Stout/lasagna gardening method of piling on matter. After multiple years of fiddling with the various incarnations of “stack and forget” gardening, I still occasionally use it when I have some materials.

But as my plots have expand, it gets harder and harder to pile tons of matter into my annual gardens. Rather, I put my leaves, cornstalks, and other “waste” directly on the ground around my longterm perennials and trees or drop them into the compost pile. I love deep mulching for my perennials, but use it less on annual gardens.

I also cover how you can use lasagna gardening/sheet mulching as a simple composting method in my best-selling book Compost Everything: The Good Guide to Extreme Composting.

Sheet mulching can be one of the best gardening methods—but I wouldn’t say it’s always the best in every circumstance. Sometimes I prefer wide rows, sometimes I like double-digging, and sometimes I forget about annuals altogether and plant food forest systems.

Don’t think that means I wouldn’t shake Ruth’s hand if she were still with us—anyone with that much passion for gardening is A+ in my book, even if her method doesn’t work for everyone in every situation.

David The Good is a Grow Network Change Maker, a gardening expert, and the author of five books you can find on Amazon: Compost Everything: The Good Guide to Extreme Composting, Grow or Die: The Good Guide to Survival Gardening, Totally Crazy Easy Florida Gardening, Create Your Own Florida Food Forest, and Push the Zone: The Good Guide to Growing Tropical Plants Beyond the Tropics. Find fresh gardening inspiration at his website TheSurvivalGardener.com and be sure to follow his popular YouTube channel.

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This post was written by David The Good

This method is great. Thanks for , I always love reading more information on this topic.

As David mentions, this is an excellent method for clay heavy soil. It works great for urban/suburban gardeners who might not have a lot of room for a large garden. A suggestion, one plot, and enlarge it using this method each year. You still ne to mulch each plot heavily, but that first season really does most of the work for you.

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What Is the Sheet Mulch Method?


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