Even if your yard is nothing but clay, you can create healthy garden soil by using this method, and it will cost you very little or nothing. The best time to start is in the fall, so get to it now, and plant in the spring in your rich, loamy garden beds!

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1) Save your grass clippings and leaves in separate piles. You will need to be able to build up a pile at least a few feet high. Get them from your neighbors if you don’t have enough (offer to take their leaves to the dump or mow their lawns yourself to get them). Never use clippings or leaves on which pesticide or weed killer has been sprayed, even if the label on the bottle says it is safe.

2) Lay down cardboard over entire area. Two to three sheets thick. Spray the cardboard with water.

3) Cover cardboard with layer of leaves at least 1 foot thick. Hose it down with water.

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4) Lay down 1 layer of grass clippings. Hose it down.

5) Lay down 1 layer of compost. Either commercial manure compost, or kitchen scrap compost. For you city slickers, you may have to buy this, but we use kitchen scraps which have been composted about 6 months in a bin. Never use cooked food scraps or any animal products from your kitchen. Hose it down.

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6) Repeat the above steps. Host it all down.

7) The final layer should be a nice layer of leaves.

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Let sit for several weeks or over the winter months. The composting action of the decaying leaves and grass will create heat and help to decompose and sterilize the area, as well as kill any grass seeds. If you can’t wait, yes, you can plant immediately.

You will be amazed how much easier it is to keep down weeds with this method. Add mulch as you go along. Pull weeds by hand.

This is a permanent planting bed. The key is to never till the area where you plant. Just keep adding organic matter to the area you want to grow your plants. Designate paths and always walk there.

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Walking compacts the soil and keeps weeds from growing. Tilling kills important migroorganisms, and encourages weed growth. So walk on your path and do not till where you grow.

If you do not have enough organic matter to build up a thick layer, then build up what you can, then get potting soil and poke holes in your leafy mulch. Put several inches of potting soil in each hole, and plant in that.

What you are doing with this method is recreating the rich, loamy surface of the forest floor. And you recycle lawn waste that usually gets sent to the dump.

If you have to buy manure, it’s pretty cheap, and shouldn’t cost more than $5 for a 40lb bag. Never use waste from your own animals, unless you are a farmer and know exactly what you are doing. Never use human waste.

I use this method in my raised planting boxes also, and it works great. In each box where I prepared this way, I hardly did any weeding last year. In each box where I did not use this method, some of the boxes were completely choked with weeds by the end of the season.

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For more tips and alternative methods for mulch lasagna gardening, there are plenty of online resources.

This post was written some time ago, and recovered from my files. When I first posted, someone got really angry about it. They wrote that you can’t plant right away after preparing these beds.

Yes, you can. Ideally, you want to let the area sit and compost down for some weeks or months, BUT if you want to plant right away, there are many online resources that have simple details for doing that. Basically, you put potting soil on the surface layer and put your seeds on that layer OR you gently open an area in your leafy compost, add some soil, and place your plant in it. Works fine. Here are some links.

This person also pushed using vermiculite and peat moss. In my opinion, the whole point of this method is to save money and recycle, not spend dough on stuff you have to buy at the garden center. I do not use vermiculite at all, and prefer to not use peat moss because of the damage caused to the environment.

There are a number of variations to mulch lasagna gardening, and you can customize the mix of clippings, leaves and compost to match the needs of exactly what you want to plant. I do not go to that trouble myself, but if you want more information, these are really good books for reference.

Check out SUBVERSIVE URBAN VEGETABLE GARDENING for tips on growing veggies where city planners don’t want you to.

Got green tomatoes? Here is what to do with them.

No farm? No garden? Get healthy, fresh food via a Farm Share, CSA, or Farm Credit Program.