Last fall I decided to do something with the strip of ground on the front side of my grass. Since building our home, we’ve landscaped slowly as money and time have allowed; the depleted orchard ground on which we built is very sandy and compacted and requires a lot of amending and time. A couple of years ago, I bought the book Lasagna Gardening by Patricia Lanza, after reading about her methods on a couple of the Gardenweb Forums I frequent, and last fall began an experiment that I hoped would work as effortlessly as Lanza promises.
Lasagna gardening has nothing to do with noodles. It refers instead to the layering of materials to create a planting bed, a building up instead of digging down. You start with a layer of wet newspaper or cardboard–even directly on top of living sod–and then layer on compost, grass clippings, hay, manure, peat moss, or whatever you have access to that is organic, plentiful, and conducive to composting, to about an 18-inch height. You then plant your seeds, seedlings, bulbs, bareroot plants, plant divisions, what-have-you, right into the layers. Lanza and other lasagna gardening enthusiasts promised me beautiful results with no digging, no tilling, no hassle. With the compacted sand in front of our house, I was doubious, but I really wanted to believe it could be true. This is what the front end of the grass looked like last summer:
I wish I had thought to take pictures of the process, but I’ll describe it as best I can. In October, I got several tubs full of newspaper from the recycling center, soaked them section by section in another tub of water, and laid them (still in sections) right on the weedy dirt. I overlapped them a few inches as I went along, until the whole area I wanted to plant was covered. I then arranged 500 Lightning Sun tulip bulbs right on top of the wet newspaper, praying that I wasn’t about to lose what amounted to my landscaping budget for the year! After that, I started layering. I had bought several bales of peat moss, but since we have horses, manure and straw were my main components. I put down about 2 inches of peat moss, 3 inches of manure, 2 inches of peat moss, 3 inches of manure, 3 inches of straw, all my compost (only about 1 inch thick), and then more peatmoss, manure, and straw, with a sprinkling of purchased compost on the top.
It was ugly. If I had had more money, I would have purchased more compost to layer over the whole thing to make it look nice, but I was tapped out. Once the layers were in place, I soaked the beds to what Lanza calls “the consistency of a wet sponge.” After that, the only thing left to do was water it a few more times in the fall, and then wait to see what spring brought.
Over the winter months the layers settled a few inches, but were still pretty springy and spongy by early March, when all my other bulbs in traditional beds began to sprout. Still trepidatious but hopeful, I scattered thousands of forget-me-not seeds and California poppy seeds over the top of the bed. Still nothing. I worried that my lasagna bed was too deep, or that I planted too late or the manure was too hot, but by late March, I began to see the bright green points of tulip sprouts poke through the straw. First there were 20, then 50, and in two weeks, hundreds of spiky sprouts had found their way to the spring air and warming sun. At Easter, I had a few blooms, but late April brought this:
It worked! But true to my form of trying to find the next thing to worry about, I wondered what I’d do once the tulips were spent, leaving their ugly wilted foliage (which you are not supposed to remove–it feeds the bulb for the next spring). My forget-me-nots and poppies seemed to be a bust, so I planted violas, which Madame Chaos promptly removed for her own purposes. So then I sprinkled on the failsafe cosmos seeds I had saved from the year before, and soon all three varieties of seeds were popping up and blooming–I hadn’t been patient enough.
So now here we are in late September. The layers have composted and settled to only about 5 inches at the deepest, and the cosmos are still blooming:
Before pronouncing the experiment a complete success, I will have to see if I get reblooms from my tulip bulbs next spring. The current depth of the bed isn’t deep enough for tulips, so once it frosts and I pull out the cosmos (which will take even more of the bedding layers out with their big roots), I will have to add layers again. Good thing horses don’t stop pooping.