My Lasagna Garden Experiment

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:

lasagna4

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:

lasagne3

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:

lasagne2

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.

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5 Comments

  1. Holly said,

    September 28, 2007 at 1:50 pm

    That looks so pretty! Congratulations on making the lasagna gardening work. I have some beds in front of my house that I would love to do something with (first pulling out the nasty junipers), but we currently rent so I need to contact the landlord to see if they would have any problems. I love the layering idea so that you have blooms all the time.

    Too cool!

  2. Andrea said,

    September 30, 2007 at 3:52 pm

    I LOVE your blog ! I have just spent 40 mins reading your older posts and it is great reading. Your house is beautiful and although I have no interest in gardening I found this post fascinating. I love the post about getting 2 of your kids on the school bus – home schooling is virtually unheard of in UK. I would certainly not have the patience for it so you have my admiration.

  3. idahospud said,

    September 30, 2007 at 11:05 pm

    Thank you for the kind words!

    Holly, see if you can get the Lanza book from the library, or google “Lasagna Gardening.” She does a better job of explaining than I do. I just wanted to confirm that it really works!

    Andrea, what nice things to say. I appreciate the feedback a whole bunch! Of course, it was all positive . . . . heh heh heh. I love your blog, too (and your quilting, wow!), and hope to visit Wales some time (I’m 1/8 Welsh, from North Wales stock). I’ve been to England and Scotland, and next I want to see Wales and Ireland. The Gaelic language fascinates me, as does Celtic history and lore. I’ve given all my kids Gaelic or Gaelic-sounding names both as a nod to my heritage and because I think it is such a beautiful-sounding language. Anyway, thanks for coming by!

  4. Curt Shuler said,

    August 31, 2008 at 11:00 am

    Need to convert a pasture (grass and weeds) into a community garden – about 1/4 acre. Lasagne composting has been suggested. I am skeptical that the thick grass will not be broken down. Your experience was for planting flower seeds and bulbs which were included into the layering originally. Do you know anyone who has done it for a vegetable garden that requires planting seeds and seedlings on top?

    Thanks for sharing your positive experienc.

  5. Trisha said,

    October 18, 2010 at 5:50 pm

    I love your airplane quilt that you made. I found it on google image but when I came to your web site I couldn’t find it. I would love love love to make this for my boys room. Could you please tell me how you made your quilt or if you used a pattern.
    Thank you so much!
    Trisha


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