Lasagna Garden Recipe

The Daily Ardmoreite
Pat Neasbitt
Master Gardener

May is a great month to add new landscaping or expand vegetable and ornamental beds. Thank goodness we are getting rain pretty regularly - except for the few times in the last weeks it rained about 4 inches at a time. You can even begin a new vegetable garden or add a flowerbed or border right now if you didn't get around to doing it last fall. Most garden books will tell you to dig out all the turf, that means Bermuda Grass for most of us, improve the soil, wait for a soil test to come back, and plan what you want to plant. Well, digging out Bermuda grass is hard work and just gives it a good root pruning and makes every tiny piece you missed grow that much more - they don’t call it Devil Grass in some places for no reason. The soil is so wet right now that digging would compact and possibly destroy the soil structure. If you don’t want to do all that digging and waiting, then "Lasagna Gardening" is for you. I have actually built a "Lasagna Garden" and planted in it immediately with good results. This method is extremely effective if you have clay soil and need a raised bed for better drainage, also.

Basically, you just lay down thick layers of wet newspaper or unwaxed cardboard right where you want your new bed to be (yes, right on top of the grass). You can spray the area with glyphosate (Roundup) first if you want to, but it isn't really required. Just remember it is a nonselective herbicide and will kill anything green it comes in contact with. If there is any wind, and there is almost always wind, it can cause glyphosate to drift onto plants quite a distance away.

The first step is to dip newspapers in a tub of water or wet them down well with the hose and overlap layers to keep them from blowing until you get organic materials added to anchor them in place. This is probably the hardest step, especially if it is windy. The newspaper is organic (made from trees), so it not only smothers Bermuda grass and weeds, it breaks down in a year or two and improves the soil. It also feeds the earthworms and adds organic matter that will improve both clay and sandy soils.

The next step is to layer whatever organic materials you can obtain right on top of the newspaper or cardboard. Whatever you would use to build a good compost pile will work for your layers. It’s best to put a layer of carbon material – the brown stuff - like leaves, shredded newspapers, ground up disease-free tree prunings, or bark mulch down and then add a layer of nitrogen material  - the green stuff - like compost, grass and weed clippings (without any seeds), vegetable peelings, or dried manures (not from domestic animals). If you know someone who stalls their animals with bedding, you’ve hit paydirt! Make sure horses haven't been fed hay from grasses sprayed with the herbicide, Grazon. It will go right through the horse's digestive system and kill all your plants. Just alternate the layers - the brown layers can be about three times as thick as the green layers. The whole bed will settle, and earthworms will multiply and carry organic material down to mix with the soil. The best time to do this is in the fall so it will have all winter to settle and start to break down; however, it can be done whenever you can find the time to do it. I have found it works best to outline the area with a garden hose and put down a rock or stone border. This isn’t absolutely necessary, and can be added later, but it makes it much easier to contain your "Lasagna" and makes it easier to mow and keep a neat edge. If you plant in your new lasagna garden this spring and summer, you need the top layer to be mostly compost or soil to plant seeds in. It’s easy to pull aside the layers to plant a shrub, perennial, or annual plant. If your organic matter is extremely coarse, you can even pull the layers aside to make a planting hole and fill it with good soil or compost to make a planting pocket for a container-grown plant. Mulch your plants after planting, keep them watered this summer, and they should be well established by next year. After that, the only things you need to do each year are replenish the mulch and add more plants.

Of course, no matter how much newspaper or cardboard you put down and no matter how much you overlapped the layers, some Bermuda runners can find their way under your nice border and come up - Devil grass! The shoots are easy to pull out in the loose layers, so just be diligent and watch for the sneaky little runners. The few weeds that sprout are planted by wind and birds and are easy to pull or smother by just shoveling more mulch or compost on top of them.

Remember to plant things that grow well in our heat and Oklahoma winds and that attract butterflies to make your own little wildlife garden. Some good plants that are easy to grow and bloom all summer and will attract butterflies and hummingbirds to your yard, if you keep them deadheaded, are purple coneflower, milkweed, zinnias, salvia, liatris, veronica, black-eyed susan, daylilies, coreopsis, cosmos, cleome, yarrow, catmint, pentas, and pincushion flowers. Don’t forget to plant flat-leaf parsley, fennel, and dill for the butterflies to lay eggs on and feed their babies, and never use pesticides in your yard if you want to encourage and enjoy butterflies, beneficial insects, and birds. Happy Lasagna Gardening!