Whether you want to extend a garden bed or create a new one, do it the easy way! Sidestep tilling and instead use sheet mulch—smother weeds or grass while creating healthier soil in your new garden spot.
1. Mark out where you want your new bed.
You can use string and stakes, but a garden hose is an easier way to mark a curvy bed. We use spray paint to mark the outline of the bed.
2. Mow down everything in that area.
Don’t bother pulling weeds or raking leaves.
3. Put down cardboard or newspaper.
Use one layer of cardboard or 8 to 12 page stacks of newspaper. Overlap them by about 3″. You want to block the weeds from receiving any sun while also creating a physical block to keep them from coming up. Soak the paper or cardboard with a garden hose.
(Optional) Top with compost.
For the richest bed, spread a layer of compost on top of the cardboard, especially if you plan to plant vegetables in it.
4. Mulch the top.
You can use straw, chopped up leaves, or wood chips. If you’re sheet mulching in fall, run a lawn mower over the fallen leaves and rake them onto the cardboard.
5. Now leave it alone.
The newspapers smother the grass while creating a welcoming environment for worms and microbes that break down the paper and dead grass.
6. Planting in the sheet mulch bed.
If you sheet mulch in fall, the garden will be ready to plant in spring.
If you sheet mulch and want to plant immediately, it’s easy. Push back the mulch and cut an X in the barrier layer. Then dig a hole in the soil and add compost. You can plant your transplants or seeds into the hole.
The first year, your sheet mulch bed can take shrubs, perennials, and vegetable transplants; annuals; and vines you start from seeds. It won’t be ready for planting small seeds, so plant your lettuce and radishes in containers instead.
As with any garden bed, keep feeding the soil with compost and mulch. Each year the soil will become finer and richer, and you never need to till it (although you can, if you want to).
Bonus: Take back existing beds!
We also sheet mulch existing beds to smother weeds. Just fit the newspaper around the existing plants before you lay down your mulch.