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From Wild to Wonderful! How to build a no-dig raised bed "lasagna" garden

Updated on June 12, 2016
Beautiful bounty
Beautiful bounty

What is a Lasagna Garden?

A lasagna garden is a raised bed made by blocking growth from underneath with newspaper or card, then creating layers of carbon (brown, dry, dead stuff) and nitrogen (fresh green stuff), and leaving it to decompose until it’s ready for use. If carefully constructed, following the principles in this article, it might only take a matter of months, meaning that you can construct it in the autumn and plant in it the following spring.

The gardener's answer to stony ground, heavy clay or poor soil quality

If, like me, you aspire to great things, but have heavy clay soil which is impossible to dig and bakes solid in the summer, then a lasagna garden is going to save you a lot of time and effort in the long run.. There's no need to prepare the ground.. You can build a lasagna garden on an overgrown patch of weeds, turf, or even concrete.. It might sound too good to be true, but it's not.

Autumn is the best season to build a raised-bed garden

You can build a lasagne garden any time, but it's easiest in autumn because of the amount of organic material available for the carbon (brown) layers, plus it won't need watered over the winter, and by spring it will have rotted down sufficiently to use it.

Those autumn leaves
Those autumn leaves | Source

First plot out the area you want to use. You could build sides with wood or brick or leave it without borders. You needn't prepare the ground beforehand, unless you have very vigorous weeds like bindweed, bramble, etc., which are best removed beforehand, as far as possible.

Create a base layer of newspaper (6-10 sheets thick with good overlaps) or brown cardboard, and wet it.. This will block the light, so the more vigorous the plants you’re covering, the more layers you should use.

After that, you can start to add alternate layers of carbon (brown) and nitrogen (green) material.

The depth of the brown layers should ideally be about 6” and the green layers about 3”. This produces optimal conditions for the speedy breakdown of the materials.

Nitrogen layer
Nitrogen layer

What materials can be used for the carbon (brown) layers?

Wood ash is fine for brown layers
Wood ash is fine for brown layers

Carbon elements (browns) could be:

  • peat
  • shredded newspaper
  • shredded cotton
  • wool
  • dead leaves
  • straw
  • hay
  • wood chips
  • wood ashes
  • pine needles,
  • coffee grounds, etc.

Ask people to save you their newspapers. You could borrow a leaf blower to collect dried leaves and a wood chipper to chip prunings; then offer to do an autumn clear-up for neighbours.

What materials can be used for the nitogen (green) layers?

Greens include grass cuttings, kitchen waste and manure
Greens include grass cuttings, kitchen waste and manure

Nitrogen material (greens) could be:

  • grass cuttings
  • fresh kitchen waste
  • egg shells
  • animal manure
  • fresh greenery
  • seaweed
  • fresh weeds, etc. (without seeds)
  • topsoil, etc.

Offer to cut neighbours grass, or ask for their grass cuttings. Ask local shops and restaurants if they'd save you fruit and veg which they might be throwing out.

The finishing touches

The layers need to be alternated until the pile reaches about 1-2 feet tall. finish it with a brown layer to deter flies, or top it with soil. Water it very well. then leave it to break down until the spring. By then it should have rotted down and will be ready to be used. Plant straight into it, planting things close together to inhibit weeds.

The easiest way to build a raised-bed garden

If you have limitations - timewise, physically or in access to materials - build your garden in increments. Set up some binbags or boxes in which you can save the materials over a period of weeks. Once you have enough, create the first section - 80cm * 80cm, for example.

Boxes containing prepared materials: Carbon: shredded egg boxes & dead leaves; Nitrogen: fresh weeds & kitchen waste
Boxes containing prepared materials: Carbon: shredded egg boxes & dead leaves; Nitrogen: fresh weeds & kitchen waste

Growing super-sized organic veggies in a lasagna garden

Because of the density of nutrients and optimal growing conditions in lasagna gardens, you can plant things closer together with fabulous results - the warmth means that everything grows super-big and healthy, with no need for fertilisers. Because you've created fresh soil which contains no dormant weed seeds there's no need for weed control.

Maintaining a lasagna garden

Each year after the growing season is over, add a thick layer of mulch to your lasagna bed and leave it to rot down. Remember that if you're adding something like straw, you'll have to cover it with heavier material so it doesn't blow away.


Bloomin' lovely!
Bloomin' lovely!

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