No-Till Method; Grass to Garden

You’ve made it this far; we don’t need to spend time convincing you of all the wonderful benefits of nature-friendly plants over boring, non-beneficial lawn grass. Installing a new garden bed can be intimidating! The method outlined below is easy, affordable, and guaranteed effective in smothering out lawn and preparing a blank canvas for your new plants.

 
 
Notice the garden hose used here for visualizing the garden edge, and the difference in grass height of the lawn and new bed area.

Notice the garden hose used here for visualizing the garden edge, and the difference in grass height of the lawn and new bed area.

Preparation & the nitty gritty

Determine the perimeter and overall shape of your new garden. Using a garden hose is great for helping to form the shape and build in visually pleasing, rounded edges.

Purchase enough wood mulch to cover the garden area to a depth of 2-3”. There are several mulch calculators online to help figure out the amount needed; most will even break the results down into the number of 2 cubic foot bags or 3 cubic foot bags needed.

Mow the grass inside this perimeter very short, using the lowest setting on your mower that will cut the grass without disturbing the soil.

Spread newspaper (newsprint, not glossy paper) two to three layers thick over the mowed area, working in sections from one side to the other. The newspaper can be wetted a couple different ways – stack the sheets of newspaper together, then dip them in a large tub of water and lay over the ground, OR lay the dry paper on the ground and mist with a hose immediately.

Spread wood mulch on top of the wet newspaper as you progress; otherwise, the newspaper dries fairly quickly and will shift or blow away.

Avoid walking on the mulch and wet newspaper after they have been placed; otherwise the newspaper will tear and fail to choke out the grass beneath it.


Final watering, conquering those pesky edges

Once the newspaper and mulch are in place, give the mulched area another liberal dose of water.

A 6-12” wide strip of landscape fabric can be laid down to help form a smooth edge for the bed, as well as give defined curves and straight lines.

Lay the wet newspaper  and mulch on top of the strip of fabric. When the grass beneath has died and you are planting, simply pull the fabric out from under the mulch to leave a clean “edge” of soil beneath.

You can see the landscape fabric edge used here - weigh it down as you go to keep it in place. Also, grab energetic kids to be your helpers.

You can see the landscape fabric edge used here - weigh it down as you go to keep it in place. Also, grab energetic kids to be your helpers.


This bed was prepared in October, and is ready to receive its 77 (yes, I counted!) new native plants in May.

This bed was prepared in October, and is ready to receive its 77 (yes, I counted!) new native plants in May.

waiting: the easiest, hardest part

This method can produce a prepared garden area in as few as 60 days, but requires the mulched area to stay constantly wet to break down the grass and newspaper below it. If using the “speed” method, to help aid the decomposition of the grass and paper, sprinkle nitrogen-rich blood meal over the wet newspaper before mulching.

For best results with least amount of effort, put down your newspaper and mulch in the new garden area in the fall and simply let it rest over the winter.

Still want some help?

Call us over for a Coaching Session and we can bring you ALL the ideas and advice on execution of this process on your own property!