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Sheet mulch to shrink your lawn

Posted on June 4th, 2009 by Phuong

Since moving into my West Seattle house five years ago, I’ve been on a mission to reduce the amount of lawn on the property. My goal was to get rid of about two-thirds of the lawn, leaving only a small area in the front of the house and the side yard for the dog. A quick way to get rid of lawn is to rent a sod-cutter, cut up the sod and haul it away. But this can get expensive, especially if you have a large-sized lawn. Sheet mulching is a cheaper alternative though it requires more time and patience. It’s great for controlling weeds, improving soil and getting rid of grass. The idea with sheet mulching is to kill the lawn (and any weeds) by putting down an organic weed barrier that breaks down over time while keeping sunlight out. After about six to nine months, you’ll have a rich soil that you can plant in.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to sheet mulching

Step 1: Mow the lawn as short as possible.

Step 2: It helps to add compost or chicken manure to the lawn to help jump start the decomposition process before you lay down your weed barrier. The high nitrogen in the compost or manure will help build good soil.

Step 3: Soak the area with water.

Step 4: Put down your organic “sheet mulch,” or a weed barrier that kills the lawn and weeds and prevent weed seeds from germinating. You can use several layers of newspapers, cardboard boxes or burlap bags. Make sure to lay down several layers of whatever material you use and overlap them so there’s no gaps where weeds or grass can push through.

Step 5: Add a thick layer of compost, grass clippings or leaves over the weed barrier, about three inches thick. Many people skip this process altogether, but I personally think it’s worth the time and trouble. If you do it right the first time, you’ll have rich soil that you won’t need to fuss with later on.

Step 6: Add a layer of top dressing such as leaves, wood chips, bark or sawdust, about three inches deep.

Step 7: Wait for time and earthworms to do the work. Over time, this top layer will break down with the other layers beneath it, and you’ll have rich, loamy soil. If you’re anxious to plant, you can cut a hole in the weed barrier (newspaper or cardboard).

We have sheet mulched large areas of our planting strip (the no-man’s land between the sidewalk and street) and front lawn with great success. It took about six months to a year before things really broke down, but we were slowly able to add plants to our landscape beds by digging through the layers. Our entire side yard, about 600 square feet, was sheet mulched a couple years ago, and is now the site of a rich, productive vegetable garden.

Filed under:Seattle Landscape Maintenance | |

1 Comment (Go to comments form)

  1. Posted by M. D. Vaden of Oregon

    December 5, 2009 @ 2:00 pm

    I’m leaning toward recommending leaves or some alternative for the layer now, near urban areas, because using paper products can trigger increased pollution and tree cutting in other locations. It stems from shrinking recycleables. So I figured that leaves or something from the same property may provide a more beneficial alternative, depending on where the property is located.

    MDV / Oregon

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