Sheet Mulching Or How To Create A Soil Sponge
In our last podcast we talked about how rock and gravel gardens are not the answer, and nor is just concreting the whole back yard. Many worry about the cost associated with replacing a brown lawn with something better, so today we are going to talk about something you can do right now for very little time and money.
Figure out what kind of turf grass you have.
Warm Season Turf
- Coarse leaves,
- Grows above ground by thick stems or stolons.
It’s these stolons that cause the problem – if you leave any in the ground, they will re-sprout and grow.
You will have to dig this out. For smaller areas, a flat shovel will do, but for larger areas you will need to rent a gas powered sod cutter – check with your local big box home improvement store or local tool rental place. If you are working on a hillside or slope, a sod cutter won’t be much help.
Make sure the soil is moist.
We recommend watering a few times in the two weeks before you cut out the sod, but don’t water it the day before or the day of. Water will make the soil stick together so the sod will cut easier but it also makes it heavy, so it’s a balance.
You will also need to dispose of it. Typically that’s via a lowboy dumpster from your local waste removal company. One 10 yard dumpster will hold turf from 1000-2000 square feet. If you have space elsewhere in your yard, you could pile it, cover it and compost it, but warm season grass is hard to kill.
Cool Season Turf
- Green all year round
- Has a softer texture
You can cut this grass short and then sheet mulch right over the top.
Truth is that most of us have a mix, so then it becomes a judgement call. Warm season grass can be very difficult to remove without cutting it out, so although it’s work now, you will be saving yourself work later.
Mark out the irrigation heads with flags – you will be glad you did this afterwards! Trust me.
Gather your materials:
- Concentrated soil biology in the form of one of the following:
- Paper, newspaper or cardboard
- We use rolls of painters or builders paper for projects where we can’t stockpile enough cardboard or newspaper. You will need about 3 of these rolls per 1000 feet of turf.
- Many local business have lots of cardboard boxes that they find it hard to recycle. Ask around, and remember, the bigger the better.
- You are going to need about 8 yards for 1000 square foot.
- Get this from your local green waste recycling plant – Miramar and AgriService (Oceanside and Otay Mesa)for us in San Diego County, or
- Tree trimmers often have to pay to get rid of chipped up tree trimmings, and will happily drop them off in your yard. Be on the lookout for tree trimmers working in your neighborhood, and ask.
- Avoid mulch that is 100% Eucalyptus, but a mix is ok.
- One more thing – remember: the job of mulch is to feed the soil so we are looking for materials that will break down quickly. Avoid palm fronds and redwood for this reason.
Edge around the sidewalk and driveway – dig a trench a shovel’s depth by a shovel’s width. This is to take care of the areas where the grass is most likely to grown back as well as to help avoid the mulch overflowing from the soil around the edges.
Shape the ground to allow the water to slow, spread and sink. Think about any downspouts you will be redirecting into the landscape and allow for that.
I marked out my swale to collect water from my neighbor’s property, along with the walkways and seating area.
I lightly graded the ground to just encourage the water to slow, spread and sink into my garden.
- Spread out your compost, compost tea, worm castings or humate;
- Break up the rest of the soil just a bit
- Lightly fork over the soil to break up the surface; depending on the size you might want to use one of these:
- Lay down the paper – If you are using cardboard, we found that a trash can with water made the ideal place to dip the cardboard until it was saturated worked best. Think of dunking cookies in tea – not too much, just enough.
- Wet it (you can skip this if you put down wet cardboard)
- Apply 6 inches of mulch
- Wet the mulch really well to get the water right the way down to the paper/cardboard layer
Sheet Mulching Before and After
This warm season grass is to be removed, the soil is to be sheet mulched, and then the plants can be planted directly, or you can wait a few months to let the sheet mulching finish its job.
Ready for planting, or wait a while. Your choice.
In the next podcast we will be talking about how to capture water in your landscape.