Garden Soil Preparation Techniques: Sheet Mulching and Double Digging

Start a new garden with two easy soil preparation techniques! Transform a bare yard with sheet mulching, then increase productivity with double digging.

| February 2012 Web

  • Getting ready to sheet mulch the lawn at a public park.
    Photo By Trahten Heckman/Daily Acts
  • The double digging process enhances soil tilth and productivity by creating open space in the soil for downward root growth. Once your bed is dug, avoid stepping directly on it, as that compacts the newly aerated soil.
    Illustration By Marco Aidala
  • Once you've sheet mulched, shape and form your beds as needed. This entire yard was sheet mulched after cement was removed and soil was amended. Bringing fresh compost, mulch and straw to the site created these garden beds.
    Photo By Erik Ohlsen
  • Sheet-mulching is a layering of compost, cardboard, and mulch over a lawn or other area in preparation for making a garden. Sheet mulching harnesses the power of worms and composting microorganisms in the soil. Cardboard keeps the light out to kill the lawn or weeds underneath; worms eat through the cardboard to get to the compost, turning and conditioning the soil as they go, thus doing most of the hard work for you.
    Illustration By Marco Aidala
  • Piling on the cardboard over the first layer of mulch goes quickly when done in community. This front lawn was sheet mulched in less than three hours by this homegrown guild.
    Photo By Trathen Heckman/Daily Acts
  • “Urban Homesteading” is a must-have handbook for city folk with a passion for the simple life. Readers will find concise how–to information that they can immediately set into practice, from making solar cookers and growing tomatoes in a pot to raising chickens on a tiny plot and maintaining the mental serenity of country life in the fast–paced city environment.
    Photo Courtesy Skyhorse Publishing

Across the country, city dwellers are taking part in the urban homesteading movement by ripping up their lawns and installing food-producing gardens. In Urban Homesteading: Heirloom Skills for Sustainable Living(Skyhorse Publishing, 2011), authors Rachel Kaplan and K. Ruby Blume explain how two gardens soil preparation techniques, sheet mulching and double digging, can transform a bare yard into a new garden with great yield. This excerpt is taken from the Chapter “Urban Dirt Farmer.” 

Two Methods of Garden Bed Prep: Sheet Mulching and Double-Digging

There are many ways to start a garden, even on a spot that has never been gardened before. If you have a patch of bare land, or a bit of lawn, you can reclaim and redesign it as a food, herb or flower growing landscape. Sheet mulching and double-digging are two methods for reclaiming the land for growing. They tend to the soil in different ways but don’t think of them as an either-or proposition. Sheet mulching can be used to quickly transform a lawn or bare yard in a garden. Double digging can be used subsequently to increase the yield and productivity of the garden. Using both methods will be the most thorough way to prepare whatever soil you’ve got.

Sheet Mulching



The front lawn must go the way of the dodo. No longer will we spend our time in submission to the manicured lawn, wasting water and energy. Turn your lawn into your lunch! Sheet mulching reclaims the lawn with an organic “lasagna” of cardboard, compost, and mulch. This is a low-effort way to create a garden bed while adding fertility to the soil. You can do this project in an afternoon with some friends.

Easy Sheet Mulch Recipe 



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