How to Layer Soil for Gardening

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No-dig gardens are built by layering garden soil.
No-dig gardens are built by layering garden soil. (Image: Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images)

If you think starting a garden is too much work, think again. You can start a garden without having to dig up grass, weeds or turn the soil. You can even layer a garden bed on concrete. All you need is a sunny spot and the right ingredients, and you can be growing fruits, vegetables and flowers. Layer those ingredients to build your garden soil lasagna-style, or layer soil and amendments into a raised bed. You will have healthy, nutrient-rich soil -- a barrier to keep weeds and grass from growing up through your garden and a raised garden that will make your gardening chores easier.

Things You'll Need

  • Garden border (optional)
  • Newspaper or cardboard
  • Garden soil
  • Manure
  • Grass clippings
  • Leaves
  • Compost
  • Fertilizer
  • Limestone
  • Mulch

Site Selection and Preparation

Select a site for the garden bed that receives six to eight hours of sunlight per day. Choose a site that does not collect water after rains or irrigation, if possible.

Cut the grass or any vegetation to within 1 inch of the soil level. Remove any large plants or weeds and their roots from the planting area.

Set up the garden border using edge stones or wood planks around the perimeter of the garden bed. This step is optional, but it will give your garden aesthetic appeal.

The Lasagna Method

Place a layer of 10 to 15 sheets of black-and-white newspaper or cardboard on the site. Use non-glossy, unprinted cardboard.

Add 2 inches of compost or moist garden soil on top of the newspaper. Add one 2-inch layer each of mulch or dried leaves, manure grass clippings and compost. You can also add wood ash, straw, peat moss and sawdust. Repeat the layers until the bed is 18 to 24 inches deep. Moisten the garden bed with water.

Let the garden bed rest for a few weeks. This will allow the decomposition process to take place without overheating the roots of tender young plants. Turn the garden bed to keep it aerated.

Plant starter plants in the garden bed by pulling apart the materials and placing the plant into the opening. Pull the materials back around the plant and water.

Spread a thin layer of garden soil or compost over the top of the bed to sow seeds. Sow the seeds directly on the surface and then cover with a fine layer of garden soil or compost. Water the garden bed regularly to keep the soil moist.

Layering Soil

Put a 6- to 8-inch layer of coarse soil or very sandy soil in the bottom of the garden bed if the site has poor drainage or if the soil is very compacted. If there is adequate drainage and is not compacted, use a layer of 10 to 15 sheets of newspaper in place of the sand.

Put a 6-inch layer of topsoil directly on top of the sand or newspaper. Cover the topsoil with 1 inch of manure, then 2 inches of peat moss. Mix the manure and peat moss into the soil.

Submit a sample of your soil mix to a testing facility, such as your local Cooperative Extension office, for pH and nutrient analysis. Mix in limestone and fertilizer as recommended by the testing laboratory. Add 2 to 3 inches of mulch on top of the garden bed.

Pull back the mulch, and dig holes for each plant. Place the plants evenly into the holes, level with the soil surface. Replace the mulch, but keep it 1 to 2 inches away from the plants. Water the garden bed as needed to keep the soil moist.

Tips & Warnings

  • The lasagna method of building garden beds is also known as sheet composting.
  • The soil in the garden bed will compact after one year and may need more additions of soil, compost, manure and organic materials.

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