Plant a garden without using your shovel

The easy way to plant a garden is to forget the shovel and digging up soil. Instead, place newspapers, leaves, grass, and compost on top of your lawn and let them rot.

Don't like to dig? None is necessary for this easy method of creating a garden. Start now and the area will be ready to plant in spring.
Cover a layer of newspapers with three inches of mulch to turn an area of lawn into a garden.

If you are up for starting a new garden, vegetable or ornamental, but can't stand the thought of all that digging, there's a solution: You can start a new bed anywhere in your landscape without lifting a shovel.

No-dig gardening is easy and it works. And fall is a good time to begin planning one.

Assuming you have a scrap of lawn where you want your garden bed to be, the basic idea is to smother the old and bring in the new.

Use a hose, or sprinkle flour from the kitchen to define your new bed. Lay out your basic idea of where you want your bed to be, but don't be stingy — garden beds look better the bigger they are. And think S-curves to soften the edges of a boxy back yard and add some style.

Cover the new bed area with cardboard or a two- to three-inch layer of newspaper to prevent the grass from poking through. Follow your first layer with layers of straw, compost, leaves, or grass clippings.

Keep the mulch layers moist by hitting them with the hose occasionally. All of the materials will not only choke out the lawn grass beneath them, but decompose over time, enriching the soil with humus.

You can tell when your materials are decomposing because starting out at a high of four to six inches, the materials will drop and become more or less level with the surrounding landscape.

In a perfect world, earthworms will pull your organic matter below the soil surface.

You can speed up decomposition by applying organic fertilizers such as fish emulsion, seaweed extracts, cow and chicken manures to your piles.

For ornamental gardens, plan to plant your shrubs and trees directly into the mulched area. Simply dig your planting holes through the mulch and don't disturb the surrounding bed. Leaving the surrounding soil mulched will help your plants settle in.

Vegetable gardeners might want to wait until spring — all the while adding more compost, grass clippings, leaves and organic fertilizers. You can dig under the entire bunch before planting a summer garden, or not.

The alternative is to include 3 to 4 inches of rich topsoil in the spring, and plant your seedlings in that. The sturdy roots of most vegetables will find their own way into the soil and the surrounding areas will remain mulched to prevent weeds, retain moisture and keep your vegetables clean.

Editor’s note: See also What's black and white and mulch all over?

For more on gardening, visit the Monitor’s main gardening page, which offers articles on many gardening topics. Also, check out our blog archive and our RSS feed. You may want to visit Gardening With the Monitor on Flickr. Take part in the discussions and get answers to your gardening questions. If you join the group (it’s free), you can upload your garden photos and enter our contests.

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