Lasagna Gardening

The basics of a non-traditional method of gardening that is organic, earth friendly and easy.

| April/May 1999


An easy method of gardening that lets you accomplish more with less work.

Illustration by Elayne Sears

If someone told me years ago that he or she had found a way to do an end run around the sweat equity of traditional gardening, a way around digging, weeding, and rototilling, a way to produce more regardless of time constraints, physical limitations, or power-tool ineptness... well, I would have checked that person for a head injury. Yet such a system is actually possible, though I never would have believed it if I hadn't stumbled upon the basics myself.

Lasagna gardening was borne of my own frustrations. After my husband retired from the U.S. Navy, we began our next period of work as innkeepers. When the demands on my time became so great that I could no longer do all that was required to keep both the business and the garden going, the garden suffered. I'd plant in the spring, then see the garden go unattended. I needed a way to do it all.

Just when I was about to give up, it happened: a bountiful harvest with no work. I'd planted, late again because of a late spring. And again, when the seasonal demands of the business began claiming all of my time, my plantings were forgotten. In midsummer, I made a much belated foray into the garden. I had to hack through a jungle of weeds to find the vegetable plants—but what a payoff! I discovered basketfuls of ripe tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, peppers, and egg plant. True, there were also basketfuls of rotted, overgrown, and unusable vegetables (the product of neglect), but the abundance was truly amazing.

To gain some measure of control that year, I simply stomped the weeds flat in between rows and put down cardboard boxes to walk on. The harvest continued, with carrots, onions, garlic, and potatoes persisting among the weeds. Stout stems of collard greens pushed the plants up to tower above the mess, despite the native morning glory that tried to hold back growth. Lower-growing Swiss chard also persevered, though I had to cut out the shriveled leaves and pull a few weeds to get to the good growth.

Flower seeds, planted in a border around the garden in the spring, came up and bloomed. As I poked about that messy old garden, I found patches of basil, parsley, sage, and thyme that had done battle with weeds and grass and won. I was suddenly very excited about the possibilities.

And the timing couldn't have been better. The inn had caught on, making my time in the garden more limited. And, as much as I hated to admit it, I was getting older and losing some strength. I was by then living and working alone, so there was no one to run the tiller. I bought a smaller model but couldn't cope with cleaning the carburetor and mixing gas and oil.

4/30/2015 4:18:35 PM

I have a question. In the Lasagna gardening book she recommends putting a trellis with wild grapes on it near the garden, to act as a trap plant for asian beetles. How close should that be to the plants you are trying to protect? I have roses as well as loose leaf lettuce, both will be targets for the damn beetles. Thanks for any suggestions. Ted

Erin Greenhill
1/29/2013 7:28:43 PM

Hi Jessica... I'm not sure where you live that there isn't anything green? I think that there probably is green, you just have never had to find it before, maybe? If you have neighbours with lawns that bag the clippings, ask them if they're using fertilizer and if not, then offer to trade empty bags for full ones. If there are any community bulletin boards (local hall or grocery store) or online boards (freecycle-type groups are WONDERFUL because people want to give stuff away free!), or gardening clubs in your area -- all are great sources of help. Secondly -- ANY green matter is better than no green, and if you're eating non-organic stuff anyway, the teeny-tiny amount of fertilizer or pesticide that is left on the scraps really won't hurt your layers or compost bin/pile, certainly not as uch as not having anything green to add. You can also ask your local grocery stores for their green waste -- they ALL have a certain amount of produce that they throw out, and would likely be happy to save themselves the cost associated with disposal -- it's expensive to have dumpsters emptied by their trash-pick-up company! Coffee shops like Starbucks are also more than happy to fill a bucket or bag with coffee grounds to give away, all you have to to is ask (& offer to provide the bags or a bucket for them) -- they benefit by having less waste AND people are likely to buy a coffee while they're there. Another GREAT way to come up with your green layer -- grow your own "green manure". You don't need fancy food crop seeds from the greenhouse -- just buy dried whole peas or beans in the grocery store (NOT split peas, they won't germinate!) and soak them overnight, plant them, don't worry about having trellis because you're going to chop them down before they flower or produce anything. When they get tall enough, chop them off & you've got beautiful nitrogen-rich green matter. You can also grow them in this manner as a cover-crop to shade the soil & prevent erosion, then chop them to layer or compost. I hope that helps! GOOD LUCK!

Jessica Sahutoglu
1/10/2013 4:20:30 PM

I have 2 questions and don't know who to ask! I'm hoping someone here knows...(1) how do you test the soil when you are adding all this stuff - do you do it after you add it and it's all broken down or before somehow? (2) We only have shredded leaves in the fall when there's no green matter to be found: nothing's growing or being cut down. I don't want to add kitchen scraps as the green layer because there's not enough for the huge huge pile of shredded leaves we have and we don't buy organic veg so there are probably pesticides in there. I have no access to manure or anything like it. So I'm wondering if I can just put urine on the leaves rather than adding the green matter?? Would that work or is the green matter doing more than just adding nitrogen?

5/18/2012 6:41:11 PM

I am in the process of my 1st lasanga garden, everything going fine on building it, however, I dont seem to understand how to actually plant. I have tried to find the answer. I do have some seeds but we have starter plant in little pots about an 1″ high. Do I dig a whole all the way down to the earth and insert the tiny plant and then cover it? Or do I just dig down to the brown layer and plant? Do I cover up what I plant or leave it open. Please help. So excited to get started and want to do it correctly. Thank you for your time. Pollyanna

C Koehn
9/2/2010 3:59:36 PM

Anyone out there from the South who deals with nutgrass (a.k.a. sedge grass)? The lasagna gardening sounds like a super propagating bed for that!!! Also we have to be very watchful for termites where we live. I wonder if the layer of paper/cardboard would give a special invitation to them...? The third question I have is about the edges of this "stack"? Does it need something for a border? Will it wash out when our winter rains come? I appreciate any feedback!

Ted Apelt
4/17/2010 10:12:10 PM

Mike McGrath has this to say about using paper this way: paper is, sadly, problematical. Let’s take direct mail (which you probably call junk mail, but I don’t because it paid my mortgage the many years I was Editor-in-Chief of dear old ORGANIC GARDENING magazine). There are issues with the inks, with the coatings used to make the slick paper all bright and shiny and slippery, and with the paper itself—which was likely bleached and therefore contains some amount of dioxin Same with shredded office paper. No two papers are alike, and some are bleached with dioxin-creating chlorine. And while recycled paper is, I believe, a boon to the environment in many ways, it may well have been chemically treated to whiten it as well

Nicol Gilbert
4/29/2009 8:56:16 AM

I bought this book a few months ago, and I like some of the ideas in the book and I also learned some things that I did not know, or even thought about. And I have been gardening for 8 years. I am going to try this in a small part of my garden and see how it dose. I know that this idea has been around for a long time but many people have lost the technique not only for gardening but canning. So many people got used to going to the store and getting what then need and not even thinking about growing a garden or canning. Many people think that is the "old way" but now a lot of people are realizing that they have to go back to the "old ways" just so they can get through the hard times. And any ideas that they get to help them along the way is great.

3/26/2009 10:47:53 AM

So, if I did this in my own garden, I must be copying the Ruth Stout method? Even though I'd never heard of her or her technique?

Bill in Detroit
3/7/2009 4:50:37 PM

This article was reprinted, largely without change (including graphics) and absolutely without attribution at:

Bill in Detroit
3/7/2009 4:46:42 PM

And Ruth Stout was preceded by the Irish who were preceded by ... who were preceded by ... your point is? This information isn't, obviously, passed down through some sort of 'cosmic consciousness'. Many who have never heard of Ruth Stout will learn about this technique from Patricia Lanza ... and whoever follows her. @Stacey ... read the article again. The process uses several layers and is based on decomposition, not soil, for its success. But be encouraged, you only need to continue the process for it to be effective. The higher the stack is in the fall, the better the garden is in the summer.

7/7/2008 10:09:47 AM

I tried this, but I'm getting less than stellar results. I used two layers of leaves, and one final layer of topsoil. There might be too much acid from the leaves, and not enough worms. I've tried using fireplace ash on top of the soil, but I hope its not too little, too late. Ironically, my tomato patch that's just growing in Jersey clay is doing wonderfully.

10/27/2007 7:57:08 PM

It amazes me how people put a new face on an old idea and everyone things it was just developed. This is just the Ruth Stout method with a small twist. What is all the fuss about?

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