How to - Gardening Resources

Create a new flower bed using a no-fail technique

Stephen Westcott-Gratton
Photography by
Mark Burstyn

This is a great time of year to make a no-dig garden using old newspapers.

The mere mention of removing turf grass for new flower beds is enough to give me a backache, so I've taken a particular interest in an increasingly popular, easier way to eliminate grass. It's been dubbed everything from “turf recapturing” to “lawn-busting.” The concept is simple: smother turf grass using newspapers, composted manure and mulch, and be ready to plant new beds within 60 days. An environmentally sound technique, it will also save countless visits to the chiropractor.

The best times for making a newspaper garden
Late summer or early autumn:
Decomposition will start before freeze-up and resume as soon as the soil warms up in early spring. Plan to install plants in late spring or early summer.

Early spring (as soon as the frost leaves the ground): Under normal conditions, the bed should be ready to plant within 60 days.

Where to begin
Step 1:
Begin by determining the perimeter and shape of your new bed, then mow the grass within the area to a uniform height of five centimetres. Next, spread newspapers over the mown grass (be sure to use newsprint-glossy paper doesn't break down nearly as quickly). It's essential to wet the newspapers thoroughly to hasten decomposition, so hose down each layer as it's applied until it becomes a soggy mat, two to three centimetres thick.

Step 2:
To further speed up decomposition, cover the soggy paper with materials high in nitrogen, such as blood meal and com­posted manure. Dust the wet newsprint with blood meal, just enough to make it adhere, then add a layer of composted manure about four centimetres deep. The manure helps retain moisture, weighs down the newspapers and supplies the beneficial micro-organisms vital for healthy, productive soil.

Step 3 (shown at top): To “seal” the concoction, finish off the area with five to seven centimetres of chunky hardwood mulch. This will hold the bottom layers in place and discourage weed seeds from germinating while the plot remains fallow. Some gardeners recommend using black plastic instead, but I find that it inhibits air circulation, which causes the layers to decay and putrefy rather than decompose naturally. Once sealed, thoroughly re-water the entire area.


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