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! Turning a lawn into a garden

 
gardener
Posts: 2024
Location: Olympia, WA - Zone 8a/b
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This week’s blog post is all about turning a lawn into a garden. These days a lot of us are wanting to grow more food but often the best spots are covered in grass.

In the blog post – How to Transform Your Lawn into a Garden – I cover 3 different methods you can use to turn a grass covered area into a garden.

Let’s dive into one of those methods here.

Sheet-Mulching



Sheet-mulching is my go-to method for turning grass into new growing areas. The above picture shows a new garden that I built for my kids. Not that long ago it was all grass and now it’s growing food. For that specific garden I used a combination of sheet-mulching and hugelkultur to make it. Though as far as hugelkultur beds go it's very small.

Sheet-mulching at its most basic involves putting down a layer of material like cardboard or paper over the existing grass that will breakdown overtime.

On top of this you have 2 main options:

- put down a layer of compost/topsoil
- or put down a layer of mulch

If you put down a layer of mulch you won’t be able to plant directly into it. You will need to pull the mulch back and add some soil/compost in the open area and then plant into that. Poking a few small holes into cardboard/paper first to give your plant roots space to grow through.

Though this will also make it easier for the grass to come up through the bottom layer so to be safe make sure the soil/compost is at least 6 inches thick.

It gets a lot easier if you just put soil/compost down over the cardboard/paper and then apply mulch later after you plant. But this does mean you will need a lot more soil/compost to finish your new garden.

Sheet-mulching does work best if you can do it early and then wait (at least 3 months) for the cardboard/paper to breakdown and for the grass below to die and start decomposing.

Other Options



While sheet-mulching is a great option the blog post covers 2 other methods for turning a lawn into a garden that while more work can achieve better results in the short run.

- Double-digging
- Building raised beds

These 2 methods take more upfront work but will give you more immediate results than sheet-mulching will. You could use 1 of the above methods to quickly get more garden space for this growing season while also sheet-mulching other areas for late summer planting for a fall harvest.

Expanding your garden areas overtime can be a great approach!

But the 3 methods outlined in the blog post are not the only methods that can work to turn your lawn into a garden. I would love to hear what methods you have used!

And don’t forget to check out the blog post to learn more about the other 2 methods mentioned here.

While you are over on the blog most make sure to leave a comment! If you are the first to do so you will get a piece of pie! The pie will get you access to some special features on perimes, discounts at some vendors, and you can use it to purchase some products on the permies digital marketplace.

If you leave a comment on the blog post make sure to leave a post here on permies too so I can easily give you the slice of pie.

And don’t hesitate to ask any questions here. I’m happy to help!
 
Posts: 2
Location: Twin Cities, MN
urban chicken
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Hello, I did this several years ago; my problem is the darned weed called grass didn't torally die off. Now I have a lot of perennials planted and am trying to get ground cover to take the place of the grass, so really can't start over with the first method, and if I double dig probably uproot things I'm meaning to grow, right? The whole area is surrounded by cement so I was a bit disappointed the grass roots stayed alive. Any solution you can think of? Or just continue to uproot what I can as often as I can?
 
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Thank you so much for this. It has details I've been scouring the internet for. I've put a lot of time into research and videos but I'm rather new to this far as actually doing something, this year is surely the time to get to it. Just imagining what picturesque view the world would be if people had already if not for decades now grown and tended to their lawns instead of constantly wasting resources keeping down a grass desert. :\

Also I have shared around this website so the traffic should increase. Along with Geoff Lawtons permaculturenews.org stuff. Got to get this ball rolling.
 
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Currently slowly double digging and trench composting in our yard. My poor back.

Heavy clay soil and st Augustine grass are my number 1 nemesis currently. They’ve superseded the rabbits eating my seedlings and transplants.
 
master pollinator
Posts: 1827
Location: 4b
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Karen Douglass wrote:Hello, I did this several years ago; my problem is the darned weed called grass didn't torally die off. Now I have a lot of perennials planted and am trying to get ground cover to take the place of the grass, so really can't start over with the first method, and if I double dig probably uproot things I'm meaning to grow, right? The whole area is surrounded by cement so I was a bit disappointed the grass roots stayed alive. Any solution you can think of? Or just continue to uproot what I can as often as I can?



I have had pretty good success with putting cardboard around the perennials as well as you can and covering with more mulch.  If they are very thickly planted, then it is almost impossible, but if you have room to put cardboard down and 6 inches or so of wood chips, you can get ahead of it again.  It's an ongoing battle for me in my forest garden though.
 
Posts: 147
Location: Vermont, USA
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I'm with you, Karen.  Grass feels like the enemy!  I do like the post-garden-building suggestion of more cardboard and six inches of wood chips, though, from Trace.  

I commented on the blog post, along these same lines.  My grass issue was with double-digging, though.  Grass is so hard to smother.
Staff note (Daron Williams):

Thanks for the comment on the blog post. You were the first so pie for you!

 
Posts: 142
Location: Providence, RI, USA
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Great thread!

There are a bazillion ways to transform a lawn into a garden. I've been doing this sort of thing for years. The most common concern I hear is people worrying about what the neighbors will think. My neighbors think it's great! When I'm out working in the front yard, people are constantly stopping to say how cool my yard looks. When I'm not out there, I often hear curious chatter through the windows like "What do you think that one is?" or "Look at those tomatoes!" If you do it right, it doesn't have to be something you apologize for. Everyone loves seeing plants, and the edible part is intriguing to them. It's funny though, neighbors often tell me that they will stick up for me if anyone complains - which is sweet of them, except that I am not worried about it. It's not like I've left an old washing machine on my front lawn! The time has come to just do what you know is right and stop worrying about it. :)

Below is a quick video from my YouTube channel showing part of my most recent transformation (from last summer). If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me through my website's contact page: FoodForestCardGame.com

 
Anne Pratt
Posts: 147
Location: Vermont, USA
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Great video, Karl!  and beautiful mulch.  I'm going to the website to check out your plants.
 
Daron Williams
gardener
Posts: 2024
Location: Olympia, WA - Zone 8a/b
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Karen – Yeah, that can happen and I have had that issue myself in a few places. If it’s not too bad I just weed out the grass and add more mulch over those spots. This can work but often I have to keep up at it for a while.

The other thing I have done is pull the existing mulch back and add new cardboard/paper down and then put the mulch back on top. I’ve only had to do this in a few places when there was just too much grass coming up.

This has happened to me in 2 situations. Either I try to plant too quickly into the sheet-mulched area before all the grass has died or I didn’t put the mulch down thick enough. These days I try to wait longer before I plant (doesn’t always happen) or at least put the mulch down a fair bit thicker if I know I can’t wait.

Mike – Thank you! Glad that the post was helpful and thank you for sharing the site!

Erin – Yeah, double digging isn’t fun. I don’t do it often but it’s effective. Good luck with your work and don’t push too hard! Easy to do—I have some chronic back issues too and I’m always having to remind myself to slow down.

Trace – Thanks for sharing! I have done the same using newspaper. Sometimes it’s easier to get it down around existing plants than cardboard but either option works. Thanks again!

Anne – Thanks for the comment! Yeah, it really can be hard to smoother. I have learned my lesson with not overlapping cardboard enough on the edges and not putting down thick enough mulch.

Karl – Thanks so much for sharing! Really appreciate it!
 
Posts: 105
Location: WV
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Thank you for the very informative article.  I’ve added three new raised beds this year and have two more to go.  I’m also sheet mulching another area that will eventually be home to a majority of my perennial crops such as rhubarb, asparagus and horseradish.
 
Karl Treen
Posts: 142
Location: Providence, RI, USA
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Anne Pratt wrote:Great video, Karl!

Thanks Anne! So nice if you to say! 😀🌻
 
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