Sheet mulching 101 title image, hand holding mulch, San Jose Water logo

Sheet Mulching 101

Sheet mulching is an easy, affordable, and aesthetically-pleasing way to get rid of your water-hogging lawn once and for all. The layers of cardboard, compost, and mulch prevent weeds from growing, provide nutrients for the plants you want, and prevent the topsoil from drying out. Read on to find a simple step-by-step guide to sheet mulching.

 

Photo source: http://lawntogarden.org/how-to-sheet-mulch/step-four-layer-compost-and-mulch 

 

  1. Pick a day to sheet mulch your yard! You can do this anytime of year, but sometime in the fall is ideal because it’s right before the rainy season when your plants will get the water they need to get established.  

Pre-Mulch Prep:

  1. Collect lots and lots of cardboard. Keep boxes from when you order things online and ask your friends to do the same. Be sure to remove any plastic (tape, labels, etc.) from the cardboard before using it in your garden.

  2. Mow the lawn, but leave the clippings on the yard, since they’ll break down naturally with time.

  3. Remove bulky debris and invasive plants from the area you plan to sheet mulch.

  4. Soak the entire area with water to help the organic materials break down naturally.

  5. Using a shovel, slope the outermost 12 inches of your yard downward so that the soil is 3 inches below the concrete. This creates a catchment for any extra mulch and water so they don’t spill out onto the sidewalk.

  6. Plant all the large plants you’d like to have in your yard before you sheet mulch. Try sticking with native & drought-tolerant species. Once established they use little water and they support native species of bees and other beneficial creatures.  

 

Mulching Day:

  1. Lay down the cardboard so that it covers the entire chosen plot of land, working around the larger plants you’ve placed. Overlap about 6 inches to 1 foot of the edges of the cardboard pieces so that there are no gaps. The purpose of the cardboard is to block light from getting to the weeds. Without light, they won’t grow.

  2. Hose down the entire cardboard covered area.

  3. Cover all the cardboard in about 2 inches of compost. The compost is there to provide nutrients to the soil that you’ll be planting in. Make sure the compost doesn’t have any weeds in it, or they’ll grow back!

  4. Cover everything again with about 3 inches mulch. Make sure the mulch doesn’t have weeds in it either. Mulch is often made of wood shavings, hay, bark, and other similar materials. It prevents the compost layer from blowing away and gives your garden a finished look.

 

Post-Mulch Maintenance:

  1. To plant smaller plants in the landscape, clear the mulch and compost and cut x’s into the cardboard where you want to place them, and fold the points under to create a space for your plant. Make sure there is a little space around the plant so it doesn’t get suffocated under the cardboard.  

  2. Sheet mulching retains water in the soil, but young and freshly placed plants require some extra TLC. Especially at the beginning, pay attention to how wet the soil is and water as needed.

  3. Pull out weeds as necessary. If there are large patches of weeds, it may mean you need to rearrange the cardboard.

 

And that’s all folks! Once everything is settled and your plants are growing, you shouldn’t have to water your yard at all (or at least you’ll have to water it much less). We hope you have fun in your gardens!


 

For more information, check out these sources:

  1. https://youtu.be/4PB0Ym_iXmc 

  2. http://lawntogarden.org/how-to-sheet-mulch

  3. http://www.marinwater.org/158/Sheet-Mulching-Guide

  4. https://web.archive.org/web/20021210053204/http://www.agroforestry.net/pubs/Sheet_Mulching.html

  5. https://green-gardener.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/lyl-sheetmulching-1.pdf