I’ve mentioned before that my ground is rather more rocks than dirt, and what part is dirt, is mostly clay, so when I began looking into plans for landscaping, I realized digging down to plant was not going to work for me. For many reasons, people may have land that can’t be easily dug, whether it’s because of hardpan, rocks, other things that have grown in the space before (ie a pine tree that had been dropping its needles for a century) or even because all they have is a large slab of cement (yes, you can garden on that unused basketball court your children abandoned as they moved out).

There is a solution to all of these problems—it’s called lasagna gardening. This is a method developed by Patricia Lanza in response to her inability to keep up with weeding, tilling and the hundred other problems that traditional gardening includes. This method does away with tilling, much of the weeding and other work. Here’s how it works:

Find a sunny area in the yard. The more sun the better if you’re trying to grow vegetables, but if you just want a few flowers, you can plant ones specific to a shady garden, too. Don’t worry about clearing away grass, rocks, or even weeds that would cause serious problems in a normal garden bed.

What you do need to do is collect a large amount of old newspapers or cardboard. Lay it out on the space you’ve designated for your garden—make sure you soak it good and if you’re using newspaper, put down at least five layers, more wouldn’t hurt anything. I opened my papers and overlapped them. This step is to block out weeds—if you have a bunch of weeds there already, just stomp them down out of the way and lay the newspaper on top.

Both newspaper and cardboard will eventually deteriorate, but that’s just fine. Don’t use the slick commercial pages since they aren’t as good for this kind of thing. Some people will tell you to avoid colored ink pages as well because the inks used to have heavy metals in them, but pretty much all newspapers in the US now print only with vegetable-based inks. If you live outside the US, you may want to contact your newspaper and make sure they are printing with vegetable-based inks.

I called the local paper-delivery person, and they brought us a stack of papers that were extras. Another option is to get the newspaper end rolls. You may be charged a couple of dollars for this paper, but it usually has several hundred yards of paper left on the roll and if you are doing a long bed, it can be really convenient.

Next you start layering on organic matter: Compost, grass clippings, old straw, food scraps (nothing from an animal, ie meat, fat, bones or milk products), shredded leaves, peat moss, coir (a coconut shell product which is much easier on the environment than peat moss), shredded paper—almost anything will work just great as long as it’s biodegradable—even those cardboard egg cartons. Layer the ‘lasagna’ with nitrogen-rich layers interspersed with low-nitrogen items.

More information about planting and other benefits here.