Sheet mulching 101

Once upon a time, there was no house.  Prior to 2009, this site was your typical Laurentian bush – swamp and forest, thick underbrush from past logging with medium growth deciduous and coniferous forest.

Then a house was built – trees were cut, foundation was laid, and construction began.  Bringing in material is messy, and the remains of which can be seen even up to now.

Sheet mulching is a great way to reclaim eroded areas, tamp down majorly weeded areas, prep a garden bed site, and reclaim construction sites.  It can be used on flat ground, ditches, mounds, and slopes.  It can also be used to build up organic material where it is needed, or to level out uneven pieces.

The best time to do this is late spring/early summer or mid-autumn if you’ll be using transplants.  The roots will take better and as the weather is not as hot, won’t shock the plants.  If you’ll be straight broadcast seeding, this can be done any time of the year.

Here’s what you may need

  • newspaper – I grabbed a stack of the local free press.  the amount you’ll need depends on the area you’re planning to cover
  • cardboard UNWAXED
  • straw – spent and/or fresh
  • bark mulch
  • green mulch (grass clippings, green leaves, weeds…)
  • pitchfork, garden rake or hoe
  • transplants, seeds
  • watering can & water, or a functional hose if yours is able to go the distance (mine couldn’t!)
  • compost or mixed garden earth
  • a wheelbarrow

IMG_4137 .1.   IMG_4138 .2.

here we go!

.1. First I sectioned off the area I wanted mulch.  The little hutch is Loki Dog’s old doghouse; the earth was very compacted and, being in the Forest Edge, was full of gnarly and fibrous roots.  This area is a western facing slope.  The triangle in front of it is a previously sheet mulched area, broadcast seeding with red clover and a wildflower mix.

I began by lightly raking the ground and laying down a thin layer of spent straw.  As I’ve got a flock of ducks, I’ve got a lot of straw, but you can use whatever light mulching material you have – clippings, leaves, or weeds work really well.

.2. I then started laying out my newspapers, watering the paper as I went.  This creates a base layer of moisture and also prevents the papers from blowing away in the breeze as you lay them out.  Start in one corner and work your way to the other, making sure that the ground is completely covered.

 IMG_4139 .3. IMG_4140 .4.

.3. Once the papers were down, I lay another layer of spent straw on top.

.4. Depending on how depleted your area is, you can make this as thick or thin as you like, though at least covering the layer below as evenly as possible is ideal.  Here, I started covering the straw with a mix of Biosol and black garden earth.  My intent with this space is more “pollination station” than vegetable garden, so the material need not be so precise. 

IMG_4141 .5. IMG_4952.6.

.5.  Here is my process of transplanting – a nice variety of blooming plants!  Lupin, bergamot, oregano, iris, echinacea, daisy, angelica, lily, borage, rudebeckia, agastache, st john’s wort…Something for every season! Yellow, blue and white in the early season, with reds coming in late summer.  As i transplanted, I gently bermed up with more compost and finished with a mix of bark mulch and more straw in the pathways so we can walk around.

.6. this is a shot from mid-august, you can see some of the wild flowers in bloom.  I’ll be adding more in autumn as the flowers go to seed.

Always be sure to broadcast those seeds around to where you want them to go!



One thought on “Sheet mulching 101

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s