So you want to ditch your lawn? We decided to ditch ours this summer (well, most of it). It was one of numerous projects we had planned for our yard this year, and if possible, we wanted to keep the cost of the project lower by doing the labor ourselves. After a little research and a little convincing, we decided to sheet mulch over our existing lawn. The result is a lower maintenance, lower cost, and more environmentally friendly yard. 

What is sheet mulching?

While there are variations in approach, sheet mulching boils down to a technique of layering cardboard and mulch to kill weeds and lawn by depriving them of sunlight. Some people substitute newspaper or paper bags for cardboard, and I think this could work for a smaller space. However, with newspaper or paper bags, you would want to put multiple layers of paper down for complete coverage. Cardboard is great because it is already decently thick. In some tricky spots, however, you may need to have multiple cardboard layers. Mulch can include a combination of compost and shredded bark. Some guides suggest adding a layer of compost between the cardboard and bark layers, however, others do not mention it. For cost saving purposes, we chose to skip the layer of compost in between. 

Why would you want to sheet mulch?

There are many benefits to sheet mulching. They include water savings, lower maintenance, and enriching the soil (e.g. carbon sequestering). The lawn and cardboard will break down under the bark over time adding carbon and nutrients to the soil. Additionally, the plants you choose to install in place of the lawn are an opportunity to add wildlife and pollinator friendly plants. There are also a number of attractive low-water and drought resistant plants that can thrive in your yard and reduce water use and costs. 

How did we do our sheet mulching? 

Here is the process we used, step-by-step: 

  1. Cap off sprinklers which will no longer be in use. Alternatively, use a sprinkler-to-drip conversion kit if you are going to be modifying your irrigation system. If you plan to use your current irrigation system, you can skip this step. 
  2. Mow & edge your grass as low as you can. This will make it easier to evenly layer the cardboard and mulch. 
  3. Lay out cardboard and wet it down completely. 
    • We did a combination of collecting cardboard boxes at home and from family and friends and buying a roll of cardboard. Buying the cardboard added to the project’s overall expense, but towards the end we were in a time crunch, so we decided to make the purchase. 
  4. Spread bark 3-4 inches thick.
    • We purchased shredded cedar bark from a local soil yard and had it delivered. We borrowed a wheelbarrow, so we could bring loads of bark from the front to the backyard. We then spread out the remaining bark in an even layer in our front yard.  
    • Some articles suggest contacting tree removal companies in your area to see if they will deliver wood chips to you for free. No guarantees, but it could be worth a call! 

We spread the work out over a few weekends. We spent at least one whole weekend prepping the area- capping sprinklers, laying out cardboard boxes, and ordering supplies.

The next weekend, we had the bark delivered. We were able to get a good chunk of it moved in one day. We had two wheelbarrows and two rakes (3 would have been better). One person loaded the wheelbarrows, while the other ran and dumped them.

Putting down the cardboard layer over the freshly mowed lawn.
Thick layer of cardboard boxes wetted down and temporarily weighted by rocks and stepping stones so it stays in place.
Bark delivery. 13.5 cubic yards was enough bark for a 3 inch thick layer in both the front and backyard.
Finished spreading mulch in the backyard.
Finished spreading mulch in the front yard.

What’s next?

In the backyard, the plan is to add a second garden box next to the first! Then in the front yard, we will be planting later this fall. I have an idea of some of the plants I want and have a rough drawing sketched out. I will post an update once the new plants go in!

Happy sheet mulching! 

References:

https://arboretum.ucdavis.edu/news/break-up-with-your-lawn-using-cardboard

https://ucanr.edu/blogs/blogcore/postdetail.cfm?postnum=18225

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

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