For a while now I’ve been meaning to post about converting lawns to low-water plants. We do it 2 or 3 times a year, and Anita and I have both taught workshops on the process. We convert the lawns with the use of sheet-mulch: a smothering layer of newspaper or cardboard covered by compost and mulch. It’s really easy and it works well, one of the few cases in life where the easiest way to do something is also the most effective.
Yesterday after the rain eased I did an irrigation checkup at a lawn we converted to plants two years ago. It was looking pretty good. There’s some bermuda grass in one area and some other weeds in a few places, but the lawn is long gone. Here are some photos of that project:
We first had the client stop watering the lawn for a month. EBMUD has a rebate program that gives $.50 for every square foot of lawn taken out and replaced with low-water plants and drip irrigation. If you’re going get a rebate, make sure you get them out for the pre-inspection before you stop watering; they only give rebates for removal of green lawns.
We covered the lawn with newspaper (cardboard also works) and a layer of compost or planting mix. We also cut away the sod at the edges next to the sidewalk and put those pieces of sod in a couple of piles covered with compost. Lawns tend to be flat and geometric, so we like to form a low mound or two for visual interest. The mound does not have be high — even 4 or 6 inches is enough — and it really helps banish the ghost of the flat lawn underneath.
We put out the plants and planted them through the soil and newspaper. The neighbors always think we’re crazy when we start covering everything with newspaper, but the arrival of the plants starts to restore their confidence.
Another way to do it is to put a layer of compost on the lawn, plant, put out the layer of newspaper, and then cover it with mulch. The newspaper is more likely to show if it’s on top of the compost, but you don’t have to deal with the newspaper while you are planting. We usually do the newspaper about 12 sheets thick and we try to make sure it overlaps by several inches. We soak the newspaper in a bucket of water before we lay it down so that it sticks together, like paper-mache for your yard. Compost or mulch needs to go on top of it as soon as possible to hold it down and keep it from blowing away. Thicker layers are better, but a lot of time we’re working close to a sidewalk where it’s not practical to make a thick layer.
These two photos are from soon after planting.
The next photo is from last year, when the planting was a year old.
Between the compost, the decaying lawn, and the remnant fertilizers from the lawn, the plants usually grow really quickly. The Luma apiculata (Chilean Myrtle) planted as a 1 gallon is already more than 8 feet tall after only 2 years.
StopWaste has a great step by step breakdown of the process and page with tips. Sheet-mulching is a little like cooking, everyone does it with their own slight variation, but StopWaste has a solid recipe.
Tags: sheet mulch
This entry was posted on Thursday, May 27th, 2010 at 11:20 pm and is filed under plants, private gardens. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.