The Easiest Way to Build a New Garden

by Gina Thomas

It may not seem like it, but now's the perfect time to start thinking of next year's garden. If you've got an area on your property covered with sod that you're eyeing for a new garden, preparing it now means rich soil with minimal manual labor on your part.


The year that I removed all the unruly junipers and yews planted at the foundation of my house, I used this technique to prepare my new front garden for planting. Because it was such a large area, I knew that getting those shrubs out, removing the sod to expand the bed, then planting the same year would be a backbreaking task that would take me way too long. Instead, I used the principles I learned from the book Lasagna Gardening to build the new flower bed, then let it percolate through the fall. By the next spring the soil was rich for planting. Here's how:

  1. Identify space to be converted from sod to a planting area.

  2. Mow grass as short as your mower allows.

  3. Use water hose to outline the space.

  4. Remember, curvy borders are more fun and visually appealing.

  5. Cover grass with layers of wet newspaper or wet cardboard.

  6. Cover wet newspaper with chopped-up leaves.

  7. Cover leaves with two to three inches of topsoil.

  8. Wait for spring.


Fallen leaves are a great source of organic matter that can be used to enrich any soil. I use a leaf blower/vacuum to blow the leaves into a huge pile, then switch to the vacuum setting, which pulls the leaves in, chops them up and shoots them into the attached bag. Chopping the leaves into smaller pieces means they will decompose faster. If you don't own a leaf blower/vacuum, you can run a mower over the leaves to chop them up, then rake them into your garden beds. If you live in an area with no access to dried leaves, you can also skip this step and simply put topsoil right over the newspaper.

Using this method to prepare a garden bed means that the sod and leaves break down like compost and during that process they are simultaneously enriching the soil. By the following spring, the grass, leaves and newspaper will be decomposed and your bed will be ready for planting. If you find pieces of leaves or newspaper that are not fully decomposed, don't worry, just plant right through them.