Initially, my neighbors thought I was crazy. They would drive slowly by, watching me work. I was laying a thick layer of newspapers on top of the lawn and covering it with shredded bark. I was smothering the grass, but I wasn’t crazy. I was creating a new flowerbed.
When I planned the new garden I knew the lawn needed to go… but my arms ached just thinking about it. The traditional method of preparing a new border involves a great deal of digging. You remove the grass, and loosen the soil underneath by digging down deep. Once the soil has been churned, organic soil amendments are added. These could be manure, compost, or peat moss. The final step is to dig again, mixing and turning everything under.
But if there’s good soil under your turf, you don’t have to dig it up. Just smother the grass where it is, let it sit for awhile, and then plant your garden. And this is how it’s done: first, open up a newspaper and stack at least twelve open sheets on top of each other. Put this pile on top of the grass and cover most of it with five or six inches of bark mulch. When you put your next stack of papers down, overlap the edges on the previous pile so the grass won’t peak through. The bark-mulch hides the papers and prevents them from blowing away.
Let the area sit unplanted while the grass begins to decompose. The fall is an ideal time to do this because three or four months later, in the spring, you can start to plant. Just push aside the mulch, break through the newspaper, and dig a hole big enough for your plant. The smothered grass, newsprint, and mulch all break down over time, adding organic matter to the soil.
The lawn I covered five years ago is now a beautiful shrub and perennial border…and until I planted the shrubs, I never picked up a shovel. Now when the neighbors drive by slowly, it’s to admire the flowers.