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Vegetable Garden Preparation Using Litter and Cardboard

By Heidi Almond ; Updated September 21, 2017
You can start a new garden with scrap cardboard.

You may think that the only way to start a new vegetable garden is to laboriously dig up the sod and weeds to get down to bare dirt. But there's a simpler, no-till method of beginning a new garden called sheet mulching, sheet composting or lasagna gardening. With lasagna gardening, you smother out the existing vegetation with cardboard and then alternate layers of organic matter like leaf litter and compost to build up a new garden surface from scratch. Lasagna gardening requires some patience, but very little labor.

Cover the area where you wish to install a new garden with a single layer of corrugated cardboard. You can also use six to 10 sheets of newspaper. Avoid cardboard and paper that is glossy or printed with colored inks.

Wet the cardboard or newspaper thoroughly to prevent it from blowing away while you are working and to hasten decomposition later.

Spread an inch or two of compost or topsoil over the cardboard. Compost and topsoil can be purchased in 50-pound bags at any garden center, or you can get a bulk delivery from some landscaping companies.

Cover the compost or topsoil with an inch or two of dry, brown material, such as fallen leaves, dried grass clippings or shredded straw.

Continue alternating layers of compost or soil and leaf litter until you have built up the surface of the soil by 6 to 8 inches.

Wait three to 12 months for the cardboard and leaf litter to break down before planting in your new garden. You can plant into your garden immediately, but you will need to dig through the cardboard with a shovel. If you choose to plant right away, plant vegetable starts rather than seeds, and avoid planting any deep-rooted vegetables, such as carrots, for the first year.


Things You Will Need

  • Corrugated cardboard or newspaper
  • Leaf litter or other dry, brown materials
  • Compost or topsoil


  • Lasagna gardens are often begun in the fall so that they may be planted the following spring.
  • You do not need to mow or remove any existing vegetation before laying down your lasagna garden, although if the area is very weedy and overgrown it may be easier to work in if the grass and weeds are cut short, first. Leave the clippings in place to decompose.

About the Author


Heidi Almond worked in the natural foods industry for more than seven years before becoming a full-time freelancer in 2010. She has been published in "Mother Earth News," "Legacy" magazine and in several local publications in Duluth, Minn. In 2002 Almond graduated cum laude from an environmental liberal arts college with a concentration in writing.