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Create a healthy growing environment for your new landscaping with the "soil lasagna" method. Graphic: Water Authority

Soil Lasagna Cooks Up A Tasty Landscape

Healthy, living soil is full of oxygen, water, and life to support your plants. This is the food your plants need to consume for good health. Creating healthy soil in layers is referred to as soil sheet mulching, or “soil lasagna.” It isn’t too much different than cooking a pan of lasagna in your kitchen.

Soil lasagna increases healthy microbes so much, they actually cook down the organic matter and start eating up old grass in your landscape as food.

All you need to do to encourage the active benefits of soil lasagna is keep it moist. The length of time for soil lasagna to provide the maximum benefits start to finish depends on the kind of grass you have.

Supply list to create your soil lasagna

With just a little investment of time and effort, you can create the healthiest foundation for your new landscaping. Photo: Goumbik / Pixabay

  • Shovels and rakes
  • Wheelbarrow(s)
  • Bins to hold removed grass and soil
  • Mulch
  • Landscape flags
  • Painters’ paper or large cardboard sheets
  • Compost, worm castings, or compost tea
  • Hose with a shutoff nozzle

NOTE: Consider first whether you need any digging permits. If yes or you aren’t sure, call DIG ALERT (8-1-1 or  800-422-4133) two days in advance. Check with your local water agency for any local water use restrictions.

Once you have checked for permits and any water use restrictions and remove your lawn, you’re ready to get started. Remember, use healthy removal methods to set your landscaping up for success. Expect to remove and haul away about six inches deep of grass and soil. Rent and fill a dumpster which can be picked up and disposed of responsibly later.

Dig a trench eight to 12 inches deep, about one shovel depth, and at least 12 to 24 inches wide around any hard surfaces and building foundations. You need to complete contouring for rainwater absorption and retention and any other work to hardscaping such as moving or installing patios, paths, and other features.

Use the landscape flags to mark sprinkler heads so you can find and adjust them later.

Layers supply the magic

Create a healthy growing environment for your new landscaping with the "soil lasagna" method. Graphic: Water Authority

Create a healthy growing environment for your new landscaping with the “soil lasagna” method. Graphic: San Diego County Water Authority

Add an inch deep layer of compost on top of the graded soil. You can also use humates, a freeze-dried compost available at specialty landscaping stores, or spray with compost or worm tea. You are adding an instant food sources and additional microbes to the soil.

Water thoroughly. Roll out your painters’ paper or cardboard. Overlap at the seams about six inches and be sure all of the soil is covered. At the hardscape borders, make a burrito of rolled paper and mulch to prevent grass from resprouting.

Water the paper, and then add another layer of compost if you wish. Rake a thick, six-inch larger of mulch over the paper and compost. Now it should seem obvious why this is called a Soil Lasagna.

Water again thoroughly. The mulch will absorb a lot of water before it becomes thoroughly soaked through.

When you are ready to plant, you can dig a hole right into it, cutting through any paper or cardboard that might still be there, planting into the delicious and healthy soil below. Allow as much time as you can so your soil develops more healthy microbes for your new plants. But you can plant right away if all grass has been removed and you’re short on time.

This article is part of a year-long series inspired by the 71-page Sustainable Landscapes Program guidebook. The Water Authority and its partners also offer other great resources for landscaping upgrades, including free WaterSmart classes at WaterSmartSD.org.

Remove Your Lawn the Healthy Way

The day has come to replace your thirsty, water guzzling grass. Before you remove it, plan your process carefully to leave only healthy living soil as the foundation for a beautiful, thriving new landscape.

Don’t just turn off your irrigation and let your grass turn brown as it dies off. Healthy microbes in your soil will die off along with the lawn. You want to work with those microbes to help create healthy soil for your new plants.

 

Soil Microbes-your lawn-healthy soil-Conservation Corner

Remove Your Lawn the Healthy Way

The day has come to replace your thirsty, water guzzling grass. Before you remove it, plan your process carefully to leave only healthy living soil as the foundation for a beautiful, thriving new landscape.

Don’t just turn off your irrigation and let your grass turn brown as it dies off. Healthy microbes in your soil will die off along with the lawn. You want to work with those microbes to help create healthy soil for your new plants.

Instead, keep your grass moist until you remove it. It’s also a lot easier to remove fresh, moist grass than to try and pry out dead dry grass and weeds in rock hard, dry soil.

Stay cool and save healthy microbes

Remove your old turf in a way that preserves valuable soil microbes. Photo: Water Authority

Remove your old turf in a way that preserves valuable soil microbes. Photo: San Diego County Water Authority

It’s tempting to remove your lawn through solarizing. Solarizing is sometimes used as a way to remove grass without chemical treatment. Instead, a covering such as a heavy black plastic tarp is placed over the grass. Sunlight heats the covering, which broils and kills the lawn through high temperatures. This heat also kills existing healthy microbes you need for healthy soil. It’s possible to artificially replace them with compost, but you need to invest in a lot of compost to restore the good microbes when grass is killed off and removed with this method.

When soil is solarized, it’s sterilized. It remains like this for weeks. Worse, it really doesn’t do much good. Opportunistic weeds move in quickly to try and take over the ground. These weeds don’t grow from existing seeds in the soil. These have usually been killed off. But without any competition, new weeds can arrive in a flash, and nothing prevents them from taking over.

Stay loose

If you use heavy equipment to remove your old turf, the equipment’s weight will compact your soil underneath. You need to avoid this. Minimize the use of heavy equipment and use walk-behind equipment with hand tools where possible. Use a tractor or scraper only where necessary.

Avoid tilling your soil. Tilling soil breaks up and kills your soil microbes. Without the microbes, you’re guaranteed to have those weeds pop up for a long time until new soil microbes develop.

Protect your trees planted in areas where the grass is removed. The key is not to damage their roots. Heavy equipment can destroy roots established by a healthy shade tree. Steer clear of the canopy area under the tree’s branches. Its root structure extends all the way out to the drip line at the edge of the leaves. Irrigate your trees generously during the removal process to help minimize root shock.

Save landscape trees from shock

Creating a DIY self-watering bucket will help prevent landscape trees from going into shock after surrounding turf is removed. remove your lawn

Creating a DIY self-watering bucket will help prevent landscape trees from going into shock after surrounding turf is removed.

When your new sustainable landscaping is installed, your previously existing trees may go into shock when irrigation is reduced overall in your garden. While it’s one of your watersmart landscaping goals, keep the trees watered during the first year after your grass is removed.

A good way to hand water your trees: Punch holes in a five-gallon plastic bucket. Fill the bucket, and set it down at the edge of the tree canopy, and let the water slowly seep into the ground. Repeat the process three to four times to water your beautiful mature trees. This mimics the natural rainfall Mother Nature provides.

This article is part of a year-long series inspired by the 71-page Sustainable Landscapes Program guidebook. The Water Authority and its partners also offer other great resources for landscaping upgrades, including free WaterSmart classes at WaterSmartSD.org.

Set yourself up for landscaping success by building the best foundation in your soil structure. Photo: walkersalmanac/Pixabay

Oxygen, Water, and Life Create Healthy Landscape Soil

Your landscaping soil needs three things to feed the billions of microbes within it to transform brick-hard, lifeless dirt into healthy, living soil sponges: oxygen, water, and life. Think OWL to remember these important, interconnected factors.

Oxygen lets microbes breathe free

Oxygen is needed by healthy plant roots and soil organisms. Healthy soil has lots of tiny little pockets of air. When soils are eroded, graded, or disturbed, their structure becomes compacted and hard. Compaction takes place when tiny air and water bubbles are squeezed out of the soil. This kills the healthy microbes working to keep your soil replenished. Microbes can be killed by fertilizers, pesticides, or even heavy traffic from people or vehicles. 

Water for your microbes and plants

Microbes and plans both need water to live. But too much water in your soil will displace oxygen, saturating the soil. This creates an anaerobic condition. It is the unhealthy microbes like bacteria, viruses, or parasites that prefer anaerobic soil. If this condition persists, diseases may develop. They will endanger the health of your garden.

Water is constantly moving through the soil. Water in the soil needs to be replenished as plants use it, as it evaporates from the soil surface, and as gravity pulls it down past the root zone of your plants.

Bring your soil to life

The microbes consume organic matter, and then they are consumed by bigger creatures (worms, ants, slugs, centipedes, larvae, etc.). They are consumed in turn by creatures further up nature’s food chain. Photo: Malcolm Fowles, Wikipedia

The microbes consume organic matter, and then they are consumed by bigger creatures (worms, ants, slugs, centipedes, larvae, etc.). They are consumed in turn by creatures further up nature’s food chain. Photo: Malcolm Fowles, Wikipedia

Life in the soil includes all the bacteria, protozoa, nematodes, and fungi, the food they eat, the excretions they make, and the root systems they sustain. Living microbes are most quickly incorporated into your soil by adding high-quality compost.

Plants attract microbes to their roots by feeding them carbon. Bacteria and fungi hold the soil together with microscopic glues and binders. The microbes consume organic matter, and then they are consumed by bigger creatures (worms, ants, slugs, centipedes, larvae, etc.). They are consumed in turn by creatures further up nature’s food chain.

Carbon and other nutrients cycle through these many life forms, creating healthy living soil, no matter what the soil type.

Without any of these elements, your landscaping will not thrive. Organic matter, planning and some labor may be involved, but creating healthy soil using the OWL method –  Oxygen, Water and Life – will pay off in reduced maintenance, reduced inputs, reduced pollution on land and in our waterways, and the beauty of your thriving, healthy landscape.

This article is part of a year-long series inspired by the 71-page Sustainable Landscapes Program guidebook. The Water Authority and its partners also offer other great resources for landscaping upgrades, including free WaterSmart classes at WaterSmartSD.org.

 

Take a Soil Percolation Test

In the San Diego region, rainfall can be unreliable and insufficient to sustain landscaping without careful planning and a little help. An alternate water source, such as irrigation, may be required.  

To make choices about the best, most efficient irrigation system for your landscape, it’s important to learn how well your soil drains.  

How does your drainage perform? 

Assessing how well water drains through your soil involves a simple percolation or drainage test. Follow these four steps: 

1) Dig a hole the size of a one-gallon plant, about 12 inches deep and 12 inches wide. 

2) Fill the hole with water and wait. Time how long it takes the hole to drain completely. This is needed to saturate the soil. 

3) Once the water has drained and none is visible in the hole, fill the hole with water again.  

4) Lay a stick or a shovel handle across the top of the hole, and measure the distance from the top of the hole at the handle or stick to the top of the water once every hour until it drains completely the second time. You may want to set a timer so you don’t forget to make your measurements. 

Percolation and soil quality 

If your soil drains more than four inches per hour: You have sandy soil. You need to add organic matter to improve the soil.

If your soil drains less than one inch per hour: Your soil needs extra help to drain. Try sheet mulching (link to page 19) 

If your soil drains from one to four inches per hour: Good news, your soil is a sponge and drains well. This is the goal.    

It isn’t difficult to build healthy, well-draining soil. Get our tips on how to create health soil here.

 

This article was inspired by the 71-page Sustainable Landscapes Program guidebook available at SustainableLandscapesSD.org. The Water Authority and its partners also offer other great resources for landscaping upgrades, including free WaterSmart classes at WaterSmartSD.org.