How to Sheet Mulch

The working group “Eat Your Yard” offered a workshop in which guest speaker Dot Perkins demonstrated the process of sheet mulching to community members and students from Colby-Sawyer College.  It was done at Colby-Sawyer President Tom Galligan’s home in New London, New Hampshire.  Being a permaculture idea, sheet-mulching is meant to work with nature instead of against it.  As a result, the sheet mulched beds are composed of nutritious soil and support a healthy ecosystem for the garden to flourish.  It takes the hard labor out of gardening and saves time.  This page will show to Sheet Mulch step by step  and how easy it really is.

Permaculture:  Is the conscious design and maintenance of agriculturally productive systems which have the diversity, stability, and resilience of natural ecosystems. It is the harmonious integration of the landscape with people providing their food, energy, shelter and other material and non-material needs in a sustainable way.¹

Sheet Mulching: In permaculture, sheet mulching is an agricultural no-dig gardening technique that attempts to mimic natural forests’ processes. When deployed properly and in combination with other permacultural principles, it can generate healthy, productive, and low maintenance ecosystems

Key Take-Aways:

  • Build it like a layer cake (or lasagna).
  • Add Lime for pH balance (NH soil almost always needs it).
  • Water the first layer of newspaper totally – fully soaked.
  • For every 2” of GREEN stuff (nitrogen) you need 6” of BROWN stuff (carbon)

Sheet mulching

Preparation:  what you’ll need:

  • Water (hose or buckets).
  • Grass clippings (GREEN fresh or BROWN dried out).
  • Fallen leaves (mulched, BROWN).
  • Branches, sticks, or twigs (hardwood is best for pH reasons) GREEN.
  • Cow manure or similar other natural fertilizer.  Considered a GREEN item.
  • Any additives: Lime, Azomite, Green Sand.
  • Newspaper or cardboard – no shiny sections or packing tape, just newsprint.

Steps to Sheet Mulching:

Evaluate the area to be sheet mulched.  Are you building up an existing area or starting a new gardening area?

Sheet mulching step 1

FIRST LAYER:  Wet Newspaper or Cardboard.Wet the newspaper completely.  It needs to be totally 100% soaked.

step 2

Newspaper should be laid “one section thick” or approximately 15 sheets deep.  Cover the entire area desired.

Use newspaper if you want quick decomposition and use cardboard where you want to smother.

  • If reclaiming an overgrown area, such as bramble, cover with Cardboard – it smothers the unwanted old vegetation as a slowly decomposing barrier.
  • If adding to existing garden and you don’t need to smother, use Newspaper – it will break down faster and allows the existing groundcover to be part of the process

SECOND LAYER:  Add Lime on top of the newspaper.

Step 3

THIRD LAYER:   Add 2” layer of dry leaves (BROWN). Mulched leaves are best because they decompose faster and do not provide as much potential home for unwanted spores.

Sheet mulching step 4FOURTH LAYER:  Add manure (GREEN).

FIFTH LAYER:  Add fresh tree branch clippings or sticks/twigs (GREEN).

step 6

SIXTH LAYER (optional):  Add Azomite fertilizer & Green Sand (potassium).

SEVENTH LAYER:  Add 2” more leaves (BROWN).  WATER everything again.

step 8EIGHTH LAYER: Add another layer of manure (GREEN).

NINTH LAYER:  Add layer of Grass Clippings (GREEN or BROWN either).

Step 10

TENTH LAYER:  Finally, spread a 2-4” layer of straw on top.   WATER everything one last time thoroughly.

Step 11

Step 12

If you want to place pathways between the sheet mulch beds, just lay down Cardboard and cover with wood chips over the existing soil.

Last step

In the Spring before you plant, use a pitch fork or similar tool to loosen the soil a bit.  DO NOT turn over or flip the composted beds, just stick the tool in a wiggle or pull to lightly loosen.



1.Elevitch, Craig; Wilkinson, Kim (1998). “Sheet Mulching: Greater Plant and Soil Health for Less Work” November 13, 2013.
2. Peterson, G. (2013). Here is a collection of definition by the elders of permaculture. In About Permaculture.RetrievedNovember 13, 2013, from

One response to “How to Sheet Mulch

  1. Pingback: Gardening Smarter With Sheet Mulching | Kearsarge Valley Transition Initiative·

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