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Make a Lasagna Garden in a Raised Bed

Sheet composting—also referred to as lasagna gardening—is an age-old technique often used to enlarge a perennial border or convert part of a lawn into a vegetable patch. In urban gardens faced with poor or contaminated soil, it’s also a great way to fill a raised bed with a healthy growing medium for edibles. Heavy feeders like tomatoes and peppers will love this nutrient-rich garden. Autumn, with its abundance of fallen leaves—a key ingredient—is a good time to begin. Here’s how to do it.

Build the frame.

You can vary the dimensions to fit your space, but a four-by-eight-foot bed, two to three feet high, is typically a good size. If a soil test reveals lead or other contaminants, lay down a layer of landscape fabric to prevent roots from growing into the contaminated soil while allowing air and water flow. Be sure to use non-pressure-treated lumber.

Lay down your base.

Begin with a layer of cardboard on the bottom of the bed, which will break down very slowly as it smothers weeds and soaks up moisture. Chop up some twigs, small branches, or hedge trimmings into one-inch pieces and layer them four inches thick over the cardboard—this will provide good drainage for the bed. Add an eight-inch layer of fallen leaves or straw, and then water your bed.

Continue adding layers.

Next, lay down two inches of well-rotted manure or compost. Then add about four inches of grass clippings or other yard waste, mixed with salad greens and coffee grounds. (Avoid adding other kitchen scraps, as these might attract rodents and other animals.) Cover this with a fluffy, eight-inch layer of leaves or straw. Then start all over again, layering brown materials, compost, and greens, until your bed is full. Water once more and leave it to decompose over the winter.

Prepare for planting.

When spring is near, you'll notice that the bed will have shrunk in bulk; simply add more materials to fill it up again. Come planting time, add a six-inch layer of soil and plant your garden. A little organic fertilizer like blood meal or fish emulsion will give it a jump start. Water deeply.

Do it again!

By the time you’ve harvested the last of your vegetables in fall, much of the organic matter will have decomposed, lowering the level significantly. To prepare your garden for the following year’s planting, begin the process over again, omitting only the cardboard base.

This article was originally published in Brooklyn Botanic Garden's handbook Easy Compost.

Jenny Blackwell is curator of the Discovery Garden and plantings at the south end of Brooklyn Botanic Garden.


  • Bill March 18, 2022

    I designed and my son built for me four corrugated metal/wood trim planter boxes to go on my deck. They are each about 4 feet long, 1 foot wide, and 16 inches tall. I thought I would waterproof the inside to keep them from rusting over time. But now I wonder if there should be some drainage, although I don’t want a lot of brown water on my deck. What are the pros and cons? Any suggestions?

  • [email protected] April 8, 2021

    Sounds easier said than done. I’m going to try it though. It makes sense.

  • Jon September 3, 2020

    Ry, I’m no expert but as far as I know for composting, you need green and brown material to get it started. Green material is full of nitrogen so I recommend using a nitrogen rich source of organic matter. Seaweed solution is great to feed plants micronutrients but is low in nitrogen. Try using granulated blood meal or alfalfa meal. I would avoid fish fertilizer emulsions because of the water content (great for feeding plants quickly, not great for putting nutrients into the soil long-term).

  • Ry July 12, 2020

    I’m keen to set up a couple of lasagna beds, but have no access to compost (other than buying it which I’m hoping to avoid). If I were to wet down hay with seaweed solution would that make it a “green” layer?

  • Beth Cusack October 10, 2019

    If I have a wood raised bed that is on legs off the ground, do you suggest a different lining at the bottom of the box? It’s not directly on ground. Is a layer of pea gravel helpful?

  • tom September 1, 2017

    Is it possible to make a lasagna garden with food scraps (vegetables and fruit) in an apartment? I’m thinking that there won’t be enough bacterial activity to decompose properly all the scraps.

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