Over the years I have become the lazy gardener.
The husband and I have spent many hours over the years doing laborious gardening that included pulling up sod, digging and turning soil, moving stones and paving bricks, planting, weeding and near constant tending to garden beds throughout our landscape.
Forty years ago, it would have been nice if someone had spoken just two words that could have saved us so much effort, not to mention sore muscles and exhaustion. Those two words are newspapers and cardboard.
I learned about newspapers about eight years ago, and it has only been the past two years that I've heard about cardboard. Of course, I knew these things existed, but prior to being practically beat over the head with these items, I had no idea they could be used in the garden. Since I wish someone would have passed this information along to me sooner, I am now going to pass it along to you.
This isn't new. I've written about newspaper and cardboard many times, but it bears repeating because this is the time of year to start planning for next season. Have you wandered around your yard this summer and thought about putting a new flower or vegetable bed somewhere? Did the thought of digging and all of the extra work involved discourage that thought? If so, you need newspaper and cardboard.
Map out the section you want for the new garden. Remember there are no straight lines in nature, so if you are planning flowers or that potager vegetable garden I talked about a few weeks ago, think about curvy borders and asymmetrical lines. You can mark the space with either orange landscape paint, or you can simply lay out your garden hose in the shape you want. Using a garden hose is the best method because you can move the hose around if you want to make changes.
With a sharp spade, motorized lawn edger or any other tool you find sufficient, cut into the soil along the border. Wiggle the spade a bit to separate the lawn edge from the garden edge. Leave a gap if you can. That's probably the most work you'll have to do except for a little bending.
Take the cardboard or newspaper you have been collecting for several months or even since last year and lay it over the top of the new garden space. That's where the bending comes in. Don't worry about pulling up the sod or doing any digging. In fact, the less topsoil disturbed the better the garden will be.
If the wind is blowing even slightly, you can water the papers and cardboard with the hose to keep them in place. If you are using newspapers, put down at least four layers, although more is better. Anything less than four and weeds will get through.
Over top of the newspapers or cardboard, or a combination of both if that's what you have on hand, pile at least four inches of mulch. The finer the mulch, the better. I have used double ground bark mulch, but I have also used leaf clippings if it's late enough for leaves to have fallen, and I have used grass clippings as well. If you are an avid composter, toss on a couple inches over the newspaper and then cover it all with the mulch of your choice.
Now leave it alone. Don't do another thing until next spring. Over the winter, the mulch will have broken down a bit and the newspapers and cardboard will decompose as well. If you used compost, the earthworms will come up to feast and their castings will make fertilizer for your new garden. The grass or weeds beneath won't survive (unless you have particularly nasty weeds, like Canada Thistle, but that's another battle entirely). In the spring, you can visit a few local garden centers to find your favorite plants and start planting directly into the new garden.
Don't think this is a maintenance free garden bed. Such a thing doesn't really exist, and who would want that anyway? The mulch won't stop spring weed seeds from blowing into the garden and germinating. You will have to do a little work to keep the bed weed free, including perhaps laying more newspapers or cardboard and another layer of mulch in the spring. The edge you cut last fall might need freshened for the season. It's best to cut the edges twice a year, at the beginning of the season and again at the end. This not only makes your beds look neater and more professional, but it keeps root spreading weeds from ''jumping the ditch'' and crawling into your new garden.
The great thing about this type of garden is you don't have to break your back to build it. Nature will create the garden for you over the winter, and all you have to do next spring is provide the plants. Win, win.