Sheet Mulching: The low-cost way to turn your lawn into a water-smart garden
Published: 13 May 2022
Many families use as much water on their lawns as the entire family uses indoors. Converting to low-water plants is simpler than you think.
Sheet mulching is the easiest and least costly way to transform your lawn into a low-water yard. You can easily do it yourself with cardboard, soil or compost and free wood chip mulch delivered at no cost by an arbor company getting rid of recently felled trees.
You can sheet mulch any time of year. Once you finish, wait at least three months before planting new plants to let cardboard and grass break down.
Pro tip: you may want to convert your sprinkler system to drip irrigation before you cover everything with cardboard and wood chips.
Step 1: Mow grass very short
Mowing the lawn leaves less grass to break down, speeding up the process.
Step 2: Dig trench along edge of lawn
Dig a small trench 6- to 8-inches wide along the edge of the lawn.
You will tuck the edge of the cardboard below the cement level to make the wood chips level with the pavement.
It's OK to leave the dirt you dig up on the lawn (as pictured). It will help the lawn and cardboard break down.
Step 3: Lay cardboard
Install layers of cardboard and newspaper directly onto the grass, then cover the cardboard with compost or soil. This will help the cardboard and grass break down under the layer of wood-chip mulch.
Add compost, dirt or soil on top of the cardboard to help it break down.
Spray down the cardboard and dirt with water before you add the wood chip mulch layer.
Step 4: Free wood chip delivery
Call a local arbor company to schedule free wood chips delivered at no charge. They will empty a truck full of wood chips onto your yard.
Arbor companies cut trees down daily and prefer to deliver them for reuse instead of paying to dump them at a landfill.
Step 5: Spread wood chips
Rake the wood chips around the yard, then wait at least three months for the cardboard to break down before you plant anything.
Step 6: Plan and plant
You can plant any time of year, but fall is ideal to help new plants survive because the ground is still warm, but the air isn't too hot.
Decide the types of low-water use plants you want: groundcover, flowers bushes or trees. Find California native plants that will survive well in our dry climate.
Once Year Later
This yard uses succulent ice plant green groundcover with purple flowers in summer for a swath of green that isn't grass.
It also has lavender, salvia, butterfly plants, purple lantana groundcover on the right in the foreground, a geranium and California poppies that appeared naturally.
The homeowners planted the young, low-water crepe myrtle tree before starting the sheet mulch project.