The Case of the Shrinking Lawn

existing lawn

Existing Lawn

My lawn is shrinking, my lawn is shrinking!

Oh happy day.

We’ve been tossing the ‘lawn/no lawn’ ball back and forth for a while. We’ve reached a compromise and split the difference. Half the lawn in our back garden remains. The other half will convert to native perennials. I’m pretty excited. This change will reduce water use and attract native species to the garden.

After trying to dig up the lawn in our sidewalk strip last year, I learned it’s a slow and arduous task. I gratefully hired Nick to finish the job.

Imagine how thrilled I was when I read Diane’s post Undoing Three Years of Procrastination.  She explains a method known as sheet mulching, recently implemented in her own vast and beautiful Ontario garden. Instead of digging up the lawn, you apply layers of soil, cardboard,compost and mulch. They gradually decompose, and at the same time kill the grass, leaving rich, organic soil in its place.

Here are the instructions Diane used from Goodbye Grass, Hello Garden

Sheet mulching—a simple technique that involves layering cardboard, compost, and other organic material over the turf—kills the grass and leaves behind beds with rich soil. A considerable amount of organic debris goes into the bed construction, so stockpile plenty of autumn leaves, composted manure, and garden waste before beginning. Beds that are sheet-mulched this fall will be ready to plant next spring.

sheet mulching

Sheet mulching ingredients

Last weekend I did a big yard clean up and created two small  piles of organic debris. This morning I brought home about a dozen free boxes from a local market and we got to work.  We ran out of ‘ingredients’ before finishing, but made a good start.

garden sheet mulching

Half way there

I emptied both of my composting bins as a base layer, then transferred soil from the summer vegetable beds. That was enough to cover about half of the area. We added the layer of cardboard and then covered it with decaying leaves, pine needles and other organic matter.  Once I gather additional cardboard and organic material to finish the rest of the area, I’ll buy mulch for the final layer.

Thanks for the inspiration, Diane!

30 thoughts on “The Case of the Shrinking Lawn

  1. Congratulations for getting some movement on the grass/no-grass debate. Congratulations to Mike for his noble compromise – I remember you have said previously that he loves his lawn….

    What a good job you did – it will be exciting to see how the area develops and what wildlife it attracts into your garden. How are the squirrels doing?


    • You have an excellent memory. I will be sure to share your words with him, too.

      The squirrels are staying close by. It’s been so fun to watch. My younger son keeps his eyes peeled and we let each other know when we’ve had a siting. The established squirrels chase each other off when snacking on seeds, but the young family of five seem to stay closer together. They don’t startle as easy, either. Thank you for asking.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I love your solution to getting rid of the lawn! My dad has a huge, perfectly weed free lawn, and every autumn he goes nuts sweeping up the leaves, every other day so that the lawn doesn’t die. If he decides to expand his vegetable patch, I’ll tell him just to leave the leaves!


    • There you go! I’ve read that a well manicured lawn was once a status symbol, and it seems that a lot of men hang on to that. Do you think that’s why he keeps it just so?

      I considered adding vegetable beds but I think the perennials will be nice for the garden and won’t take as much water as the vegies do, especially during our hot summers when we have no rain at all.


      • The biggest patches of poison ivy are alongside the carport and yes, getting out of the truck in the middle of summer has the potential for contact. I’ve got a plan though … 🙂
        Some of the poison ivy was removed when the big trees came down last month. So that was good.
        The porch had to be put off until spring due to the illness of the contractor, but that’s okay as I’ll not be using it until then anyway. Although I teased him – he’s a friend and knows I was joking – and asked how dare he get sick when I wanted my porch built! 🙂


  3. I got as far as putting the cardboard down and had to leave. Who knows when I can get the job done. Want to be without a lawnmower asap. No real grass at my house just weeds. With your water problems, I’m sure it’s a good plan. If you end up not liking it that way, you can always reseed in wonderful soil but I doubt that will be the case. Thanks for all the good information. Your yard looks just wonderful. Mouse looks like he’s welcoming everyone to his home. 🙂


    • Oh hey! I must be the last to know about this cardboard method. I bet your cardboard has had a great head start with all that rain. We had a nice storm early this morning, with more to come tonight and tomorrow. I love it.


      • The rain came here too!!! More Tues, Wed. My house has freezing rain and snow flurries. Hate flying and riding in that stuff but it must be endured for all the benefits it brings. I was outside early this morning moving things that should not get wet. 🙂 Heading home tomorrow. 🙂


  4. Have you heard that saying (about busy people), “ain’t no grass growing under her feet” ? Well, that’d be you! Big changes are a lot of work but won’t that be a stunning view from your cozy patio in a short while. I see Mr Mouse was supervising the project, hehe. He secretly wishes his girlfriend was as hard a worker I bet. How long do you think it’ll take in California weather?

    I have seen this solution around before and wondered how long it’d take to turn cardboard into mulch here in Alberta, where summer temps are limited to maybe two months. I think it’s a great way to use up your compost bin. I used to add an Accelerator to my compost bin at the lake. They’re organic: bacteria, ground up food and proteins. Meant to heat up your compositor and there-by working faster. I think it worked well. I found it hard to be selective about what to add as far as amounts of grass clippings, leaves, ground up food etc. I’d pretty much wing it. The balance for optimum composting seemed to elude me. It took forever to break down. Part of the problem is the bin’s were not mixable or turnable. The county provided them at a discount but they weren’t designed well. I really love your drum and how it turns.

    Can’t wait to see what you plant. We have a very small spot of lawn, We hardly had to water much of anything this summer. With most warm days, comes a thunderstorm here on the prairies. We had a week I think with no rain and I watered then. I mostly only water my baskets and pots because they can dry up fast. Cheers my dear, it looks great already. xoox


    • LOL. I should rename my post. Ain’t No Grass…you’re so clever.

      It is a lot of work and unfortunately my shoulder and neck gave out and I’ve been in pain for the past few days. I went to Pilates this morning and she gave me several neck exercises and had me do things a bit different from the others to try to open up the neck. Darn if I’m not 22 anymore. I’m home with Aleve and my trusty heating pad.

      Yes, Mr. Mouse has excellent supervisor skills. He’s good at delegating. 😉

      I’ve read many ‘recipes’ for the perfect compost, but honestly it’s hard to get the perfect balance of brown to green. In the winter I have more of one, in the summer, more of another. I do like the drum. I also added a second composter made by Fiskar. It’s the size of a large oil drum, but made from plastic mesh. The bottom is open, and the top removes easily for adding. I turned it a few times over the summer, and was amazed to see hard-working worms making organic soil so quickly.

      The pots do dry out fast, don’t they. That’s why I abstained this summer. I missed it. I like fussing over the perfect annuals and having that pretty color on the deck. That said, it was fun using the Earthboxes for the pumpkins. They made a lovely screen until the bugs moved in. Ha!

      I remember the thunderstorms from Ontario and occasionally Millbrae, too. They are extremely rare here, probably because we’re in a valley.

      Your new place is just adorable. I can’t wait till you’re ready for me to visit. I’ve been looking at my Alberta calendar and thinking of all the beautiful places you have there, though none as beautiful as time with you.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Awwww xo (( you )) are so sweet. I’ve been thinking about your visit and what it should include and OMgosh, so much fun to be had. I hope we can head to the mountains for an overnighter at least. One crazy idea I had was for you to land in Calgary, I’d snap you up there and we’d drive to the mountains and then back to Edmonton. Calgary’s much closer. I guess we’ll have to see depending on how long you can stay….weeks would be good! ha.

    Sorry to hear you’re suffering from muscle aches and neck troubles. The pits hon. I hope your pilate’s techniques help. I’m feeling a little stiff from shovelling snow but it’s only because I never exercise. Yep, I’ll admit it, I’m terrible about it. I think I walk a fair bit and usually at a clip when I’m working. So I think my legs get a good workout. But my tummy is a sham. Do they make control swimsuits? LOL. You’ve got a great figure. That blue tank dress with the hanky hem looks great on you. I’d have to suck it in all day long. Let’s get back to the garden shall we, LOL.

    Who knew Fiskars made garden stuff? huh….those guys have an odd repertoire. Sounds like a good one. Hey? I saw once in some magazine, people using coffee bean hulls as a mulch in their garden. They looked really great but I don’t know where you’d find them. Most people here use cedar chips. Apparently the ant’s don’t like cedar. The ant’s had a hill in our window well when we moved in. I dug the whole hill out and put it into a box in the lane. It helped a lot but we still had a fair amount. I think they love the heat in the brick patio levels.

    Well, I seem to be typing up a storm here, LOL. off I go. Happy Sunday darlin’ xoxoxo


  6. I’m a big fan of going native. When I first built the house I’m living in currently, I decided not to do any landscaping for about three years. I wanted to explore what was here already and what trees, bushes and grasses would catch my eye. It was a good decision. A massive section of land has been dedicated to being nothing more than a wildflower and butterfly meadow. This is where my eye rests happily everyday. Although the section of nicely cut grass does make stargazing a tiny bit easier.
    I can only imagine what beauty you will bestow upon the new area in your backyard, Alys. An apple tree to complete the Garden of Eden??


  7. Pingback: Native Garden, My Left Foot and a Bit of Bad News | Gardening Nirvana

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