Sheet Mulching Guide

Step by Step Guide to Sheet Mulching 
Tired of that water-guzzling, labor-intensive lawn? Sheet mulching is a technique designed to suppress weeds, improve soil health and reduce the need for irrigation. You can even sheet mulch over the top of your existing grass and create a new, water-efficient landscape.   

What is Sheet Mulching?
Sheet mulching is a layered mulch system that nurtures the soil and replaces existing lawns or other vegetation, eliminating the need to remove unwanted plant material. The first layer is a biodegradable weed barrier—usually cardboard or multiple layers of newspaper—placed directly on the ground. This is covered in a thick layer of compost and/or manure. A layer of mulch such as wood chips is placed on top. If desired, new plantings can be incorporated.

What You Will Need
  • Biodegradable weed barrier, such as cardboard or newspaper
  • Compost and/or manure
  • Mulch
  • Water
  • Wheelbarrow
  • Shovel
  • Rake
Rebates to help with your sheet mulch project
Get a rebate up to $50 from MMWD for organic mulch.

Get a rebate up to $2 per square foot from the State of California when you replace your thirsty turf with water-efficient landscaping.

More sheet mulch resources
Fact sheet: Don't remove your lawn … sheet mulch it! Learn about the advantages of sheet mulching compared to conventional lawn conversion.

Video: Convert your lawn by sheet mulching, a how-to video from StopWaste

Website: Lawn to Garden, a comprehensive sheet mulch guide from StopWaste
Step One
Measure the area and calculate quantities.
Knowing up front how much of each material is needed will help you complete your project successfully. Cardboard or newspaper should be overlapped at least six inches to avoid light penetration, so include that in your estimates. You will need enough compost or manure to cover the area to a depth of at least five to six inches. Use our handy cubic calculator to determine how much material you will need.

Step Two
Prepare the site.
Mow lawn very short, or flatten or chop down existing vegetation, leaving clippings on site. Remove only large woody plant material. The clippings and chopped vegetation left on the ground will decay and add nutrients to the soil. Add natural fertilizers and soil amendments at this point, if a soil analysis indicates the need. Soak with water before you cover, to start the natural process of decomposition. If you are planting large plants such as five-gallon and larger plants, plant them now. Smaller plants will be planted later. 

Prepare the Site

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Step Three
Add a biodegradable weed barrier.
The next layer is a weed barrier that breaks down with time. Recycled cardboard or thick layers of newspaper (five to seven pages thick) are most commonly used. Old carpets of natural fiber also work well. It is essential that the barrier is permeable to water and air. Do not use plastic. Overlap the cardboard or newspaper pieces six to eight inches to completely cover the ground without any gaps. If there are established plants you want to save, leave a generous opening for air circulation around the root crown. Walk on the barrier to get it formed to the ground and soak this layer with water. 

Add a Biodegradable Weed Barrier

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Step Four
Add compost.
Spread well-decomposed, weed-free compost or manure directly over the weed barrier, up to five or six inches.

Step Five
Add mulch.
Layer at least three inches of mulch on top of the compost or manure. Good materials for this layer include wood chips, tree prunings, plant debris, leaves, or straw. They must be free of weed seeds. This layer of mulch helps control weeds, retain soil moisture, and can give the area an attractive, finished appearance.

Add Compost & Mulch

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Step Six
Time to plant!
Punch a hole in the cardboard with a sharp knife or tool and place plants in the soil under the sheet mulch. Smaller plants can be planted right into the compost and mulch layers.

Additional Tips
  • Protect small seedlings from snails and slugs that will seek cover under the mulch.
  • Protect young trees from rodents by using physical guards.