Start a Lazy Garden This Earth Day

Starting an organic garden is easier than you think.

April 21, 2010

Don't disturb me...can't you see I'm creating a garden?

RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—The idea of starting a native flower or vegetable garden on Earth Day is appealing, but the process of digging up part of your yard, tilling up the sod, and letting things biologically settle down for days or weeks before planting can be a real green buzz kill. But have no fear! A one-day, instant-gratification garden is not only possible, but practical, explains gardening expert Lee Reich, PhD, author of Weedless Gardening (Workman Publishing Company, 2001).


Here's how Reich says you can start an organic garden today:

1. Find an area of your yard that gets at least eight to 10 hours of sunlight a day.

2. Mow the grass as low as your mower settings allow.

3. Cover the area you wish to garden (and the paths) with a cover at least four newspaper sheets thick; be sure to moisten the paper before you lay it down. That will allow the roots of your new plants to better work through the newspaper barrier and into the soil. Aim for three-foot-wide planting beds and 18-inch paths. You want a main path up the center, for sure. (Usually a 20-foot-by-20-foot garden is plenty big to start out with. In fact, it's best to start smaller.) The grass will start to die as soon as you cover it.

4. Cover your gardening area with at least two inches of high-quality, organic compost. Make sure your compost was not made from chemically treated weeds or biosolids (human sewage sludge). Avoid using any store-bought mixtures containing "wetting agent" chemicals, too.

5. To keep weeds down in your path area, lay down straw, woodchips, pine needles, grass clippings, or leaves.

6. Once this is all in order, "you can plant instantly," says Reich. You can plant your new flowers or vegetable plants or seeds right in the compost. Look for locally grown organic vegetable plants that you enjoy eating, and/or native plants. Just be sure to avoid invasive plants. (You'll want to wait until the danger of frost has passed, though.)

7. Use either a sprinkler, soaker hose, or drip tape to make sure that your vegetable plants get about an inch depth of water once a week—generally, that's one hour with a sprinkler on. (You may want to invest in a rain gauge to help you keep track, because people tend to overestimate the amount of water that falls during a rainstorm.)

8. "Occasionally, pull a weed here and there," says Reich, who swears by this no-nonsense gardening system. For more information on his techniques, read Weedless Gardening. For everything you need to know about starting and organic garden and keeping it lush, healthy, and fruitful, see