A 9-Step Easy Sheet Permaculture Mulching Technique

Mulch is marvelous. It performs a variety of functions that help save the permaculture gardener time and effort, while providing the soil and plants with a great deal of organic matter, making for healthier soil and, thus, healthier plants. Permaculture Mulching refers to the covering of areas of soil with one or more layers of material. In a permaculture garden these layers are organic in nature, and the mulch benefits the soil in several ways. Firstly, it helps to preserve moisture in the soil by protecting it from excessive evaporation. Mulch also improves the health and quality of the soil by creating a stable environment for bacteria and microorganisms to function, as well as via the nutrients in the mulch itself, which are slowly broken down and added to the soil. Mulch also adds organic matter to the soil when it is used to control weed growth. It can be used to cover a crop you wish to get rid off, starving it of light, so that it dies and rots into the soil. Furthermore, mulch can help improve the visual appeal of a garden, covering bare earth and adding texture to the ground.

There are many different ways a permaculturist can mulch their garden. However, here is a step-by-step guide to a simple but effective version that is suitable for many locations. It is intended for plots that are at the start of a transition to a permaculture garden, and for larger areas that require mulching You can spot mulch around specific plants and trees, but remember to leave some space around the stem or trunk to prevent overwhelming the plant.

Step 1
Slash down any long grass and weeds. Leave the cut plants where they fall. They will add organic matter to the soil through the mulching process. Don’t worry about leaving weed seeds or roots on the ground; the subsequent layers of the mulching process will prevent them from re-sprouting by depriving them of the sunlight they need to photosynthesize.

Step 2
Once the slashing of grass and weeds has been completed and the cuttings are laid on the ground, water the area thoroughly. This is done because once the remainder of the permaculture mulching layers are applied, rain won’t be able to penetrate to the soil, so this watering gives the microorganisms that will be active in the mulch the moisture they need to function.

Step 3
Add some agricultural lime. This step is optional, and you need to make sure if you follow it that the lime is unadulterated with any inorganic materials, but applying lime helps to bind any heavy metals that may be in the soil so that plants – for whom such elements are detrimental – don’t take them up.

Step 4
This is the layer with the most ‘heavy-duty’ material. You will need some sheets of cardboard, old carpet, newspapers or any other organic material, even old denim clothing. The key is to have enough of the material to cover the area with the edges of each piece overlapping so no gaps are left. This layer performs two functions: it prevents weeds growing (which is why you want the layers overlapping, so there is no chink for weeds to get established in) and as it breaks down, it adds nutrients to the soil. This is why it must be organic matter and not, say, sheets of plastic or metal.

Step 5
Mark out paths. If you are mulching a large area you may need to access parts of it, for plantings, for instance, or to harvest fruit from trees within the area, so use bricks, stones or timber to delineate your access paths and prevent them being covered with subsequent layers of the mulch. The previous steps will still help the paths to remain weed-free and help build the health of the soil underfoot.

Step 6
Add any other organic material from the garden that you may have. This could be weeds taken from other areas, small prunings, or even food scraps. Anything that could be composted can go on this layer. It will all break down, adding organic matter to the soil and building up the humus in the topsoil.

Step 7
Add a layer of hay. You want to be aiming for a layer of around 15 centimeters in depth. This will get compacted over time and mingle with the organic matter below it to further augment the composting effect and so create more humus in the topsoil.

Step 8
This is where you add compost. This layer could also comprise rotted manure (preferably horse manure) if you have permaculture mulchingaccess to it. This layer is intended to provide an immediate source of nutrients to plants that you can plant directly into the mulch. It will also, of course, break down over time and release nutrients into the soil.

Step 9
The final layer will consist of more organic material, but it must be weed-free. You don’t want any weed seeds or cuttings in the top layer as they will have access to sunlight and so will be able to grow and establish themselves in the mulched area which is being mulched, at least in part, to get rid of unwanted plants! This layer could be straw, sunflower husks or rice hulls. You want to be aiming for a layer of at least 10 centimeters. This layer performs several functions. It helps to regulate the temperature of the soil, it provides nutrients, and it helps to prevent moisture evaporation from the layers below.

Once you mulch has been laid down, you can plant straight into it if you wish. You will want to give newly planted specimens a good watering, but they won’t need composting as they will be planted in one of the most nutrient dense parts of your garden.

Mulching is usually a required technique in at least some areas of most permaculture gardens. By getting a good organic mulch down, you are benefiting the soil, the plants and yourself no end.

65 comments

where do you get straw not sprayed with round up,harmony,or 24d

Ashley Rogers

Keith C. Zinn

Lisa Holton-Matthews

mulch while its still green….that way it will add nutrients!

It is important to know that too much mulch creates problems and mold issues, soil does like to breathe…..

PLease do mulch with GREEN product, it will rob all of the Nitrogen from surrounding soil and plants until it begins its decomposition process. It will kill your plants and possible trees. Green Mulch is good for pathways and places that you do not want things to grow.

that’s why you put it on NOW!!!

i’m a gardener & successful at it…I know not to over do it!

6 inches of mulch is not too much where I live, maybe in a warmer, more humid environment it would be but is fine here.

I think she meant do not mulch with green products. It will rob the nitrogen until it decomposes.

I mulch, therefore I am.

I move the wood pile now and then….and wow is there not only a good mulch on top, but lots of good soil under that!

Jest add King Stropharia mushrooms! 3:) (y) http://fungi.com

SO SO SO VERY VERY VERY TRUE TRUE TRUE 🙂 🙂 🙂

Some of this information will not work on arid lands soils. For example addling lime will exacerbate our naturally alkaline soils.

that’s where experience comes in…knowing how much & when is essential to a successful balanced garden…..I havnt overdone it in 40 yrs….I have been doing things organically for 5 yrs….the only way!!!

just know when, how much & what kind of mulch your using…..I have been using organic cow manure & mushrooms for five years with great success!!!

Lorrie Perencevic – thought you might be interested.

This is also called “lasagne gardening”.

gregoryblyons

Reading these steps over, I am reminded of a book I read long ago, Ruth Stout’s How to Have a Green Thumb Without an Aching Back, in which she outlines using mulch to accomplish great gardening without the traditional heavy work of soil-building and cultivation. Thanks for this excellent writing.

Pecan shells make a good mulch, Arlene Neft

Thanks, Candice Lee! Conrad says, “Yes, that’s what I do.”

Thom

In Spokane, I annually collect about 2-3 TONS of maple leaves in 20-30 lb bags. I wanted to use straw but cannot find non-sprayed. Oak leaves are the best for mulching and shredded leaves of any kind are best for both mulching (they break down over the winter) and composting. They represent a period of intense activity for me at the beginning of November but they provide a year around source of brown for composting and they protect the subsurface biome of my farm so I get a healthy start on planting the following year.

As Shakespeare said, “mulch ado about nothing”

That’s how I grow my potatoes, no backbreaking digging and the spuds come out clean.

Is this what I am supposed to do for my entire property? So everywhere I am going to plant I sheet mulch, then plant on top of it? Trees and everything?

It says you can plant into it….which I am guessing means moving away a small patch of the compost layers where the plant is being planted into the soil and then moving the compost back close to the plant when done….? I am thinking though that it might be wise to do this to a pretty good size area that you will want to plant the next season and let it degrade some first. What I have been doing is planting and then putting the compost around the plants. I hope this helps, sorry no one (with more experience and knowledge)from the page has gotten back to you for an answer.

Thank you so much for your response. The hard thing about doing it before would be the cardboard/carpet layer right? Having to dig into that to plant? I appreciate your help. I am going to change my entire property into a food forest and any advice is appreciated.

Mulch should be given protection from being washed away in storms or blown away by lawn equipment.

Know how conscious you are about food and farming industry- a friend of Chelle’s authored a book – it’s interesting “A Guide to Buying Farm Fresh : Eating Well and Safely in Upstate New York written by Julie Cushine-Rigg.

I compost & mulch everything that’s biodegradable back into my soil. Chop up the branches from my peach trees, etc….I chopped all my corn stalks back into the ground. Everything! My soil is very fertile.

john Wilson

There is very little carpet around which would break down as you suggest. It is mostly a form of plastic.

Margot

Nice, thanks! I’m an old hat Permie and read lots of these things. Always something new 🙂 A few things:
1. Re liming soil: it’s function is to improve the ph of the soil, which is often acidic. One wants alkaline soil. Best thing to do is test one’s soil first and add as needed.
2. I’d be interested to know why hay in one layer and straw on top?
3. I use straw right now, as a neighbour had a crop that he didn’t have to spray b/c it was a crop planted on fields that was fairly “fresh”, meaning that it hadn’t been planted, more importantly, plowed recently so wouldn’t have many weed seeds. They didn’t have to spray. Hay, to my knowledge, isn’t sprayed, but I think one would have to talk with the farmer about whether they use gmo seed… I’ve read recently that a gmo alphalpha seed has been developed (the buggers).
4. Andi, ~Is this what I am supposed to do for my entire property? ~ Short answer “YES!”, long answer is do this on a small area first, then observe observe observe! You’ll get hooked and want to do it everywhere else. Sounds like a lot of work but you could create community mulching bees, helping each other. My veg garden is due for a weed snuffing so I’m putting a workshop together 🙂

Ah but bark strips nitrogen from the soil right ? Meaning it doesn’t benefit for long term..

If I’m wrong then please say.. I’m not 100% but heard from knowledgeable source

I am pulling up massive amounts of ice plant. Can I put those back into the ground?

Over here on the West Coast we use leaves and grass clippings for the winter mulch on our garden beds 🙂

Use cedar mulch here in Central Texas – it packs well and the rolly pollys can’t hide in it!

Too much work. Layers are not necessary. Also Cardboard, carpet, and newspaper are potentially toxic. Do an in depth study of these “organic” materials before using them.

I see you’re a garden guy….taking after your parents.

Mark, this is awesome. I always just threw down mulch, this makes so much sense.

What about cotton seed/hull mulch? I’ve read pros and cons. I use layers of oak leaves from my neighbors’ trees, but when I had my big backyard garden I used combination of chopped oak leaves, old compost and by end of January tilled that in and added more mulch and sometimes a cover crop leavings. By Feb. here in Dallas, TX green peas could be planted and usually added spagnum peat or coir.

But not the permaculturist method.

Dont use dyed mulch.

I’ve exceeded my monthly click limit?

i got that too. ????

Thanks for the reminder.

Vermiculture rocks

I have a worm farm. It’s the soil I grow my food in.

My dad never used mulch, didn’t believe in it

YES! Shared

This is also called “lasagne gardening”. One Community: For The Highest Good of All

Great post, thanks! Just planning on turning our terraces into a permaculture plot so this is good timing for me. ‘No dig’ here we come!

Didn’t know about the lime. Good to know and I even has some. Thanks for the info

Norelle Hawkins

don

I live in east ky and have soil that grows anything-I use horse manure around my tomato plants and a few fish sometimes but I sure would love to have more worms for fishing

Thom

This is basically “lasagna gardening”. Layers of organics on top of a sheet mulch layer. A similar technique for bin composting. I use this a quarter of an acre at a time. It works GREAT! Because I have clay, which is a great holder of minerals, I till everything in for the first two years. After that I just add layers to the plot. Of course this works best on plots that you can wait 2 years to cultivate.

Unless you are talking about some antique woolen rugs, carpet is made of toxic chemicals and plastics that will never break down. It is a terrible thing to add to the soil in your yard. Use cardboard.

Patricia Lanza

Love the “no-dig, no-till” chatter. Lasagna Gardening is still a great selling book. Just saying!

accelv

Carpet is mostly nylon and other chemicals, right? Wool? Yes. But plastics?

If only there were more understanding of mulch… good article.

James Craft

Cortney Lee

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