Any simple sheet mulching tips?

Today I received my first delivery of wood chips from chip drop. very excited to get started by sheet mulching my beds that will be planted in early April. I’ll be planting Haskaps, gooseberries, and black raspberries. my plan is as follows:

lay out flags to determine size of planting areas
cut grass/weeds back with action hoe
scatter compost at planting sites. .5 bag per plant.
fertilize 10-10-10 at planting sites
cover sites with cardboard
mulch 4-6 inches deep
set up rings of fencing around plants to prevent deer damage

I don’t have enough cardboard to cover the entire planned planting area so I’m thinking I’ll surround the plants themselves with some cardboard to prevent weeds and in the extra space between plants I’ll get thick kraft paper or something similar to prevent weeds.

thoughts? am I missing anything or am I including anything you would recommend I avoid. likely to get started next weekend.

When I did something similar this past year, I set my lawnmower as low as I could, then did another round with the weedwhacker to get the grass very short.

After that was a layer of paper grocery bags and lots of cardboard boxes. I highly recommend trying to source some cardboard for the entire area. I’m not suggesting you do any of the following :wink:

Dumpster diving behind any big box stores that would go through a lot of boxes regularly, including but not limited to beer stores, grocery stores, target /Walmart, appliance stores or Lowe’s /HD (might be a great option with really big boxes).

Alternatively and slightly less frowned upon, you could very nicely inquire at any of the above if you can have some of their boxes. Usually they have a giant bailing machine that compresses boxes into a giant pallet sized block but I’m sure you could get some before that process.

You could also check at a local recycling center and ask if you can up cycle some of their cardboard. A local recycling center near me offers free mulch and compost, so I’d imagine they’d happily give away cardboard boxes too. Calling ahead wouldn’t be a bad idea.

I did free horse manure compost about 4 inches thick and a thin layer of woodchips on top, laying both back from tree trunks to prevent rot.

I also added a bit of organic material to my planting holes but that is dependent on the type of soil you have. Make sure you research the fertilizer mix needs for each plant. I seem to remember very different requirements for raspberries vs haskaps for instance, but I could be wrong.


I use cardboard and craft paper to sheet mulch my food forest. I put a thin layer of biochar on top, some compost and 6 inches of wood chips
I don’t worry about mowing the grass any shorter than normal. The worms will turn the sod into dirt in no time.
By the end of the first season the sod was completely gone.
I am in zone 6a


Big box stores have let us take whatever hasn’t gotten baled yet on several occasions. Last fall during the pandemic, a drug store even let me take a compressed bale of a little of everything from outside the store. It filled my entire truck. There were even cigarette cartons in it, but it did the job. Beggars can’t be choosers. Craigslist is another source. An early snowfall had already flattened the weeds and tall grass, so there was no need to mow first. If your stack of cardboard gets rained on before you spread it, all the better. I pull off any cellophane tape, as I don’t know if it breaks down easily under mulch. Be sure to keep the cardboard weighed down with either mulch or an overturned wheelbarrow, or you will be gathering boxes from nearby fields or lawns! Ahem.


I should add that after about a year or two the weeds will grow through the cardboard and mulch , so it isn’t just a one-time fix. But it makes you feel good for a time.


id cover a much bigger area 2-3ft. bigger than where your planting. that way when the grass comes up on the edges it still will be far from your plants. dont fertilize your 1st year. it will actually set you back a year by stunting the growth. compost is good though. make darn sure when you plant you dont get the woodchips mixed in the soil or that also will stunt growth the 1st year or longer. you will need to add more wood chips yearly to keep weeds from growing in there. i add 4in every spring. good luck!


Mike, here is an example related to fertilizing I am thinking of.

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Consider deer fencing the perimeter of your layout vs individual plants. At least keep this in mind for the future which means layout plants in a rectangle or some regular shape that’s easy to fence.

The big box stores will have rolls of brown builder’s paper that I’ve used to cover the ground before laying down any wood chips. You can find it in the paint section. It’s also cheap… about ten bucks a roll for 400 sq feet of coverage. I also didn’t do anything with the underlying grass that was covered up. It just died and composted itself under the paper and mulch.

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What’s the best way to deal with an irrigation system? if you’re using drip lines, do the emitters go under the cardboard? or does all water just pass right through eventually? same with fertilizer, after the first year are you just putting fertilizer on top of it or removing everything, fertilizing, and then applying a fresh layer of protection?

The cardboard thing works surprisingly well as a weed barrier.

I’ve done it, but I don’t see the advantage of sheet mulching/lasagna gardening particularly.

I add urea commercial fertilizer to the pile of chips. About half in dry prill form, the other half dissolved in water. Disproportionately added the urea to the top half of the pile to try and compensate for the leaching of the N. Turn over the pile and do it again.

I paid for a soil test on the end product. The resulting pile was hot as they say, and rich in NPK. The trace elements were a mixed bag.

Visualize your end product spread on the ground six inches deep. Add the additional trace element ferts based on what would be the approximate square footage. Half at a time on each side, well watered in.

It was an expense paying for the soil test, but now I have a kind of recipe that I can replicatefrom one season to the next. The real-chemical-name micros are pretty cheap especially when you consider how little you use. Put the mellowed out end product out there.

thanks everyone for the help!

I don’t have a lawn mower or string trimmer so an action hoe is my best option but based on feedback it seems that can be an unnecessary step.

I’m planning on removing the 10-10-10 from my plan based on your feedback and instead adding in some composted cow manure to the compost blend I add directly on top of the soil. that seems consistent with new planting guides I can find, namely the cornell guide to growing fruit at home.

as for the cardboard I appreciate all the tips but I just don’t have the time to go out and source more. wife and I have little ones at home and work during the week is crazy busy right now. plus I’m high risk for COVID so we rarely leave the house as I’m not vaccinated yet. I bought a 600’ roll of #60 kraft paper that I’ll be using in conjunction with the cardboard that hopefully does the trick.

I’ll make sure to reapply mulch every 1-2 years to keep the weeds down.

my thought process for doing rings of fencing around individual plants was to facilitate adding netting during fruiting times for thorny plants like the gooseberries and black raspberries. the beds will be rectangular for ease of mowing around them.

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I can’t speak to fertilization but the thought behind sheet mulching is to not only improve poor soil quality and kill grass/weeds, but to reduce watering by maintaining soil moisture. I drip irrigate my veggie garden as I grow entirely in fabric pots to reduce juglone from neighboring black walnut trees but I’m not planning on irrigating my fruit bushes and just checking the soil moisture regularly and amending only as needed.