Transform your yard with this easy-to-build, no-till garden bed. Simply take off the top layer of grass or build on top of the grass for a healthy planting spot.

By Viveka Neveln
Updated March 22, 2021

Put down that shovel! There's an easier way to make a new flower bed. Similar to lasagna gardening, this method harnesses the natural forces of the weather, plus soil inhabitants such as earthworms, bacteria, and fungi to transform bare turf into a planting space. No digging, no sweat. After you layer newspaper and compost on top of the turf, and wait several months, the grass will decompose into 6-8 inches of topsoil. You can start this process anytime of year, but one good strategy is to do so in the fall so the soil can develop over the winter and be ready to plant in late spring or early summer during the growing season.

use shovel to remove grass layer for bin
Credit: Brie Passano

Step 1: Outline Garden Bed

Once you've decided where to build a new garden bed, mark the plot's perimeter with spray paint or a sprinkling of flour. Removing the top layer of sod speeds up the process so you could be planting a little sooner, but it's not necessary. You can just start adding your layers right on top of the grass.

pour layer of topsoil on newspaper
Credit: Brie Passano

Step 2: Build Your Layers

Spread a layer of newspaper six sheets thick so that the entire outlined space is covered. Using a garden hose, saturate the paper to help it break down. Plus, this will help it stay in place as you work. Next, spread 3-6 inches of compost on top of the paper. If you don't make your own compost, find a municipal source or substitute commercially available topsoil. Now, just sit back and let nature get to work, breaking down the layers of newspaper and killing any grass and weeds underneath. If you are letting the bed sit over the summer and you have a long dry spell, you may want to add some water to your layers because moisture will keep the decomposition process going.

fill area inside edging with topsoil
Credit: Brie Passano

Step 3: Edge Bed

Add landscape edging around the bed's perimeter to help keep turf grass from invading. Or, if you wish, you can use more decorative materials such as bricks, stones, or landscape timbers to enhance the look of your planting space. If the bed is large, such as a curbside garden between sidewalk and street, lay out paths before you plant.

Your new bed will need 3-6 months to develop. To check if it's done, use a trowel to dig down to the soil level. If you see any newspaper or turf left, let your plot sit for a few more weeks and check again. Once it's ready for planting, you can install drip irrigation or a soaker hose before you add any flowers. Then you can sow seeds or transplant potted annuals and perennials to create a colorful display where you once just had plain old lawn.

Comments (2)

March 9, 2019
Over 25+ years of gardening, most of my beds are done this way. After building, I top w/mulch, then move it over when ready to plant. Looks neat and tidy, and containers of plants can be set around on top of it until you’re ready to plant. Hope this helps.
February 28, 2019
how do you stop the dirt from flying out with every wind and rain storm until ready to plant?