The Joy of Landscaping

A Gardening Blog

Create Mulch Beds Without Digging

Tackling my new home landscape: Post 1

My last post indicated more to come as I tackle a new landscape with our our out-of-state move. Since the weeding and trimming mentioned was rather unexciting and will be a routine activity, I'm officially calling this the first post of the series.

The theme for Post #1, which will manifest itself in multiple ways over time, is "how can I reduce the amount of grass in my yard?" ( I'm just not a big lawn turf fan.) This was a much easier endeavor at our last house, where I could take out all of the grass in the postage stamp front yard in one day and replace it with a variety of shrubs and perennials. Not so when you are staring at an acre of grass just in the front yard!

No, total or even a majority removal is not going to be an option, and frankly, not desired. But there are some incremental options, some of which have other benefits. This post addresses one of these: expanding the mulch beds around the base of trees.

Our house has 2 cherry trees in the front yard that had minuscule mulch beds at their base (about 2 feet out from the trunk), with grass invading even that. Trying to cut grass under trees is not fun for either the cutter or the tree, and eventually the grass won't grow very well there anyway because of canopy shade. So it just makes sense to give the tree a wider berth with an enlarged ring of mulch. I chose to bring it out to 6' from the base, which gets closer to the drip line of the trees now. I think it now also looks aesthetically more pleasing in the landscape.

Here's a great tip that makes it a lot easier to do this in your own yard.

Tip: Expand (or create) bed without digging


1. Measure and mark out the edges of the new bed. Dig a trench at the edges to define your new bed.

2. Remove all large weeds. Cut the grass as low as possible within the new bed area.

3. Lay down batches of 7- 8 sheets of newspaper or newsprint to cover the area inside the bed. (We had a ton of packing paper from our move which worked great for this purpose). Avoid glossy colored inserts. Overlap the sheets.

4. Wet the newspaper.

5. Top with 3 - 4 inches of mulch.

That's it! The newspaper will suppress most of the weeds, kill the grass underneath, and eventually disintegrate. No herbicides needed, although you may have to use it occasionally on some on stray stubborn grass poking out. This is a good activity to do in the fall, especially if you want to add some annuals at the edges of the bed the following season.

If you want to use this method for beds that will be planted extensively with shrubs and perennials, do steps 1-4. Then put down a layer of compost and then some top soil or garden soil, followed by 2 - 3 inches of mulch on top. After a few months, you should have some great soil to work with for those new plantings. Even if the newspaper hasn't fully decomposed, easily cut it away from the hole where you will place the new plants.