Sheet mulching is an approach to soil conditioning that mimics the natural environment with layers of soil amendments similar to the layers of material deposited on the forest floor. The big advantage to sheet mulching is that people do not need to work the soil; they simply add layers of material and allow the material to break down over time. This technique can be used in many different environments and climates and does not require advanced gardening skills.
The first step in sheet mulching involves mowing or pushing down weeds and other organic material on site. Big logs and other large items should be removed, but everything else is left in place. Next, people apply a layer of enriched compost or manure to act as a jumpstarter to start breaking down the weeds, although this is optional. This is covered with a thick, weed-resistant barrier like cardboard or a weed barrier. The barrier keeps weeds from growing through the layers of mulch. People can cut holes in this barrier for existing plants they want to preserve.
On top of the barrier, a layer mixing compost and mulch material is applied, or people may apply enriched soil directly. Finally, a layer of leaf litter, straw, or other mulch is added. This will break down over time and provide a rich source of soil for growing plants. When planting in an area prepared with sheet mulching, people can dig all the way through the layers for large plants, adding some balanced and healthy soil for the plants to get started while the mulch breaks down. Smaller plants can often be planted in the compost/mulch mix above the barriers, with some added soil.
Sheet mulching tends to go quickly and it can be an efficient way to prepare ground for planting and landscaping. Weeds should be kept down for an extended period of time as long as the compost and mulch above the barrier do not contain seeds. Plants will thrive in the mulch as long as it has been mixed to their specifications; ingredients should be adjusted to keep the plants healthy and address concerns like pH balance.
This technique can be used in ornamental gardens, landscaping, and vegetable gardens. Sheet mulching is low maintenance, making it popular with highway crews working on medians and verges. Gardening supply stores often carry supplies for sheet mulching and people can also get things like manure and wood chips for free sometimes if they ask around in their community. People with horses may have manure to spare and materials like wood chips are sometimes available from companies that clear trees and brush.