Gardening Tip for the Lazy—I Mean Busy—Mother

April 5, 2005 @ 1:19 pm | Filed under: Nature Study

Maybe everybody else already knew about this brilliant method of creating a new flower bed, but it was new to me last year, and my friend Lisa, gardener extraordinaire, said she hadn’t heard of it either. If you want to make a flower bed somewhere on your lawn, but you don’t have the time, energy, or inclination to dig up the grass, here’s a neat trick. Use a garden hose to outline the bed, then lay down a thick layer of newspaper (five or six sheets thick) right on top of the grass. Cover the newspaper with mulch. Lots of mulch. If you do this in the fall, by spring the grass will have rotted away underneath the newspaper, and voila, you’ve got your nice new bed ready for planting.

So claims Mrs. Greenthumbs, and I took her at her word. Except it was spring, not fall. Last spring, I wanted to extend the flowerbed that runs along my front walk. It was a boring rectangle, and I like curves. We had a lot of mulch leftover from another project and a mountain of newspapers in the to-be-recycled section of our garage. I followed Mrs. Greenthumbs’s instructions and turned that severe rectangular bed into a graceful double curve.

Of course then I had a funny-looking contrast between the empty new curves and the original bed full of spring flowers. On a whim, I bought a flat of moss roses (portulaca, my favorite flower) and planted them in the new mulch area on top of the newspaper. I just scraped away the mulch in places, made little pockets of potting soil above the newspaper, and stuck a plant in each pocket. I wasn’t sure if it would work, but it did. The moss roses spread all over the new section of the bed. I was thrilled.

Portulaca isn’t hardy here, so I planted bulbs in the new sections of the bed very late last fall. This year you can’t tell where the original bed ends and the additions begin. It has blended into one cohesive bed. I dug into the mulch and found that both the newspaper and the grass beneath it have indeed rotted away. It’s just a flowerbed now.

“Just” a flowerbed. Now there’s an understatement. The girls and I spent our morning painting (very bad) watercolor pictures of the hyacinths and anemones that are blooming between the withered stems of last summer’s moss roses. What a universe there is in that little crescent of land. Last year’s news is nourishing earthworms and windflowers, which in turn are nourishing the imaginations of small children. Not to mention their mother.


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  1. The newspaper under mulch technique also works well to discourage weeds after your bed is established. When mulching, I put a layer or two of newspaper under the mulch in areas that do not have plantings, by borders/edges and around trees and bushes, for example. It seems to deter most weeds for a year or two, although those pesky wild onions seem to be able to poke their way through anything.