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Boundless Landscapes

6 Things to Consider When Turning a Lawn Into a Garden

By Boundless Landscapes

I’ve made every gardening mistake in the books so you don’t have to!

By Jennifer “Fern” Deininger, Farmer & Gardener

When walking around the Front Range you may have noticed a significant number of homeowners transitioning their front yards into xeriscapes, vegetable gardens, perennial habitats, or pollinator gardens. There is an increasing number of first-time gardeners in the United States, and with that many homeowners have begun to replace parts of their yard with more environmentally- and socially-beneficial landscapes.

In fact, based on research from Bonnie Plants, more than 20 million Americans planted a vegetable garden for the first time during the COVID-19 pandemic.

For years I’ve worked with homeowners to turn their lawns into gardens and food-producing micro-farms, so below I’ve shared six things to consider before taking the leap.

1. Consider how light and water move across your landscape. Food-producing gardens often need 6+ hours of sunlight per day. When picking a spot to install a raised bed or plant your in-ground garden, look up. Try picking a spot that won’t be obstructed by large trees or shade from a house. If you’re doing this in the winter, keep in mind that your trees will likely cast even more shade once they grow their leaves in the spring. You’ll also want to consider how water moves across your landscape. I recommend picking a relatively level spot if you’re creating an in-ground bed or taking the time to carefully level your raised beds if you’re building a raised-bed garden. It makes a huge difference! If you’re planting in-ground, selecting a location where water doesn’t flow too quickly across your garden area in a rain storm will help slow erosion and prevent run-off from any fertilizers you use. Similarly, if you can avoid planting in the lowest spot on your property, then your garden will be less likely to flood in a rainstorm. 

2. Pick no more than one big landscaping project each year to make your installation more manageable. It can sound really enticing to go from lawn straight into having a beautifully planned garden with lush raised beds, trellises, mulched walkways, and mature perennial plants, but all of these things take time, money, and resources. I recommend homeowners start with one big project per year, whether that is removing the lawn, installing a few beds, or purchasing and planting ground cover. Perennial plants can be expensive and take a few years to establish, but purchasing a few every year will prevent overcrowding and is easier on your wallet! I recommend starting with projects that address the layout and infrastructure of your garden. This may include building raised beds, installing irrigation, removing your lawn, etc. 

3. Plan for visitors! I always try to plan for what sorts of beings may be visiting the garden. Whether it’s children, dogs, deer, aphids, bunnies, or squirrels, knowing in advance who is likely to visit your garden can help you select the right plants and the right protection. If children will be around, stay away from any perennials that may be toxic like sweet peas or foxglove. If you have deer that come around, try planting a border of deer-resistant plants like lavender, columbine, and larkspur. If you have a dog that loves to dig, then you may want to consider a tall raised bed rather than an in-ground garden. If you’ve noticed you have a large number of pests like Japanese beetles or aphids, planting insectaries (plants that attract beneficial insects) like cilantro, dill, cosmos, coreopsis, and yarrow is helpful!

4. Have a plan for irrigation before you dive in! Many perennial plants need frequent irrigation for at least the first few years in a garden and annual vegetables may require irrigation every day or every other day depending on many factors. Irrigation can seem daunting, but there are many great ways to water your garden (aside from lugging a watering can or hose around). Whether you tap into an existing irrigation system at your home, install a whole new one, or add a timer to a spigot and run your irrigation from there, I recommend reaching out to a professional who can help with the design and the installation. Irrigation mistakes can be costly and can cause damage and flooding in your home, so make sure to speak with a pro before diving in. 

5. Protect the soil! Healthy soil is the foundation of any garden. When removing your lawn, try to avoid compacting the soil or letting it sit bare in the hot summer sun. Soil needs air, water, and nutrients to be happy. Whether you’ll be planting in-ground or in a raised bed, I recommend aerating the soil and adding two inches of high-quality compost in the spring and fall. If you’re looking for a soil-friendly way to replace your lawn with a garden, feel free to check out our other blog post about sheet mulching! *Link to sheet mulching

6. Call before you dig! Call 811 a few business days before any projects that involve digging. Whether you’re planting a young tree or installing a fence, call 811 to make sure your underground utilities are flagged appropriately. 

I hope these tips help you make smart and budget-friendly decisions when considering turning your lawn into a garden. If you have any questions about taking this step, we offer garden-coaching sessions at Boundless Landscapes to help empower homeowners to get outside and try something new. We’d love to support you!

Sheet Mulching to Remove your Lawn: Why, When, and How

By Boundless Landscapes

I’ve made every gardening mistake in the books so you don’t have to!

By Jennifer “Fern” Deininger, Farmer & Gardener

Sheet mulching, also known as lasagna gardening, is an environmentally regenerative, relatively easy, and financially accessible way to turn a lawn into a garden. Sheet mulching doesn’t involve the use of machinery or tilling, but rather is a method of layering materials in your garden that compost in place (or “cook down”) over time to produce a rich, fluffy topsoil that is perfect for planting vegetables, flowers, and herbs.

Sheet mulching can be used to fill a shallow raised bed, replace a patch of lawn with healthy soil for an in-ground garden, or kill weeds around perennial plants.

After the initial work of sourcing and laying out the ingredients, the sheet mulch breaks down over a period of a few months. (The sheet mulched area will need a few months to decompose before planting it up.) Rather than having a patch of your garden covered in compost, grass clippings, and leaves over the peak growing season, I recommend starting this process in the fall and letting it decompose over the winter. Before we talk about how to do it, it’s best if we cover a bit of compost 101.

Composting is a process in which organic materials are broken down by microorganisms in the presence of air (oxygen) and water. Given enough air, water, and microorganisms, the organic materials turn into a rich mixture of nutrients and good bacteria. Compost holds water much more efficiently than regular soil or bagged gardening soils and sinks carbon into the landscape. Compost requires browns (carbon-rich items like black and white newspaper, dried leaves, sawdust, and straw) and greens (nitrogen-rich items like green grass clippings, pruned parts of your vegetable plants, uncooked vegetable scraps like the tops of a carrot, and coffee grounds) with at least three times as many browns as greens.

When sheet mulching, we layer “greens” and “browns” that then decompose and compost in place over time. If you were to cut into your freshly laid down sheet mulch, it would look like a lasagna or layer cake, but over time it turns into a fully integrated mixture of compost that is perfect for planting. It’s important to note that the sheet mulch will also shrink down over time, meaning if you start with eight inches of material, it will decompose into a few inches of soil over time.

Once you’ve decided where you want to sheet mulch, it’s time to layer!

Layer 1: Start with a layer or two of brown cardboard. This cardboard will suppress weeds and grass, retain moisture to aid in the composting, and is a great snack for our beloved friends, the earthworms! Watering the cardboard will help it stay down if you’re working on a windy day and will help it decompose faster. It is important to remove all staples and non-compostable tape from the brown cardboard prior to use. The cardboard you use should be brown, rather than dyed.

Layer 2: Add half an inch to an inch of greens. Grass clippings are readily available and work well. It’s best to use grass clippings free of pesticides and pet waste, so source carefully.

Layer 3: Three inches of browns, such as straw, fine wood chips, and black and white newspaper shreds. Just make sure you don’t use hay, which often has seeds in it!

Layer 4: Repeat with greens and browns until you’ve reached the desired depth.

Top Layer: The top layer should be a mixture of topsoil, compost, and mulch. 

Make sure to water your sheet mulch heavily and leave it to decompose! Topsoil and compost are readily available at landscaping supply centers and local nurseries. If you plan to do a large area, consider using a garden calculator to figure out how many cubic yards of material you will need. 

In an arid climate like Colorado where topsoil can take a long time to form in nature, sheet mulching is a great way for homeowners and gardeners to maximize their positive impact on their ecosystem.

It can take 100-1,000 years for one inch of topsoil to form in nature, but by sheet mulching, we can help speed up that process to a few months. Due to the dry nature of our ecosystem, sheet mulching works well when done in the fall so it has ample snow and moisture over the winter as it cooks down. Come early summer, your garden will have shrunk down in size, composted in place, and it will be ready for whatever is next!

Note: Do not add any meat, dairy, oil, eggs, or manure to the garden beds.

You can book One-on-One coaching sessions at www.boundlesslandscapes.com/learn where $5 from every session will be donated to DUG. Happy growing!

The Benefits of 1-on-1 Garden Coaching

By Boundless Landscapes

I’ve made every gardening mistake in the books so you don’t have to!

By Jennifer “Fern” Deininger, Farmer & Gardener

If you’d asked me a couple of years ago about doing online garden coaching to help people gain the knowledge and skills needed to grow their own food with ease, I probably would have expressed my doubts and graciously passed on the opportunity. But now I’m a true believer. One-on-one and group Zoom coaching with Boundless Landscapes has allowed me to support more people and at a lower cost to them than I ever could have if I was traveling from garden to garden to offer guidance. And, it turns out to be quite effective! A recent coaching client said, “Thank you for arranging our time with Fern.  It was really very helpful, not only for trying to figure out what to do with our spaces but for additional practical information as well.  We left the session feeling less hopeless and helpless.” Yes! That’s what I’m talking about. 

Some call me Farmer Fern—I’ve been growing food my whole life, and have a passion for helping others get comfortable gardening. Currently, one of the ways I do that is as a coach and educator at Boundless Landscapes. So many of us have been taught that the best way we can lower our carbon footprint is to do as little damage to our ecosystem as possible, but I would wager that we have that slightly wrong.

My goal is to empower people (whether they’re first-time gardeners or seasoned pros) to be as active as possible and to do as much good as they can in our ecosystem. For many of us (kiddos too!) that means getting our hands dirty, forming relationships with our surrounding environment, and sharing the bounty with our neighbors.

I was farming professionally with Boundless Landscapes when the coronavirus pandemic hit. Amidst all of the fear, grief, and turmoil, so many members of our community turned to the land for comfort. More people picked up gardening for the first time than I had ever seen in my lifetime. Seed stores were sold out, and nurseries were back-ordered for potting soils, mulches, and fertilizer. For the first time, many people were home enough to feel that they had the time to garden, and for others, there was a desire to grow their own food to help limit trips out to the grocery and protect against supply chain disruptions.

That’s where the one-on-one coaching comes in! This offering emerged out of the hunger for gardening-related information in the midst of the pandemic. Boundless Landscapes sprang into action to offer 30-minute, 45-minute, and hour-long sessions via video calls to discuss any and all things related to gardening.We help provide regionally-specific advice for new and experienced gardeners based on their specific microclimates, the time of year, and household budgets. 

I’ve been able to help folks plan their veggie garden, learn about cover crops, figure out how to harvest arugula and trellis tomatoes, and decide on how to fertilize.

There is a lot of lawn in this county, arguably a bit too much (Did you know lawn is the largest irrigated “crop” in the US and covers 40 million acres of land?), and at Boundless Landscapes we’ve been chipping away at it as best as we can! If I could personally go out and help turn every lawn into a garden or perennial habitat I would, but there just aren’t enough hours in the day.

Our goal is to help empower homeowners, neighborhoods, business owners, churches, schools, and whole blocks to go for it and garden. 

While growing food is not rocket science, it requires collaborating with nature and that is a messy (and beautiful) process inevitably full of challenges and learning opportunities. In our coaching sessions, I always invite curiosity about the things that “worked”, but especially about those that didn’t! I’ve had many gardening role models in my life who have kindly shared all sorts of wisdom with me—but probably the best thing I’ve learned from all of these folks is that it’s okay to make mistakes when gardening, as long as you learn from them, gather support when you need it, and share what you’ve learned with others! 

Turning your lawn into a garden may seem daunting but I’m here to help folks jump in and give it a try because the need is immense, the momentum is here, and our neighborhoods and communities will be so much better for it!

You can book One-on-One coaching sessions at www.boundlesslandscapes.com/learn where $5 from every session will be donated to DUG. Happy growing!

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