Which Sheet Mulching Materials Are
Suitable For A 'No Dig' Garden?

The technique of sheet mulching is used in 'no dig' or 'no till' gardening. You can choose from a wide variety of sheet mulching materials according to personal preference and availability.

The important thing is to combine them in roughly the right proportions.

Think of your no dig bed as a long thin compost heap and use approximately the same combination of 'brown', or dry, materials and 'green', or fresh ones as when making compost.

Brown materials are drier than greens. They contain more carbon and break down slowly. Green materials, on the other hand, are moist, nitrogen-rich and decompose quickly.

A ratio of three brown to one green is about right - but you don't have to worry about being too precise.

Many of the materials you can use can be had for free, or at least for very little money. So check out the lists below and look around your neighbourhood for likely sources.

Brown, Carbon-Rich, Sheet Mulching Materials


Use sheets of dampened cardboard at the base of your no till bed to form a weed barrier.

Torn up pieces of cardboard can also be added to other layers of mulch. It can be a good idea to mix some in with a layer of grass clippings which otherwise tend to bed down and become matted.

Your local store will be more than happy for you have as many old cardboard boxes as you want.

Fallen leaves

A good, free source of sheet mulching material that is readily available in most gardens!

Newspaper and shredded paper

Use sheets of dampened newspaper as a weed barrier, and use torn newspaper or shredded paper in thin layers or mixed with green materials. Don't overdo, though, as paper breaks down very slowly.

Straw and hay

You may be able to get spoiled bales for free from your local riding stables, livery yard or farm. If not, these are quite cheap to buy from agricultural or equestrian suppliers.

Hay is more likely to contain seeds which will germinate so bear this in mind.

Sunflower stalks, corn stalks and stripped corn cobs

You may be able to get hold of these if they are grown as crops in your area. They are quite fibrous and work best if you chop them up before use.

Wood chips and woody prunings

The large bark chips used for pathways and decorative mulches are quite large and take a long time to break down. Instead see if a local tree worker or hedge pruner would be prepared to drop off a load of chipped or shredded prunings for free.

Save the prunings when you trim your hedges. The thinner branches and twigs can be chopped up and added to your no dig bed. Avoid the thicker branches as they won't break down easily.

Wood shavings and sawdust

Your local timber yard or woodworker might be willing to provide these for free. Avoid treated wood.

Green, High-Nitrogen, Sheet Mulching Materials

Alfalfa or lucerne hay

Alfalfa, or lucerne as it is sometimes called, makes a highly nutritious animal forage. But it's not just good for animals - it's great for your plants as well!

Alfalfa hay is higher in nitrogen than other types of hay which is why it appears in the 'green' list. It is not available everywhere so if you see it, grab it! Just split the bale into pads or sections and lay these on the bed.

Animal manure

Rotted animal manure is one of the best mulches and really promotes good, healthy plant growth. Although it's brown it belongs in the 'green' list due to its high nitrogen content.

Use manure from herbivores such as cattle and horses. Your local farm or stables will probably let you have it for nothing so long as you are prepared to collect it yourself.

If you live near a zoo, see if they will let you have some manure from more exotic animals - many people swear by elephant droppings!

You can also buy ready bagged manure such as Zoo Poo and Cow Poo.

Comfrey leaves

Comfrey plants are known as bio-accumulators because they draw nutrients from the soil as they grow and store them in their leaves. Once cut and used as a mulch, the comfrey leaves break down rapidly making those same nutrients available to your crops.

To use, strip the leaves from the plants, wearing gloves to protect your hands from the hairy stems.

Take great care not to include any sections of root or seeds.

Garden compost

Like animal manure, finished garden compost is another brown material that is treated as green. It contains many beneficial organisms and substances that will kick start your no dig garden.

If you don't have any of your own, you can usually purchase green waste compost from your local recycling site.

Grass cuttings

A readily available green mulch. Thick layers can become rather dense and matted so, if you find this is a problem, simply mix in some 'browns' such as dry leaves or torn up cardboard.


If you live near the coast this can usually be had for free - but do check local bye-laws first. It is high in nutrients and makes an excellent sheet mulch.

Other materials

You probably won't have great quantities of these, but feel free to add them if they are available: raw fruit and vegetable scraps, tea bags and coffee grounds, crushed eggshells and wood ash.

Materials to Avoid

The following materials are all unsuitable and you should not add them to your sheet mulches:

  • Diseased plants
  • Persistent weeds, such as bindweed and ground elder, which regrow from tiny pieces.
  • Soot and coal ash.
  • Dog poop and cat litter can harbour diseases and parasites.
  • Glossy paper
  • Meat, fish, fat and cooked foods smell and attract vermin.
  • Lawn mowings contaminated with weedkiller.

Need More Information?

Read Ed's Secrets of a Successful 'No Dig' Vegetable Garden and follow me as I try the technique for myself and create my own no dig garden.

Ed also provides an explanation of how no dig gardening works.

For an overview of the ideas behind no dig gardening head over to no till gardening .