Sheet Composting Process: An Easy Step-By-Step Guide For Beginners

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Sheet composting is a very good way to practice organic gardening. If you are following our articles you must be aware of what is a compost.

Gardening generally involves backbreaking hard work like digging out the existing plants and weeds, tilling and amending the soil, and then put the plants. Sheet composting tries to remove some of the hassles by doing it smartly.

Sheet composting is a very good way to practice organic gardening. If you are following our articles you must be aware of what is compost.

Now, for making compost you need to store composting ingredients in a pile. This for an urban gardener is not very good news. Generally, in urban areas space is a major constraint. Sheet composting solves this problem.

This post will give you an idea about how to use sheet compost to your benefit.

What Is Sheet Composting:

In sheet composting, you don’t heap the composting ingredients into a pile and wait for them to get decomposed, rather you put them directly on the soil. Some compare sheet composting with making lasagna because of the ways the ingredients are arranged.

The basic principle of sheet composting is that when you layer the ingredients together, they turn to suppress the existing weeds and convert them into compost. The ingredients also amend the soil and add nutrients. The best part you can start planting while all this happens in the background. This saves a lot of time and effort.

Why Use Sheet Composting Methods:

  • Sheet composting is a very good process if your garden soil is of poor quality.
  • As you don’t turn the pile continously, like in traditional composting, you don’t disturb the soil organisms and the earthworms. so the soil ecosystem remains intact.
  • It also saves the soil from erosion.
  • The liquid from compost sips down and enriches the soil beneath and don’t get wasted under your compost bin.
  • Sheet composting is a very good way to reinvigorate a garden.
  • It is a lot less time and effort consuming than traditional composting. You save a lot of the work of moving compost ingredients from garden to the compost pile and, once the compost is ready, back to the garden.
  • You can use this procedure on well-turned vegetable beds as well as on lawns.

When to Use Sheet Composting Methods:

You can use sheet composting on a large as well as on a small scale. It is a great way to

  • To convert a lawn to a flower or vegetable garden.
  • Renovate a poor garden bed.
  • Protect your garden soil and put the garden to bed for the winter.
  • Make excellent use of the fall leaves.
  • Cope with fall garden clean up chores.

Main Ingredients:

The following are commonly used materials for sheet composting

Common Nitrogen sources:

  • Used coffee grounds
  • Composted manures
  • Alfalfa pellets
  • Vegetable scraps
  • Fresh grass clippings
  • Cottonseed meal
  • Soybean meal/blood meal

Common Carbon sources:

  • Sawdust
  • Dried Leaves
  • Cornstalks
  • Pine needles
  • Peat moss
  • Newspaper/cardboard
  • Straw/hay
  • Wood chips

In short, you can use the same materials that you would use in a traditional compost or worm bin.

How to Prepare Sheet Compost:

Here are the step by step guide to prepare sheet composting:

  1. First, remove any grass or weeds from the space where you want to apply sheet compost. If you are using a mower, apply the lowest possible setting. You can keep the clippings it will be a compost ingredient.
  2. Next, apply cardboards to cover the entire area. While putting cardboards make sure the pieces overlap so they prevent sunlight from reaching underneath. You can also use newspapers in place of cardboard to cover the area. Newspapers are very thin so make sure to use at least 6-8 pages to make the layers thick.
  3. Now, add at least a 2 inches layer of compost, well-rotted manure, or grass clippings. This layer will be full of nitrogen-rich components.
  4. After the nitrogen layer, the next layer should be carbon-rich components. Choose materials like wood chips, sawdust, dry leaves etc. To fill this layer. This layer will also be 2 inches thick.
  5. Now, put nitrogen layer and carbon layers alternatively till you reach a height of 2-3 ft. Initially, the height may seem a bit high, but it will start shrinking down once the decomposition starts.
  6. Lastly, spread a thin layer of soil, compost or straw on top of the sheet compost. This will hold everything in place till it is ready for planting. Once the decomposition process finishes you can start planting.

For an area that hasn’t been dug before, turn the soil to a depth of two feet for aeration and smooth water movements.

Moisten each layer, then wet everything again. Watering each level is important, it will encourage the microbes and other soil dwellers to start working on the layers.

Once you finished layering cover the layers with a plastic sheet, so they do not go flying in the wind. The plastic sheet will also speed up the decomposition process.

When Can you Plant:

Sheet composting is a slow process compared to traditional composting. As the layers are spread across very little heat is generated. Generally, a sheet compost bed can take more than 6 months to decompose sufficiently to allow for planting.

After this period, the layers decompose to the point that you can no longer recognise the original materials. The compost will smell like fresh earth.

If you start your sheet compost in the fall it should be ready to plant by spring.

If you are really in a hurry to plant, make sure you plant into the soil rather than into the decomposing material of the sheet compost.

Sheet Composting Vs Mulching:

You don’t need to confuse sheet composting with mulching. The basic difference between the two is that mulching is used basically (even if you use organic materials) for weed protection and to retain water.

Though it also boosts up soil quality, it is not the primary focus of mulching; whereas primary focus of sheet composting is to boost the soil quality.


Sheet Composting is an easy way to expand a garden with a minimum amount of equipment, material, and time. The only tool you will need for sheet composting is a spade or a tiller.

Try to use a balanced mix of Carbon (C) and Nitrogen (N) when adding to the soil. You can read more on why C/N ratio is very important for composting in this post.

Please remember, you have to add the ingredients a couple of months before planting. As these ingredients are not decomposed while mixing in the soil, it requires a couple of months to degenerate and to release the nutrients.

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1 thought on “Sheet Composting Process: An Easy Step-By-Step Guide For Beginners”

  1. Hi Prasenjit,
    That’s a good idea to write about mixing the composting material with the soil.
    I live on a 1/2 acre suburban lot with a large compost pile. After composting, I mix in a variety of chemicals and then create a new soil to replace the debris that the contractor used to create my yard. It’s a slow process. After 20 years the method seems to have worked out well.
    You might want to read my discussion of this soil problem and its solution at my blog posting in Sept. 2017

    Thanks for the fine posting!


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