Sheet Mulching with Burlap

Sheet mulching is a great way to convert any grassy or weed-riddled area into a rich garden bed by layering compostable material over the area and allowing it to sit for several months.  This mimics nature’s organic cycle of accumulating fallen leaves that decompose over time, untouched, blocking out sunlight to prevent weeds from sprouting. It is also a wonderful landscaping technique.

Large burlap bags, especially coffee bags, work well for this job.  The burlap coffee bags generally come from Guatemala, Indonesia, Ethiopia, and Mexico, among other areas, and are offered to gardeners from distributors and retailers for reuse. Use them as a first layer in the sheet mulch process to:

  • Suppress weeds
  • Eliminate the need to till soil
  • Increase nutrients and retain water
  • Boost the population of healthy microbes and earthworms
  • Intensify soil fertility
  • Create better disease resistance
  • Maintain a garden without chemicals

There are some variations regarding how to sheet mulch effectively, but the basic ingredients include:

  • Large burlap bags
  • mulch
  • organic waste such as manure, plant material, and vegetable peels

Mow or cut down all existing plants that you don’t want to keep and pile them on top of the site. Begin by adding a layer of manure if you want to get a quick start with decomposition. This is full of micro-organisms to break down vegetable matter.

Soak the area well with water along with your natural fiber burlap bags. Lay the bags out to block sunlight out. The material will still allow air and water to flow through freely. Let them overlap just a little to be sure there are no breaks in between unless going around existing plants you intend to keep. These plants will need an opening around the root crown for air circulation.

More compost goes on top of the burlap to feed new and existing plants. If this is a decorative mulch bed without plants, you can skip this part.

Add three to five inches of mulch. This can include compost, grass clippings, seaweed, small branches from pruning, wood chips, or straw. However, most people prefer the look of wood chips or pine straw for the top layer.

You are ready for new plants or seedlings along with some garden soil. As mulch biodegrades, you will have to add more to protect the soil and maintain the appearance. Your plants should thrive with proper watering.

Burlap is a jute fiber product that has been around for ages. Untreated burlap is chemical free and safe for the environment because it is made from the jute plant. Sheet mulching is just one way to use it in landscaping and around the house.