Gardening without digging: saving time and benefiting the soil and plants

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No-dig gardening, in its simplest form, involves mulching the soil with compost, rather than laboriously digging it up, stimulating the soil’s natural ecosystem.

This no-till gardening method has many benefits, which can save gardeners time, as it avoids spending hours weeding and digging over flowerbeds and borders.

It will also help you grow bigger and better plants and crops, so add it to your list of garden ideas and get started in the #nodig garden movement.

What is the no-dig gardening method?

No-dig gardening is a type of permaculture gardening where you don’t till or dig the soil.

A popular method for an organic vegetable garden, no-till gardening can also be used for ornamental flower bed ideas.

“No digging leaves the soil untouched, and instead you feed the masses of soil life with organic matter on the surface, as it happens in nature, to maintain drainage and aeration,” explains the no-dig gardening pioneer and world authority on the subject, Charles Dowding.

Organic matter, such as homemade compost, well-rotted manure, leaf mulch, or other compostable material, will break down over time as soil organisms go to work breaking it down and l incorporate into the ground.

vegetables growing in a plot without digging

(Image credit: Charles Dowding)

What are the benefits of gardening without digging?

Gardening without digging has many benefits.

Charles Dowding has been using the no-dig gardening method in his gardens for 40 years and on a range of different soil types. “Mulching the soil to feed its microorganisms helps make food and moisture available to plants, as well as improving soil structure,” he explains. If you combine with other organic gardening methods, such as companion planting, you should maintain a thriving garden.

The benefits of no-till gardening include:

  • Soil drainage and aeration are improved, simply and sustainably;
  • No-dig flower beds require less watering;
  • The simple no-dig gardening method requires less work, effort and time as a gardener;
  • This results in fewer weeds – “fewer weeds germinate in undisturbed soil and the compost mulches on the surface make it easier to pull weeds out,” Charles explains;
  • Plants are healthier and stronger with no-till gardening;
  • Soil health is improved since carbon is retained in the soil;
  • It’s more eco-friendly, so ideal if you’re looking for ways to create an eco-friendly garden;
  • It improves soil structure and keeps slugs away.

companion planting as a sustainable garden idea

(Image credit: Leigh Clapp)

It may seem like a contradiction to some gardeners that not digging will actually result in fewer weeds. However, the truth is confirmed by years of success.

“When you dig into the ground, you are uprooting countless viable weed seeds. Once these seeds receive sunlight and warmth, they will begin to germinate, which means that traditional tillage practices generate a lot more weeds than no-till methods, which requires extra time and labor and potentially steals nutrients from your garden plants,” says John Thomas, Owner of Backyard Garden Geek.

“Weeds are part of the soil’s recovery mechanism, and like all living things, soil is happiest when it’s not disturbed or damaged,” adds Charles.

what to plant in december growing garlic

(Image credit: Trine Loklindt EyeEm/Getty Images)

How can I start not digging?

To start gardening without digging, “give yourself plenty of time to plan your site and start preparing for planting,” advises New Englander Suzan. This is my lasting life.

Charles Dowding recommends starting small with a single bed, such as a 4 x 8 foot (1.2 x 2.4 m) bed, filled with 6 inch/15 cm compost. “It can just be on top of the unused grass, with the grass and weeds left in place, the compost on top is enough to choke them out, no digging necessary,” he adds.

1. Lay down a weed barrier.

Once you have decided which flower beds or areas you want to convert to no digging, the first step is to cover the area with a weed barrier.

Charles Dowding recommends using light-excluding mulches, such as biodegradable brown cardboard, the first year to kill perennial weeds, as it saves time in the long run.

2. Add organic mulch.

‘Build the soil by layering both brown organic materials – carbon-rich choices such as leaves, shredded paper, or cardboard – and green organic materials, including nitrogen-rich fresh grass clippings or Plant prunings, each layer about 3 to 5 inches deep,’ advises Suzan.

Charles advises using compost as your main mulch, which will add the necessary microbes to start decomposition. He also warns against using raised beds with wooden walls, “to reduce slug hiding places”.

3. Plant

“When you start not digging gardening, the soil stays pretty shallow. For the first sowing or planting, plan for plants or crops with shallow roots, such as lettuce and leafy greens, radish, arugula, boc choi, cabbage, kale, Swiss chard and onions, advises Suzan.

‘Over the next few years, the layers you first added to your garden bed without digging will be broken down a bit and better able to support deeper-rooted crops, like if you’re growing carrots, garlic, chard, mustard, peppers, peas. and legumes.

You will need to top up the layer of compost or organic matter at the top of the bed season after season.

Charles Dowding runs online From seed to harvest courses that focus on how to grow specific vegetables following a no-dig practice.

soil held in hands

(Image credit: Alamy)

Why not digging is good for the soil?

No-dig gardening is good for the soil because “it aims to protect and nurture natural soil life, encourage beneficial worms, bacteria and fungi to thrive, enrich the soil and improve its structure,” advises George Davies, founder of For the love of peatsupplier of peat-free eco-coco compost.

‘No-dig retains mycorrhizal fungi, which are tiny, sprawling fungal networks that are super beneficial to plants because they work in symbiosis with the roots, helping them access more water, nutrients and increasing the plants natural resistance. plants to drought, disease and other stresses,” adds Georges.

“Digging the soil damages and disrupts these mycorrhizal networks, so the no-dig method will help your soil build these incredibly important underground ecosystems, which will help you produce more successful yields from healthier plants.”

grow zinnias for cut flowers

(Image credit: Leigh Clapp)

What can you plant in a garden without digging?

There are many choices for what you can plant in a garden without digging.

The mulch you have chosen and the thickness of the layer applied will dictate what you can grow in the first year of gardening without digging, but after that you should be able to grow any crop you want and like to eat in the garden. framework for your vegetable garden ideas.

And not to mention that no dig is equally good for growing flowers. “Sometimes it’s said that ‘compost is too rich to grow flowers’, but that’s a myth,” says Charles. Dog-free gardening is a great choice if you are planning a cut flower garden.

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