No Dig gardening explained

Why do we dig our gardens?

We dig over the soil to remove weeds, loosen and aerate the soil, and dig in compost and manure to feed our vegetables and other plants.

We also dig to break up the soil to be able to sow seeds and plant plants, but Is it necessary to dig our garden soil? 

To dig or not to dig, that is the question.


How to change to "No dig gardening"
How to change to "No dig gardening"

How to change to the no dig method of gardening.

No dig gardening involves some work to start the process off. Depending on the size and state of the area the work can vary from a day to a few weeks. I have explained the basics here.

Do we need to dig our gardens.

Gardens with thin sandy soil and sloping gardens where erosion is a problem are not improved with digging and can actually make the problem worse. Digging can damage soil structure, causing compaction, displace nutrients, shifting surface organic material to deep into the ground to decompose, also putting it out of reach of most plant roots. Sandy loose soil, unless retained, just slips and shifts further down the slope.

Clay soil is almost impossible to dig anyway, although clay soil can be improved by adding organic material and grit, there is another way, no dig gardens, yes no dig means just that, never digging the garden again.

Materials you will need to change to no dig gardening.

Old Newspapers or cardboard or other natural fibers like old wool carpet. these cut out the light, killing of most weeds and will rot down to allow plant roots to penetrate. 
The earth worms will help this process taking the material down into the ground. I leave the newspapers piled outside to get wet before I lay them out.
Spread the newspapers,cardboard or other natural fiber 3 or 4 deep, over the area you are setting aside for no dig gardening, making sure the materials overlap to smother the weeds, any weeds or grass left uncovered, will grow through the organic matter you are going to spread over the top. 
Give the ground cover a good soaking and go on to the next stage in preparing for no dig gardening.

Organic material or top soil, any available organic material will work twigs, leaves, grass cuttings, sawdust, compost from your heap etc. Shovel the organic materials on in layers with the coarsest stuff, twigs etc at the bottom, and the compost or soil on top. 
Depending on the area you are going to turn over to the no dig method of gardening you may need more of the organic material than you have available. 
A little bit of pre planning may be necessary, ask your neighbours or the local lawn care person for grass cuttings and leaves etc.  Providing they are not into composting they will be only to pleased to off load it.

Build pathways.
So as not to compact the no digging areas or no dig raised beds you are creating, build pathways through the no dig beds, as you are digging them out, spread the topsoil onto the beds over the organic material. 

It really is easy to change to no dig gardening.
Maintaining your no dig garden 

Maintaining your no dig area and no dig raised garden beds is fairly straight forward. It doesn't involve digging, just the usual gardening tasks, weeding and mulching to stop the earth drying out. Keeping the earth covered, preferably by living plants or mulches keeps it both moist and weed free.
Spreading plant cuttings,kitchen vegetable waste directly onto the soil, instead of first composting it, serves a double purpose, serving as mulch and also as a slow-release organic fertiliser,soil conditioner and food for the worker worms.

If you are trying no dig gardening, why not try mixed planting too.

Mixed Planting

Get away from growing vegetables in rows with bare earth in between. You will have less problems with pests and disease because the signals these grouped plants send out to hungry pests and diseases are stronger than when the different plants are mixed together.  

Different plants take water and nutrients from different depths in the soil, so take into account root depths and if you mix these plants, it may look overcrowded, but its not. You are optimising the space available and your no dig garden will be more productive as a result.


To keep out weeds, oversow, this means sowing quick growing crops like peas, radishes, turnips, rocket, spring onions, lettuce to fill up any spaces,just before main crop is harvested.

When mixing plants always include companion plants to deter insect pests and attract beneficial insects, my companion planting page provides more information. 

How long does it take to change to No Dig gardening? 

A simple raised bed can be ready in less than a day, an allotment or large area will take longer.

Not convinced, then why not experiment by converting a small area of your garden or a raised bed to the no dig method of gardening . Sit back and watch nature and the worms do the digging, composting and feeding the plants for you.

  This cheap easy to assemble raised bed made from plastic heat absorbing panels is the Ideal bed to try your no dig experiment.  

The Author has been practicing no-dig organic growing for over 30 years. In this full colour edition of Organic Gardening, he shares this experience.
  1. No dig gardening improves soil structure and encourages healthy growth;
  2. Organic matter is best left on the top, letting the worms take it down, aerating the soil as they do so.
  3. Using a no-dig method you can easily control weeds with just a little hand weeding or hoeing every ten days or so.

Organic Gardening shows you how to grow a delicious variety of fruit and vegetables: what to choose, when to sow, plant and harvest, and how best to avoid pests and diseases without the need to dig.