Spring has sprung, and while the weather is still predictably unpredictable for the time being, it has me anxiously awaiting the day I can get out and do some gardening! To tide myself over until then, I’ve been perusing the internet to brush up on gardening tips and tricks, and that’s how I stumbled on the idea I’ll be sharing with you in today’s post!
It’s called “no-dig gardening,” and while it’s an idea that’s new to me, the concept is thought to be hundreds of years old. It’s a system of gardening rooted in the belief that the common practice of tilling does more harm to the soil than it does good.
Practitioners of no-dig gardening believe that keeping your garden’s soil undisturbed is better for all of the microorganisms and living creatures living in it that make it fertile and keep plants happy. It’s supposed to have some other nice benefits too, so let’s explore four of the most compelling ones, shall we? :-)
4 Good Reasons To Try No-Dig Gardening
1. It Saves Time
At the very least, tilling your garden to prepare for planting takes time. But unless you own your own tiller and have it at the ready, it can also take a lot of effort!
For many of us, tilling either requires a trip to go rent one and bring it back home, or a lot of manual labor in the form of shoveling. Either way, the fact that no-dig gardening requires zero tilling can save you a lot of time and back-breaking labor!
2. It Requires Less Weeding
One of the major issues with tilling and digging is that you can inadvertently end up bringing weed seeds and roots to the surface, where they can germinate and take over. By not digging, you’ll leave these unwanted garden additions undisturbed beneath the dirt.
The no-dig gardening method also utilizes layers of organic matter like compost and mulch, which also help suppress weeds by making it much more difficult for unwanted plants to come to the surface. So while no gardening method can eliminate the threat of weeds entirely, embracing the no-dig method can make a big difference!
3. The Potential For Bigger Harvests
As I mentioned previously, proponents of the no-dig method believe that leaving the ground alone results in higher quality soil for gardening. Many also believe that because of this, no-dig gardening can yield larger harvests than traditional gardening methods.
4. It Uses Less Water
Mulch plays a big role in no-dig gardening, and mulch can go a long way when it comes to moisture retention. So adopting the no-dig gardening can not only save you water in the long run, but it may make it so that you don’t have to water your garden as often or for as much time as you normally would.
How To Start A No-Dig Garden
- Cardboard or newspaper
- Tape measure
*Note: If you use cardboard, use the standard, non-shiny stuff and make sure there’s no tape on it. If you use newspaper, make sure that it’s regular newsprint and not any of the glossy ads that sometimes come with it.
Step 1 – Measure And Calculate
Start by using a tape measure to measure the area where you want your new garden to go. Once you have your measurements, you can use a gardening materials calculator to figure out how much cardboard, compost, and mulch you’ll need. (I used this calculator from LawnToGarden.org.)
Step 2 – Gather Supplies And Tidy Up
Once you know how much cardboard, compost, and mulch you’ll need, it’s time to go shopping! Your local nursery or garden center is a great resource, but you can also find these items at places like Home Depot, Lowe’s, Walmart, etc.
Before you start setting up your garden, it’s a good idea to tidy up the area a little bit. Remove any big plants, weeds, rocks, dirt clods, etc. from the space, but don’t worry about grass and other small things.
Step 3 – Plant The Big Stuff
Now that your garden area is nice and tidy, you can start the planting process—but only if you have any big plants like shrubs and trees you want to put in your garden. So go ahead and plant those right right into the grass.
Keep in mind that you’ll be adding other layers on top of the ground, so plant your trees and shrubs a little more shallowly than you might do normally. Once your trees and/or shrubs are planted, water them in and water the entire garden area as well.
Step 4 – Cardboard, Compost, And Mulch
It’s time for your garden to take shape! Start by arranging a layer of cardboard that covers the entire garden area. (You can use a single layer of sturdy cardboard, but if you’ll be using newspaper instead of cardboard, you’ll want several layers of newspaper that overlap at the edges.)
Once the first player is in place, grab your hose and water it down. (This starts the decomposition process and will help keep the cardboard or paper from flying off in the breeze.
Next comes the compost. Spread out a 1-2” layer of compost evenly over the base later, then water it. And lastly, arrange a 2” layer of mulch evenly atop the compost layer, then (you guessed it) water it thoroughly.
Step 5 – Plant Everything Else
Your garden is officially ready for planting! You can plant smaller plants right into the compost layer, because as they grow, they’ll break through the decomposing base layer on their own.
For bigger plants, you may need to break through the base layer in order to make a big enough hole to plant them in. Toss some compost into the hole before nestling the plant inside and filling in around it.
Once you’ve planted your plants and watered them in, you’re done! Sit back, relax, and enjoy watching your no-dig garden take shape. :-)
After learning about the simple brilliance of the no-dig gardening method, I couldn’t wait to share it here with all of you. It’s by far the easiest way I’ve heard of throughout my many years of gardening to start a new garden bed from scratch!
No need to tear out grass, till the soil, add compost, till again, or spend all season long fighting a losing battle against the litany of weeds you accidentally brought to the surface! With a method that’s as easy as layering a few things on the ground, you can actually enjoy gardening again.
If you’ve always wanted to start your own garden but felt intimidated by the idea of starting one from scratch, I would absolutely recommend giving this method a try! With a little bit of effort now, you’ll be able to reap the rewards of a beautiful and fertile garden all summer long.
What kind of garden do you have? If you don’t have one, what would your dream garden be like?