Getting Started With ‘No Dig’ Gardening

A no dig Hugelkultur mound.

No dig gardening starts with a single simple idea: we need to protect the soil in our gardens. Soil health is essential for good plant growth, and as with so many things in sustainability, what you don’t do is as important as what you do.

In a no dig garden, the general rule is, as the name suggests, to avoid digging and disturbing the soil whenever possible. Of course, this does not mean that you never dig. For example, you will still dig to create earthworks to manage water flow, perhaps, or to make a wildlife pond… But the key goal is to disturb the soil as little as possible.

You’ll find a lot more information about no dig gardening by following the link to my article on the topic included above. But the basics are very clear:

  • Avoid digging or tilling whenever you can.
  • Try to reduce compaction by walking on or compressing the soil as little as possible.
  • Avoid leaving areas of bare soil. Cover bare patches with ground cover plants and/or organic mulches. (The link will take you to an article of mine which discusses some organic mulches you could consider, and where to use them.)
  • Add plenty of organic matter – but don’t dig it into the earth. Instead, lay it on the surface and let the earthworks and other soil organisms incorporate it for you.
  • Continue to add organic material to the soil surface over time.

A number of my clients have come to me for a design having already ‘prepared’ the garden site by tilling it or digging new beds. If you are thinking about making a garden, don’t make the same mistake. You can create new growing areas in your garden without doing any digging at all.

No dig garden beds are built up using layers of organic material that will compost in place. Since we typically add layers of ‘brown’ carbon rich and ‘green’ nitrogen rich material, this is often called a ‘lasagna’ bed. It has layers like the traditional Italian dish.

Hugelkultur is a variant of this idea, which involves making mounds of decaying wood which are then covered with layers of other natural materials and topped with compost.

One final way to make new growing areas in a no dig garden is by using straw bales. Bales are soaked with a nitrogen rich feed and will begin to break down. And when topped with a layer of compost, they provide a fertile growing medium for your plants.

Need some more tips about how to create a no dig garden, or how to keep one going over time? I offer consultancy on this topic so please do get in touch.

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