Do you dig it? Getting started with ‘no dig’ gardening

No dig refers to a gardening method where you avoid disturbing the soil, for example by digging or ploughing it. For the lazy gardeners among us, the idea of not having to spend hours doing back-breaking digging may sound too good to be true. However, with the right techniques, it’s perfectly possible to get good yields using this method, and the research shows it may even lead to healthier soil and happier plants.

Why not dig? A quick peek under the soil…

There is a whole host of life in healthy soil, from earthworms and nematodes to networks of fungal threads. These fungal threads (called mycorrhizae) play a vital role in supporting plant growth. Connected to the roots of most plants, they provide plants with water and minerals from the soil in exchange for nutrients. It’s also recently been discovered that these threads form part of vast underground fungal networks – often referred to by scientists as the ‘wood-wide web’ – that allow plants to communicate with each other.

Digging the soil disturbs these fungal networks and other underground systems, which in turn can affect plant growth. What’s more, turning the soil can lead to more weeds, by bringing dormant weed seeds to the surface where they can germinate.

If you want to give no dig a go, here are a two video tutorials to get you started…

How to make a no dig raised bed with compost:

How to clear weeds using compost and cardboard:

Compost & the no dig garden

Creating no dig beds requires the application of mulch (see videos for more info). Mulch is organic matter – such as compost, straw and grass clippings – that is placed on the soil to smother weeds, keep moisture in the soil and feed the soil with nutrients as it breaks down.

In damp climates such as the UK, it’s best not to mulch using materials that haven’t broken down – like straw or grass clippings – as these provide an ideal habitat for everyone’s favourite garden visitor: slugs. Where slugs are a problem, compost is an ideal mulch.

While buying in compost can be expensive, making it at home is cheap, easy and allows you to transform food and garden waste into a nutrient-rich fertiliser. Check out our guide to home composting.

Useful resources on no dig

If you want to find out more about the no dig method, check out this interview with Charles Dowding, an expert on organic growing and ‘no dig’. You can also listen to Dowding discuss no dig, composting and organic methods on the Garden Organic podcast series.

If you want to give it a go, have a look at this beginner’s guide to no dig. Dowding has also written a practical and accessible book on the topic, No Dig Organic Home and Garden’ 

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