A garden is a planned space, usually outdoors, that is used for the cultivation of plants. Modern gardens can be completely organic and eco-friendly, or rely on technology and scientific advancements.
The longer vegetables and herbs are out of the ground, the more their nutrients deplete. To prevent this, organic growers practice a time-tested method called crop rotation.
In school, most people learned that gardening involved planting a seed in soil, making sure it had the right amount of water and sunlight, and watching it grow. Of course, there’s a lot more to it than that, not to mention many other gardening methods.
One such method that has been around for centuries (at least) and has been gaining traction over the past decade is “no-dig” gardening. Here’s what that technique involves, and what to know about starting your own no-dig garden.
What is no-dig gardening?
Anyone who has created a garden bed from scratch and/or turned the soil each spring before planting knows that the process of “soil preparation” is hard work. On the contrary, the aim of “no-dig” or “no-till” gardening is to avoid disturbing the soil whenever possible, and is significantly less effort upfront and to maintain.
Beyond not disturbing the soil, no-dig gardening is about taking care of it and preserving its natural structure. Instead of breaking it down by turning or tilling it, you add a thick layer of organic matter—like leaf mulch, compost, peat moss, or well-rotted manure—to serve as mulch.
“Worms and other organisms will dig tunnels and feed on the organic matter, leaving their beneficial waste behind,” gardener and author Amy Andrychowicz writes in a post on Get Busy Gardening. “In the process, they naturally aerate the soil, creating good drainage, and also adding rich nutrients.”
The types of no-dig gardening
There are several different varieties of no-dig gardening, so start by identifying the one that’s right for your yard, climate, and garden goals. Previous Lifehacker coverage breaks down four of the most popular methods: Sheet mulching, lasagna gardening, permaculture, and layered gardening.
You may also want to check out Andrychowicz’s post, which provides step-by-step instructions for starting a no-dig garden.
The basics of no-dig gardening
Regardless of which method you select, there are a few guiding principles of no-dig gardening, like these from a post for Insteading.com by organic gardener and homesteader Cheryl Magyar:
- Don’t cultivate the soil: Keep the layers intact
- Never use chemical fertilizers: Add only a modest amount of compost
- Mulch, mulch, mulch: Remove (or harvest) “weeds” only when necessary
- Forget about pesticides: Go organic and embrace the concept of “do-nothing” farming
Of course, there’s no such thing as a “perfect” gardening technique, and like other methods, no-dig gardening has its own disadvantages, and isn’t always going to be the one that best meets your needs. When in doubt, check in with your local extension office for advice and tips.