No-dig gardening is what it sounds like- a method of gardening that doesn't involve tilling the ground or digging into the dirt. A no-dig garden uses a raised garden bed and different organic materials stacked in layers to grow any plant that you want.
This form of gardening has been popular since the 1970s when a gardener named Esther Dean started using this method. Her soil was heavy clay which does not grow vegetables well. The no-dig method resulted in a very fertile garden that takes less effort to create than a “traditional” garden.
No-dig gardening can be aesthetically pleasing and complement your yard with the right materials. We’ll discuss how you can create one on your own and recommended materials. Growing plants in them can be straightforward and easy, even for someone who typically can't keep plants alive!
How to Create a No-Dig Garden
No-dig gardens are essentially made by composting. Since a no-dig garden is above the ground, you need to give the plants something to grow in. You can accomplish this task by alternating layers of organic materials. Specifically, high carbon materials and high nitrogen materials.
When combined, high nitrogen materials break down high carbon materials to create compost. Between these materials, the high moisture of a no-dig garden, and the use of manure, this compost becomes a very fertile bed for your plants to grow in. It’s also what allows a no-dig garden to grow above the ground instead of in it.
The last element of making a no-dig garden is building an edging or wall around it to help contain the mulch, compost and plants.
The first step is preparing a site for it. The beauty of a no-dig garden is that you can make it just about anywhere, including soil, grass, and concrete. Once you know where it’s going to be, you need to determine the shape and size of the garden.
You can create your garden in just about any shape or size. Ensure you can easily reach everything from either side of the garden for easy picking. One easy way to do this is to measure your arm span from shoulder to hand and double it to find the entire width of the garden bed.
Start gathering your materials. You will need a variety of organic material to create the bedding of the no-dig garden. You will need both high nitrogen and high carbon materials. Listed below are elements you can use.
High Nitrogen Substance:
- Blood and Bone
- Fish Meal
- Coffee Grinds
- Grass Clippings
- Green Weeds
High Carbon Substance:
- Shredded Paper
Finally, you’ll need to create the edging of your no-dig garden. Some materials that make suitable edgings include rocks, concrete blocks, and sleepers. Once you gather all your materials, you can start building your no-dig garden!
This is an essential step because it’s what kills weeds and keeps them from sprouting up in your garden. You can skip this step if you are creating your no-dig garden over concrete or earth that doesn’t have an issue with weeds.
The goal is to create conditions where weeds can’t grow by cutting off airflow. These anaerobic conditions are created with just a couple of materials: blood-and-bone or chicken manure and newspapers.
Start sheet mulching by cutting the weeds in the area you want to build your garden. Then, disperse the chicken manure or blood-and-bone lightly over the area. Next, soak your newspapers in water and lay them over the garden area. Make sure to overlap each newspaper page and stack the damp papers up at least several layers high.
The Lasagna Layers
Next step is to start adding layers of organic matter. These organic layers make the soil fertile.
Build your layers like you’re making lasagna. Alternate the layers with one sheet of excellent compostable material and a layer of coarse compostable material. These sheets could be layers of compost and straw or even manure and leaves.
Continue to alternate these layers until your no-dig garden is as high as you want it to be. We recommend a height between 30-40 cm. Make sure that you end your lasagna layers with a layer of compost on top. This is where you will be planting your garden. We advise you to lay down a layer of fresh compost every season when you set new plants.
How to Make it Over concrete
Creating your garden on top of concrete has its similarities with a few key difference.
Start a regular no-dig garden by marking the area you want your garden to be and building up its walls. It is recommended that if you are using items such as bricks that you leave gaps in-between each one to allow for drainage.
Next, instead of sheet mulching, you’ll put down some coarse screen for the first layer for your drainage. Instead of preventing weeds, you’ll have to be mindful of the waste by creating a drainage system on its base. Be extra careful about drainage, consider installing drainage pipes.
Complete the garden by adding your lasagna layers.
Build a Retaining Wall
When it comes to building your no-dig garden, we recommend using retaining walls. It's the most ideal material to use for your no-dig garden. You can finish the lasagna layers quickly and even build it DIY.
You don’t need to worry if you’re building your garden on a sloped area. No matter how steep it is, a retaining wall block will be able to hold back the soil.
Remember that if you decide to use bricks, concrete blocks, or another type of similar material, you should leave a little space in-between each block to allow for drainage.
Want more retaining wall inspiration? Decide on the Best Retaining Walls here.
No Dig Garden Edging
In landscaping, edging is usually used to create precise lines between beds, such as between a garden and a lawn. In a no-dig garden, edging serves the same purpose but has the added benefit of helping keep mulch contained to the garden.
Garden edging keeps things neat, and mulch contained, but can also prevent plant roots from growing out of your garden bed.
Edging is also really easy to implement. There are different types you can choose from to match your landscape. It’s easy to install them DIY, so you don’t need to worry about hiring professional tradies.
Want to learn more about edging? Enhance your Backyard with Garden Edging using this material.
Creating informal paths around and/or between your no-dig garden beds serve a variety of purposes. This is useful is you plan to create more than one garden bed. Adequate access is especially helpful when maintaining and picking your garden.
Paths can also help divide your garden up into different sections. For instance, you could create paths between a flower garden and a vegetable garden to keep the two visually and physically separate.
To create an informal path in your no-dig garden, you can keep it simple or make it as fancy as you want. A simple path could be just laying down sawdust or wood chip mulch along with the areas you want to walk. To create something more ornamental, you could lay stepping stones or bricks along the path or even spread small, coloured pebbles between the beds.
Just like the retaining wall and edging, you could use your path to create an aesthetically pleasing garden. As long as you can imagine it, you can create it. So, let your imagination run wild!
Learn more about building paths in your garden. Related Video: How to Build a Side Path
Ready to Create Your Very Own Garden? See more here: VIDEO: How to Build a Raised Garden Bed.