The primary reasons for digging the soil are to remove weeds, to loosen and aerate the soil and to incorporate organic matter such as compost or manure. While digging up the garden is an effective way of removing weeds, it can also cause their dormant seeds to surface and germinate, resulting in the need to repeat the process all over again. Digging up the garden may damage soil structure as well, causing problems such as soil compaction.
However, there is another alternative that gardeners can try. No-dig gardening relies on nature to carry out cultivation operations. For instance, organic matter such as well compost, rotted manure, or straw is added to the topsoil, acting as mulch. Moisture is retained more efficiently with the use of mulch, and generally about 2-3 inches deep is sufficient. From there, nature begins to take over. Eventually the organic matter breaks down, enriching the soil. Earthworms and other soil organisms help incorporate the organic component into the soil. Worms and other micro-organisms aid with aeration and drainage, and their excretions bind together soil crumbs. No dig gardening has fewer pest problems and are less prone to disease.
No dig gardening consists of layering organic materials on top of the soil to create a nutrient rich environment for your plants. Rather than having to painstakingly work the soil to perfection by digging up or tilling the soil, simply put that stack of old newspapers to use (cardboard also works well). Regardless of your location, no dig gardening can be accomplished anywhere. Probably one of the best ways to create a no-dig garden is with the use of raised beds. These allow you to garden without walking all over the plants or compacting the soil. Raised beds also save on space and make maintenance easier. Integrate paths between multiple beds and mulch them to avoid the need to mow or weed. For even better results, place landscape fabric beneath the mulch.
Choose the best position of your no-dig garden. For example, vegetables generally do better in full sun, away from large trees that create shade and compete for moisture. Mark out your beds and determine how much timber or edging material you will need. You can make the sides of the beds with timber, brick or concrete blocks. I used timber for my beds; you can use whatever works for you. Start by marking out the corners of the bed and clear away any debris. Attach the sides to stakes along each corner. If you have long, rectangular beds, consider placing an additional stake around the center of each side. In the bottom of each bed, lay several thick layers of newspaper. It may be necessary to thoroughly wet the newspaper to avoid having it blow away. Add a layer of straw about one third of the depth of your raised bed. Next, mix approximately one-third compost to two-thirds soil and fill your beds. Now you’re ready to start planting without any digging involved.
Don’t forget to mulch your beds. This will help retain moisture and improve the looks of your no-dig garden beds. Straw is an ideal mulch for vegetables, while flower beds look nice with pine needles or shredded bark.