No-dig is a gardening method that has been growing in popularity, and its practice perfectly matches its name. As a low-effort form of gardening, no-dig literally means you do not need to dig or alter the soil.  

Up close image of fallen green, brown and yellow leaves on the ground.
Masabni said the method behind no-dig gardening is similar to how nutrients are transferred on the forest floor. (Laura McKenzie/Texas A&M AgriLife)

Joe Masabni, Ph.D., Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service vegetable specialist from the Texas A&M Department of Horticultural Sciences, said no-dig gardening utilizes adding compost on top of your soil and letting its microorganisms give your plants the nutrients they need. 

“It’s similar to how nutrients are transferred in a forest,” Masabni said. “When leaves fall to the ground, they form a layer above the soil and then they rot, releasing nutrients to the plant roots.” 

How to start your no-dig garden

Starting a no-dig garden is not a challenge, especially if you already have a raised-bed garden. When starting your bed, cardboard is a key component.

Masabni said using cardboard in your no-dig garden creates a physical barrier against weeds for protection. You can also use cardboard on the top of your garden instead of mulch to further prevent weeds.  

“If you’re starting a new garden, you’ll need to build the frame and put cardboard at the bottom, then fill with compost, plant in the bed and then leave it alone,” he said.

Already existing gardens with raised beds just need an addition of compost and plants and for gardeners to refrain from any tilling. Masabni has a variety of video examples online regarding no-dig gardening.

Best practices for a successful garden 

A closeup of Greek Oregano. There is a paper sign in the front that says Green Oregano
Gardeners should add fertilizer to their gardens in addition to composting. (Laura McKenzie/Texas A&M AgriLife)

While no-dig gardening is a low-maintenance option for home gardeners, there are still some important practices for caring for your garden. Gardeners should still add fertilizer to their no-dig gardens to help their plants. 

“Compost by itself is not enough plant food all season long,” Masabni said. “It is important to add additional fertilizer on the top of your garden, whether it be chemical or organic.”

Additionally, Masabni said gardeners should never step on their no-dig garden to avoid damaging the layers of compost. Choosing a location for your garden away from foot traffic and in the right part of your yard can contribute to your no-dig garden’s success.

“Gardeners should be mindful of their location to avoid any standing water in your garden; selecting a location away from a low spot in your yard is a good choice,” he said. 

Masabni also said no-dig gardening can be practiced with square-foot gardening and companion planting for expanded benefits. 

Good things come to patient gardeners

When starting their journey with no-dig gardening, gardeners must practice patience with their yields.

“In the first year or so, a till garden will give you a better yield than a no-till garden,” Masabni said. “But over time, the nutrients will build up in the layers of good quality soil and you will have a successful yield without as much effort.” 

While no-dig gardening takes a different approach, he said reframing your mentality and learning new skills is always a good practice in gardening, especially in the first few years of maintenance.

“Take note of your mistakes and try new things to keep the passion and pleasure of gardening alive, and learn to improve year after year,” Masabni said. 

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