Top 10 FAQ – How to start your No Dig Garden

Top 10 FAQ - How to start No Dig Gardening in the UK

We are often asked to start no dig gardens and so the admin team of our Facebook group and I have come up with the Top Ten Most Frequently Asked Questions.

If we haven’t covered your questions, please ask them in the comments here (or on the Facebook group if you are a member) and we will answer them as soon as we can.

There’s a lot more information in our (Award Winning!!) book, No Dig Organic Home and Garden, and on this website.

These FAQ have been updated in August 2022.

Top 10 FAQ – How to start your No Dig Garden


1. What is meant by well rotted compost?

In a mild, temperate sluggy country like the UK, well rotted composts are the best mulches for growing no dig. This is based on decades of gardening experience, trials and experiments.

Compost can be well rotted homemade compost, animal manure, leaf mould, municipal waste compost, composted woodchip or spent mushroom compost. Well rotted compost is usually dark, crumbly and smells sweet and earthy. It looks beautiful.

To help protect the environment, avoid using peat based composts. Bagged composts should clearly state if they are 100% peat free. Mushroom compost can contain peat: check with your supplier.

A fine pile of compost may be surrounded by gardeners of all kinds, gazing fondly. We photograph our composts and share on social media!

Top 10 FAQ - How to start No Dig Gardening in the UK

If you have a choice of composts available, use the least rotted first as a base layer, with the finest compost as your surface layer, to sow and plant into.

I make my compost mostly in homemade composters made from pallets, plastic ‘dalek’ composters and a hotbin. I also use wormeries and bokashi so that I can compost everything possible at home.

You can also buy in composts from local farmers, horse stables and the local council (if they have that facility).

If you want to make more of your own compost, befriend neighbours and collect their grass clippings, vegetarian pet bedding (rabbits, guinea pigs, gerbils, etc), chicken house poo, brown card packaging and kitchen waste. Forage for nettles and comfrey to add to your heap.

Some no dig techniques advise mulching with fresh wood chips, straw, hay, leaves or other uncomposted materials. These work very well in other countries, indeed that’s usually where the idea comes from, but in the UK it is worth bearing in mind they can cause problems, providing habitat for slugs, snails, woodlice and rodents.

During periods of hot dry weather in the UK these uncomposted mulches can help lock moisture in the ground as a temporary measure. They are also ideal for perennials such as fruit bushes and trees.

2. How do I begin no dig in my garden?

It depends what you are starting with! When I changed my allotment to no dig, it was already mostly weed free and I had been growing there for a few years. So I removed any weeds and veg plants that were finished, spread the compost and stopped digging.

My new half acre homestead in West Wales has been set up entirely using no dig methods, mostly card on the weeds grass with 5cm compost on top.

If you are starting with a very weedy plot or area which has not been used for growing before (a lawn, weedy pasture etc), first of all cut, mow or strim the weeds to ground level, rake up and compost.  It is best not to leave the cut weeds in situ as they can provide a cosy habitat for slugs and other pests.

Remove woody weeds, brambles, docks, etc, by hand with a spade or trowel. The cover with either…

6 inches/15 cm of well rotted compost or

a good layer of cardboard and then at least 2 inches/ 5cm of well rotted compost.

Both methods exclude light which helps kill off the weeds. Worms love cardboard and happily incorporate it into the soil. We use brown card with minimal printing. Cardboard can be either underneath the compost or on top, whichever works best for you. Card on the top will need weighing down with something to prevent it from blowing away.

Another alternative is mulching with polythene or membrane. Always put this on the top, not underneath the compost! After cutting down and removing weeds, spread some compost,  if you have it,  and cover with the polythene. If you want, you can make holes in this and grow squash, courgettes or similar large plants, making that area productive whilst the plastic kills off the weeds. (Try to source previously used plastic, to save resources).

If you don’t have any compost, no problem. Just cover the area with the polythene.

The composted mulch provides habitat for a wide range of creatures including spiders and black beetles. We mostly don’t use wooden sides to our beds (they can provide habitat for slugs etc) but some people prefer to use them.

3. What about perennial weeds such as couch, bindweed or creeping buttercup?

Light excluding mulches kill off these weeds, it just takes time, usually a year, and a trowel. At Homeacres, Charles had creeping buttercup, bindweed, couch, creeping thistle, dandelions, nettles, clover and annual weeds which were all cleared without digging. During the first year we regularly checked for any stray weeds that popped up through the mulch and removed with a trowel. The 6 inches of compost on top of the weedy pasture meant that he could plant his garden as the weeds below were dying off, making his garden almost instantly productive.

In rural Wales, my new garden has creeping buttercup and thistles as the ‘top’ weeds. Any that pop up through the mulch are removed with a hori hori or trowel.

4. Do I need to dig first or loosen the soil?

No, it is better to preserve the existing structure and soil life. The surface mulch of organic matter (compost) soon encourages soil organisms (worms and other soil flora and fauna) whose activity creates a good structure for growth.

Top 10 FAQ - How to start No Dig Gardening in the UK
no dig benefits all kinds of fungi

This is true even on clay soils – indeed, it is far better not to dig clay as it is such  difficult soil to dig and quickly becomes sticky and tricky to work with, when dug. I grow on heavy clay; Charles’ previous garden included areas of heavy clay which had been compacted by tractors for decades and in France, he grew no dig on dense white clay.

Top 10 FAQ - How to start No Dig Gardening in the UK
cross section of heavy clay soil with mulch on top, 4-5 months after first spreading compost on top of weedy pasture

Sometimes people say that you need to dig to improve drainage. Of course there will be some extreme situations where digging drainage channels might be necessary, but usually the benefits of no dig help to improve drainage issues too, as the soil life works to improve soil conditions.

If you do need to dig, such as to remove rubble or rubbish from the plot don’t worry. Make the beds and move forwards using no dig methods. The soil will recover and the soil life return to create a lovely growing area.

5. What do I do if my soil is compacted?

Often what is said to be compacted is really just very firm, but even compacted soils (see above) can be brought into productivity using surface mulches, which are incorporated by the soil life. There is no need to break up the soil in order to grow.

(Of course there will be some exceptions where there is serious compaction caused perhaps by industrial machinery.)

6. How do I make the paths?

If you are starting on weedy ground, a mulch of two layers of good strong cardboard, weighed down with stones or timber, kills off the weeds underneath usually over 9-12 months. You may need to replace the cardboard once or twice (just add more to the surface), depending on your weather conditions. When all of the weeds are dead, spread some compost, wood chips or wood shavings onto the paths, to create a surface that is weed free and easy to hoe.

Wood chips and sawdust (only from natural wood not composites) on card makes an excellent path. Keep the depth of wood chip fairly shallow, a cm or thereabouts, to deter woodlice from setting up home next to your veg.

Grass paths can be difficult to maintain, requiring edging and regular mowing. Some people love the look and don’t mind the extra work, so fair enough. It is a matter of personal choice (I find them to be too much extra work).

7. Do carrots and parsnips go down into undug soil?

Parsnips, carrots and other root vegetables grow beautifully in no dig beds, including heavy clay soils, with no need for soil cultivation – their roots descend and swell. Sow into the surface layer as usual, even well rotted animal manure. This does not cause forking because it is not dug in (forking can occur when manure is dug into the soil, not an issue with no dig!) To harvest carrots, just pull out, or wiggle a trowel next to them to loosen before pulling.

We use a spade or fork to harvest parsnips, wiggling close to the parsnip before pulling. It is a loosening procedure, rather than digging over. Level off again with a rake after harvesting.

8. How do I grow potatoes no dig?

There are different ways to grow potatoes no dig. You can

… lay the potatoes on the surface and cover with several inches of compost, adding to this as the potato leaves grow, to earth up. To harvest, pull the plant – most of the potatoes will come straight out, use your hands or a trowel to find any stragglers.

… use a trowel to make a hole in the ground, place the potato in and earth up with the surrounding compost on the bed as necessary. Harvest using a trowel (it’s rather like an archeological excavation, children love it!)

Grass clippings make an excellent mulch for potatoes in dry summers.

9. How do I keep the plot weed free?

No dig = fewer weeds! Turning the soil over exposes annual weed seeds which encourages germination (think of the flush of weed seedlings that usually appear a few weeks after a plot is dug over); in no dig, we are not doing this and so those weeds remain dormant.

Of course no dig doesn’t form a magical barrier against weeds – they still blow onto the plot or are dropped there by birds.  To help keep you plot weed free, hoe regularly and trowel out any perennial or larger weeds that escape hoeing. I hoe my allotment every 2 weeks during the main warmer growing seasons, it takes less than 15 minutes to hoe the whole plot.

Maintaining your edges is key too, especially if your plot is adjacent to grassy areas or weedy allotment neighbours. Using a sharp spade or edging tool, maintain your edge and remove any invading weeds with a trowel. We compost all of these, adding to the fertility of our plots.

Why is it helpful to keep the plot weed free? It reduces habitat for slugs and other pests and makes it much easier to look after your beautiful vegetables. A well maintained plot means you can get on with what you want to do (sowing, planting, etc) and you are more likely to do it if you know you don’t have to tackle a lot of weeds first. This is especially useful if your growing area is some distance from your home, or you have a limited amount of time to garden.

We find that having wilder areas of the garden works well, where weeds are free to grow, providing beneficial forage and habitat for all manner of wild creatures.

10. What other forms of fertility do I need? Can I use green manures in no dig beds?

An annual mulch of 1-2cm (1/2 – 1″) or more if you wish, of well rotted compost provides food for the soil and plants for a whole year, even hungry feeders. Most of the beds have two or three harvests a year (some of mine have 6 or more, if you include catch crops such as radish), all fed using this one annual mulch. Most of the outside beds are mulched during the winter, and the polytunnels in the spring just before tomatoes etc go in. This one mulch feeds tomatoes, cucumbers, melons, peppers, aubergines etc and then in the autumn when they are cleared, a whole winter’s worth of salad and other vegetables.

Homemade plant feeds using comfrey, nettles and other nutrient rich plants are very useful for pots. It is fine to use them on your beds too, if you want to.

Green manures can work brilliantly in a no dig system, especially those that are killed by the frost. They can be a useful way of making more material for the compost heap – grown, chopped and composted.

Field beans and mustards are ideal for sowing in the autumn if you have gaps. As well as supporting soil life, field beans create extra bulk for compost heaps in the spring. Both provide early forage flowers for insects in the spring, and the field beans are edible just like their cousins broad beans.

In hot, dry countries green manures can be used in a chop and drop method, but in the UK this can create habitat for slugs and so we mostly cut and compost except during wintertime, when slugs are less of an issue.

On a farming scale, green manures in min and no till farms are sometimes used with a crimping device attached to a tractor, to kill them off.

I hope this has answered some of your questions!











79 thoughts on “Top 10 FAQ – How to start your No Dig Garden”

  1. A very useful post – concise and informative, thanks Steph et al.
    Regarding starting a new no dig bed, where there was grass, weeds or lawn before – I followed your advice for mowing down, then covered thickly with cardboard, the covered with layers of green and brown to a depth of 5 or 6 inches, finishing off with finer compost … the lasagne or strip composting method I think. We found this quickly produced an excellent deep soil on what had been builders rubble!
    Many thanks, Margaret Jones aka “No dig growing and eating on a limey soil with hot, dry summers”.

  2. As a Newby to No dig I have many questions but will confine this to one for now.
    I live near an Alpaca farm and recently bought 5 large bags of Alpaca poo. The farmer said it was rotted but I have my doubts. Seemed quite fresh to me.
    I’ve spread it on my smallish veg plot in my garden.
    My question is: can I plant into this next spring? I plan runner beans. Tomatoes. Few potatoes. Etc. Will they grow? Are they safe to eat? Sorry if these questions sound silly. Very new to much spreading!
    Thanks so much☺

    1. Hi Maggie, I haven’t use alpaca poo myself but have heard good things about it. Of course it is difficult to comment without seeing something but I would give those veg a try in it next spring.

  3. A very useful article even after reading all of your books and watching most of your videos.

    Interesting your comment about the wood chip and wood lice. Would you just rot wood chip down then and after a year or so use it as as a mulch?.

    We have a huge old willow with a rotten core that was chipped down this summer. The pile has shrunk considerably Whist it has fungi in it I’ve not noticed woodlice before. I’ll look again.

    My Biodynamic farmer friend certainly uses wood chip, but I’m not yet sure how. I’ll have to ask. He practices minimal til.

  4. Hi, we ve just got our first allotment, it’s very neglected and weedy so we want to try the no dig method to clear it. Other plot holders on the site though, have told me that they found a lot of stones and bricks in their soil when they were digging beds out. What should I do? Dig up the stones then do no dig? I m a bit confused.

    1. It’s difficult to say without seeing it or knowing how stoney it might be. Charles’ garden is set up on what was once an old nursery which fell into disrepair, all of the building falling down over time. We have no idea what rubble might be lurking beneath the soil in some places, but that hasn’t affected the growth of the plants.

      In my front garden, I have a huge amount of builders rubble under the surface and so built wooden sided raised beds there as it would have been impossible removing all of the stones etc. You can see it here

      Perhaps go along your plot with one of those pointed metal stakes (carefully!) and push it down to see how bad it is. That may give an idea of whether you need to remove the rubble or can just get on and grow.

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  7. Hi I’ve recently taken over a plot that’s on a sloping bank so I’ve had to dig to produce level platforms. Is it OK for the ground to just cover the area now with cardboard and compost. I have also got access to fresh horse manure but not well rotted is it OK to pit this on top or do I need to let it break down first. This is my first allotment so am in need of any advice.

    1. Hi Paul. Difficult to say without seeing it but the new beds should be fine with card/compost – you only need the cardboard if it is very weedy. Personally I would only use well rotted horse manure, I would stack it and compost it and use when it is dark and crumbly. See my reply to Eleanor’s question too 🙂

  8. Loved the 10 FAQs. I’d be very grateful to see a few pix or short video of hoeing technique for weeding! I tend to pull little weeds using a long-handled, 3-prong ‘cultivator’ but perhaps a hoe would be better.

    Also – my allotment offers horse manure from a local livery stables. Is there an issue with potential harm from the worming tablets horses are regularly given, which then end up in the manure?

    Thanks so much! Eleanor

    1. Thank you for the suggestion about more hoeing info, I’ll see what I can do.

      As far as I am aware, composting breaks down the worming tablets and so there should be no problems using well composted horse manure. I mostly use cow manure because that is what I can get here, but know lots of other gardeners who have great results with horse manure.

      It is worth checking for aminopyralid though, as this survives the composting process.

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  10. Great concept I have just started using this, after having dug half my plot the manual method, so it will be very interesting to compare! 🙂

  11. Hi – great to read this. I haven’t started no dig yet- I’m reading up and have joined the Facebook group and am hoping to start in earnest next year. I am trying to persuade my husband- who annually digs it over for me- but tbh he is sceptical as we have trees adjacent and he digs to get rid of the tree roots, and also he is concerned about the cost of the manure/ compost until we get into production making our own. Oh yes and the severe mares tail problem that is rife in our area. Do u think no dig would work for us with the tree root / mares tail problem?

    1. Hi Viv, The marestail question is a good one for the group as I don’t have it, but generally speaking people pull it out as it emerges and over time it does weaken. Marestail has very deep tap roots and is impossible to dig out, so digging it doesn’t help reduce it.

      I can’t say about the tree root problem without seeing how close your plot is, what kind of trees they are, etc so another good question for the group as you can post photos 🙂

      As this is an established plot and presumably weed free (apart from the marestail) you’ll need no more compost than you’re already digging in each year. I use the same amount of compost as the diggers at my allotment site, for example.

      Good luck!

  12. What about tree roots and brambles? 🙁 My raised beds years ago were killed by these. Say I do from now until spring (UK 7 months, Aug to March) with cardboard and I then just add 5cm compose each year and beat them?

    1. Brambles always need to be removed, a mulch of card or compost will not kill them. They need digging out.

      Tree roots are a tricky one! Ideally, you woiuldn’t Create beds close to trees but often space means that we have to slot things in where we can. It very much depends what the trees are, how large they are, how close to the surface the roots are, etc.

      1. Thanks Steph, I missed this reply but picked up on someone else’s question and wondered why! My partner has a grand plan and large sections of the garden are already covered with thick black plastic – brambles dug out! I’ve even got my first green house and we plan for three polytunnels – once we dig those brambles out! Fingers crossed.

  13. Not sure why it took me so long to find this blog but I am very glad I did as I often get confused about the order of things. I conducted an experiment this year with 2 4 x 4 metre allotment patches that had been awash with weeds 4 ft tall. I asked my neighbouring dairy farmer for manure and covered both plots with about 6 inches of the stuff. When it came to planting the squash, I covered one with black plastic ( and made holes to plant through ) and left the other and planted directly into the manure.

    It was an experiment but I have to report that the plot covered in plastic did really well and produced masses of squash. The other produced 3 butternut squash. Both had been watered through what was an incredibly hot summer here in western France.

    I intend to cover both patches again, with more manure and plastic over both. What I did find is that it wasn’t easy to water the “plastic covered” patch as I wasn’t sure where the holes were. Next year I will put in posts, with a flag ( perhaps ) so I know where to direct my hose.

    Anyway, thats my gardening story of 2018. Thanks for the advice. I’m off out now to cover some raised beds with cardboard and mulch.

    1. Stephanie Hafferty

      Thank you Glenn and good luck with your plot! It really was an unusually hot summer, wonder what next year has in store.

  14. Hi,

    I have recently moved to an area in Wales with heavy clay soil. I have a few large plots in my veg garden. They had been covered with black membrane and were very compacted, and I instinctively dug the whole lot over. Whilst looking at how to deal with clay soil (having been used to perfect soil in Wiltshire) I discovered your no dig theory and can see that digging over was probably not the best idea!
    I have begun composting but do not have any to really do no dig this year, and can’t afford to buy in. Once the growing season is over, and I have the compost available, how much would I lay on top of the soil (assuming it’s weed-free)? And once I lay the compost on the now empty plots, can I just recover with the black membrane till the following year?


    1. Stephanie Hafferty

      It sounds as though your plot is weed free as you’re planning to grow there this year and so there’s no need to wait, you can just stop digging and go no dig. As you’ve dug it over it may be a good idea to tamp the beds gently with the back of a rake to level it all off.

      Did you dig in any fertility – compost for example? Digging itself doesn’t make a soil fertile, usually diggers add compost etc when digging in. If not, don’t worry, it’ll be fine – have you any comfrey/nettles nearby to make some plant feed for your beds?

      I’m not sure what you mean about the membrane, why you might cover beds with it? I’m a bit tired as went out last night with some of my oldest friends & not understanding what you mean.

      1. No problem! Catch-ups are good 🙂

        I think the previous owner used the membrane to stop weeds when they weren’t using a plot. They are weed free at the moment. So once a plot is finished with this year I assume I can do the same to keep it “clean” for the following year (after topping with compost)?

        And I can just adopt no dig from now on, even though I haven’t planted anything this year and have already dug it over?

        I have put some seaweed on the beds and a very small amount of semi-rotted manure. I also make a seaweed plant feed. So if I can’t dig in compost I can feed from the top with this instead?

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  16. Hi Stephanie,

    I am a new to gardening. I have a spot in the side of my yard that doesn’t have much of anything growing, no grass a few weeds and some rocks. I suspect its clay soil. I dug around (prior to reading your post) and got some rocks and a few roots out… I noticed some life a little bit of worms but not a lot…. I do not have access to organic animal compost but am thinking about using kitchen scraps right on top and cardboard over that and buying some compost over the cardboard… I wanted to plant this spring but after reading how long it takes to heal the soil am not sure if I should.

    Any advice would be appreciated thank you!

    1. Stephanie Hafferty

      It very much depends where you are. I wouldn’t spread kitchen scraps myself here in Somerset as they risk attracting pests including slugs, snails and vermin.

      Best if you can to compost kitchen scraps.

      In some hot, dry places it is fine to do this but I have no personal experience of that myself

  17. Victoria Baines-Barker

    Hi Stephanie
    We have just got a ten pole allotment, half of which has the struggling remnants of some raised beds and the other half is a lumpy uneven wasteland.
    I am hopeful we will be able to tackle the weeds etc but my question is: what do we do about the uneven ground if we aren’t to dig it over? Using compost to fill in would cost thousands and is well beyond our budget


  18. Stephanie Hafferty

    Hello Victoria. It’s difficult to say without seeing it, but if the allotment is really uneven and can’t be levelled just by raking over or similar, then the best solution for you could be to use a spade to make it all level and then go no dig from there 🙂

  19. I think it would be great if either a continuation here or start another blog for ‘how did we get on’ for us other gardeners?. Starting no dig has so many querires for us doing it; maybe there should be a forum but they are spammed so much 🙁

    Where black plastic has been laid and brambles dug up late last year, I have found in a few cases nettles can break through. New ‘problems’ are at the edges – nettles, dwarf comfrey and ivy for me.

    Marrows are growing well in some holes in black plastic and squash and lettuce in some huegels.

    Delighted to say that one plastic removed and dwarf comfrey are dead! Great plant for bees, currently flowering for 7 months in OTHER places of the garden.

    Would like to hear other experiences.


    1. Stephanie Hafferty

      Yes, the edges are problems whatever method one chooses to use. I have a very weedy boundary adjacent to my plot and as I haven’t been able to go there for couple of weeks or so except for picking, I know that the dreaded bindweed will have been trying to make its way in. I “edge” as much as possible – ensuring that these weeds are stopped in their tracks but sometimes they do try to sneak back in.

      Hoping to get there today or tomorrow!

      I run a no dig facebook group called No Dig Gardening – Undug. We don’t have any spam posts at all, even though we have 17,000 members! (most are observing rather than contributing) It is mainly for the UK, but we have some international members too. Every new post is moderated first to ensure that and the admin team are good at removing anything too off topic.

  20. Hi I have just discovered your no dig so going to give it a try. I have a very heavy clay soil ( South Wales) which has had pigs on it all summer and winter. If I take them off and put plenty of cardboard down then some commercial compost on top will this grow thigs like potatoes and carrots? What else can I grow with them please. Very new to growing food. Thanks Lesley

    1. Stephanie Hafferty

      I can’t say really, as the pigs will have churned things up rather a lot. I’m not experienced with pigs! For sure the soil will recover but for the first year I’m not so sure if root vegetables like that would grow so well – worth giving it a try perhaps, but also grow things like squash which will be happy on pig-dug land.

      No dig works really well for heavy clay. I’m on heavy Somerset clay. Happy growing!

  21. I live in central Texas where I have about 6 to 8 inches of clay on top of a limestone bedrock. My questions are,
    1. What is the optimal soil depth for growing veg?
    2. What is the optimal soil depth for dwarf fruit trees?

    I have used municipal compost and had good results in raised beds. But bed construction is costly and time consuming so I want to try no dig but I am really concerned about the bedrock issue.

    Many thanks from Tx 🤗

    1. Stephanie Hafferty

      Hello Laurie

      I’m afraid I don’t know much about growing in Texas. The soil depth for growing fruit trees or veg would depend on the variety chosen.

      If you only have 6-8″ of soil on top of bedrock, then a raised bed would be helpful for many things. It’s not so much a no dig issue – one could make raised beds and dig them for example – but more a soil depth issue for you.

      In my front garden I have 3 raised beds for growing veg as the soil is shallow on top of builders’ rubble 🙂

  22. Hi Stephanie
    i have an allotment divided into 3. It is now April – To one i added the compost found on the allotment – turned out to be not great and quite stoney. To the second i added composted horse manure and the third one i left. Should i start card boarding and composting now or wait until the autumn?

    1. Stephanie Hafferty

      It’s difficult to say without seeing it, but sounds as though you should go right ahead and plant.

  23. Thank you for all the info. Can you tell me what kind of hoe you use? The saddle one–similar to what I’ve seen Charles use?

  24. Thanks for this list of faq. Most things I reckon are also covered well in your book, No Dig Organic Home & Garden, but I did find something that I have been wondering about for a while! I grow carrots & parsnips and have avoided using manure as a mulch because I thought they wouldn’t grow in it. I was wondering if I could use it one year on a bed of courgettes, then plant carrots the year after. Now I believe the carrots will grow through the manure mulch in a no dig bed! Yeah!!
    Thank you.

    1. Stephanie Hafferty

      Hello Pat, I sow carrots and parsnips directly into composted manure, but wouldn’t sow into fresh. I never use fresh manure as a mulch for anything.

      Composted manure will be absolutely fine 🙂

      1. Hi, sorry I did mean composted manure, just felt it was very long winded writing it each time! 😊 Thanks for making it clear though.

  25. Thank you so much for your helpful FAQ’s. 😊 I’m hoping to make a small no dig bed but was wondering if I can directly plant a well established courgette and rhubarb plant that has been growing in large container as I’ve read that they tend to develop deep roots. Not sure if I have to wait until the cardboard decomposes or I can plant large plant directly into a new no dig bed.

    Many thanks

    1. Stephanie Hafferty

      Yes you can. Just make a hole large enough to accommodate the root ball (ie: the size of the pot) – it is fine to make the hole through the card and into the soil beneath.

      Happy gardening!

  26. Very interesting article. I have two sloping banks at the entrance to our house and want to plant them up with perennial shrubs that will hopefully look after themselves once they take off. Ideally they will grow together and form a carpet. Is it wishful thinking to hope they will be able to overcome the weeds and grass that are in the bank? Do I still need to mulch and/or cover the areas?

  27. Question, planting seeds like Okra will the compost be strong enough to hold the okra plants up?
    Thanks enjoyed the article!!

  28. Thanks Stephanie,

    As young Lad I always had my little plots behind Grandfather’s house and by looking back into 1966 to 1976 he taught me a lot and his main phrases were:

    “Don’t be silly and wear off your joints and spine, the worms will do the job you only have to pay them fair.”
    His meaning was, as soon weeds did pop up, know the weeds and chop them down in the right moment (depending on the weed before excessive rooting or flowering occurs) to produce maximum foods for the life in the ground. (He usually generalized the ground life as worms.)

    “There are no weeds, a weed tells you way before your crop that you did a good or bad job fertilizing. If the weed grows not well safe your pocket money on seeds and feed the worms this year more on this specific spot.”

    “Help yourself and have a carrot if you are hungry, but you can pick the carrot by hand so close the created hole by hand. There is always “worms” getting annoyed that you turned the light on”

    Every morning I had to collect a bundle of Chickweed and bring it to his Canary Birds and they went mad on it. So I understood that a weed is not a pest, it has some use and overproduction is for the “worms”

    And we were not a Family of Vegetarians so often on Sunday early morning he was calling me up with the words:
    “Lad, catch some worms in the garden we want to go fishing but don’t create a mess”

    Just by reading your post Stephanie, it brought me back in time.
    Now I am 58 and Grandfather myself, moved from Germany to Thailand and next year I start my permaculture farm after 39 years offshore work and travelling around the world.

    Never too old to be not silly as Grandfather mentioned and your post woke up a lot of hidden knowledge and makes me feeling, it’s the right moment to retire and start a farm.
    I just will calm down the tropical weeds a bit more and therefore feeding the “worms” a fair share of cardboard.

    Thanks a lot

    1. Stephanie Hafferty

      What lovely memories, Willie! I love his advice that if a weed is growing badly, it shows that the soil needs improving.

      Have a wonderful time setting up your farm in Thailand. My Dad has lived near to Chiang Mai for 8 years now and I love it there. Couldn’t get to go this year of course, hopefully in 2021.

  29. Hello,

    I am starting an in ground garden this year. I like in New York and right now the ground is frozen, my last frost date is not until mid May. I have read so many places that in my area you have to set up the no dig method in the fall before the ground freezes. If I prep the area now with newspaper, compost, manure and straw if possible, would this still be effective? Initially I thought it would be too late and I would have to till this year and start a no dig garden after this coming growing season. The area I am planning to grow will be approximately 8′ x 30′ with 3 rows. It is currently just lawn with grass growth.

    1. Stephanie Hafferty

      It’s fine to set up no dig gardens on frozen ground, and I have done this a few times, but I expect it is much colder where you live so perhaps a plan to ask people locally to double-check.

      I only use newspaper, card and compost to set up the beds because straw isn’t so good here in sluggy Somerset, but I know than in many parts of the US it is a useful mulching material.

      Personally I would go for it!

  30. Hi Stephanie. This is a great post for no dig novices. I’ve recently acquired some space to create a small vegetable garden and am looking at following yours and Charles’s advice. I live in central Spain and for some reason am finding it impossible to get hold of any compost. I know this is what you use on top of cardboard on grassy pasture, but I’m wondering if I will be able to use well rotted manure instead, and then plant pretty much straight into it. I can get hold of some cow and sheep manure and am planning on sowing pretty much a month later. Will rotted manure be ok for immediate sowing? I don’t seem to be able to find this information any where. Any help would be hugely appreciated. Many thanks, Janine x

    1. Stephanie Hafferty

      Hi Janine – well rotted manure is compost, so that should be fine. Just make sure that it is well rotted before you spread it.
      Sounds like you have a useful resource there!

  31. Hi Stephanie,

    My wife and I are attempting a no-dig garden this year. We live in a very dry climate with average temps between 80-90 degrees F, 26 – 32 degrees C. I’ve read some criticisms of planting in strait compost, especially a thick layer like you recommend here (5-6 inches for your first year of no dig) because the compost doesn’t hold moisture as well as regular soil. They also mention that because compost doesn’t compact well that your roots may not be able to support their plants as well as if the plants were planted into regular soil. Any advice or thoughts?.

    1. Stephanie Hafferty

      It very much depends on the compost. I have had no issues with it holding moisture, with the exception of green waste compost.

      Compost should be tamped down (not compacted) and this is firm enough for plant roots. These roots also go into the soil beneath.

      You don’t need 5-6″ in the first year – it is helpful if one is making beds on very weedy ground but a couple of inches on card is fine too.

      In your climate, a mulch of something like straw or leaves on top can help to keep in moisture – you’re unlikely to have slugs I think?

      1. Thank you for your insights Stephanie! I have a few more questions for you, if you don’t mind.

        The space we’re using this season is somewhat weed heavy, so we think a mulch of some kind is necessary. We have access to a lot of cardboard, and the plan was to layer the cardboard and cover with 5-6″ of compost on top. We were planning on using 100 % green waste compost, but after your comment as well as other sites recommending a green waste composition of 3-6%, and the possible risks of high salinity counts in compost, I’m reconsidering. I’m thinking of buying a large load of green waste compost and a large amount of high quality top soil and combining the two to decrease the amount of compost in our space.

        I know it’ll be a ton of work to combine green waste compost with a more reliable and predictable and high quality top soil that’s weed free, and then spreading it out all over our plot. But that’s what we’re thinking we need to do to avoid the risks of too much green waste compost. Would you make any other recommendations? Do you always use green waste compost in your beds? Or do you use a different kind of compost when you can get it?

      2. Stephanie Hafferty

        Mixing the two sounds like a good idea, especially as the top soil has been screened for weeds. 100% green waste dried out too quickly on its own, I find, so a depth of that alone is not a good idea.

  32. Hi Stephanie,

    First I want to thank you for all your time and kindness to those of us who appreciate your gardening style! What a blessing you are! I am excited to put in my new garden and have a question for you. The best place I have for this garden is on a gentle slope that has quite a lot of uneven ground. I suspect some of that has been caused by ground squirrels and maybe rabbits, as there are several mini crater-like depressions. Is it ok to just lay the cardboard and compost down on uneven ground? Or should I fill it in with extra soil first? Then again, is it ok to garden where ground squirrels may come up in my beds? If I were doing raised beds I would cover the bottoms with hardware cloth before adding soil. Fellow gardeners have suggested raised beds for this very reason.

    Would appreciate any thoughts you may have.

    1. Stephanie Hafferty

      Thank you so much!

      We don’t have ground squirrels here in the UK so I am not sure what they are, what damage they cause, or how persistent they might be. Usually I would just use compost and card as necessary, I’m afraid I can’t advise about whether raised beds would be better for you with these squirrels – we only have “up in the tree” squirrels here 🙂

  33. Hello, I’ve been putting manure down on my plot the last 2 weeks. It’s not particularly well rotted – its 1 year + old but has been stored in a pile so still not well rotted. Will I need to put compost on top of the manure to plant into? Can I plant roots into the manure, or should I lay a separate place in my allotment with compost for roots? I am doing no dig. Thanks!

    1. Stephanie Hafferty

      Really difficult to say, especially without seeing it – usually manure that has been stacked for a year is quite mature, but if you’re concerned some definitely well rotted compost on top would be good.

      It’s fine as-is for things like courgettes and squashes

  34. I have practised no-dig for 3 years but my 8 year-old raised veg. beds are now full to overflowing so I cannot just add another compost layer. What advice can you give me?

    1. Stephanie Hafferty

      Very difficult to say without seeing the beds and knowing why they are over flowing, but if they are full of compost then leave it for another year, don’t top up

  35. Thank you for a very helpful I overview. Just wondering if you, or Charles, reuse/recycle your used potting compost from propagation? Or do you mulch your bed with it, or add it to your compost piles?

    1. Stephanie Hafferty

      Hi Jeremy.

      I reuse my propagation compost in different ways – usually tip it into a large bin if I need to store it temporarily, and then re-use it with some homemade or fresh bought compost to fill pots.

      Or I tip it onto potato beds to help earth them up.

      Or it goes into the compost heap.

      Potting compost is so expensive I certainly try to get as much use out of it as possible!

  36. Nice article! New vegetable gardener and the No-dig method. Can I plant okra in open space near a fig tree? It is a 4” raised bed that I haven’t used in a few years, but digging I see a lot of tree roots in the bed. Will okra find its way down through the tree roots and grow well if I don’t dig up to remove the tree roots?

  37. Pingback: Ten top organic gardening blogs | Blog at Thompson & Morgan

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