Beginners’ Guide to Dig Free Gardening

Last Updated on April 10, 2024 by Real Men Sow

Simply put,  Dig-free gardening is as simple as it sounds. It is a way to garden without having to dig over the plot every year. It is based on the principle of minimizing soil disturbance, making it less disturbing. The advice to dig into your soil to cultivate and improve it has been around for decades in allotments and gardens across the country. This is done to promote healthy soil and the removal of weeds, which can be a false impression.

A Dig-Free garden means that you only have to disturb the soil for your seedlings to be planted and do some light hoeing. You can then grow by adding a compost mulch every year. You won’t need to fork, dig twice or pull your back. Beginner gardeners often complain that gardening is too hard or takes too much time. You’re saving time and effort if you don’t spend too much time fighting your soil.

What does Dig-Free gardening look like?

The No dig method relies on careful preparation and the suppression of weeds. Then, cover the area with a thick layer of compost and cardboard. After you have prepared the site for growth, you are good to go!

Three main steps to starting a Dig-Free garden

  1. Preparing the site: Mulch and weed smothering
  2. No digging in, enrich the soil with thick compost mulch
  3. This compost is replenished each year as a mulch.

Essential ingredients that you will need. Most of these you already have

  • Any kind of cardboard will do. You can remove staples to save yourself.
  • You can make compost from homemade manure, purchased in manure or collected from a local farm.
  • Use a spade or fork to transfer the compost to your new beds.

How to start a garden without digging

A ‘No dig garden’ requires that you prepare the site. Failure to prepare is a guarantee of failure. You can use cardboard to cover any existing weeds and grass, then prepare the soil for planting.

Steps in Making a Dig-free Garden

  1. If Bramble crowns are present, remove them. Leave all other weeds alone.
  2. You can prepare the site by laying thick cardboard on the surface. This will serve as your beds and walkways between them.
  3. Use stones or something similar to put weight on the cardboard.
  4. This cardboard area should be covered with a 6-inch thick layer of compost.
  5. You can leave the cardboard to fully decompose. You can now plant your new beds!
  6. To enrich the soil for next year’s planting, add compost each year.

The dual layer of cardboard and compost blocks light and acts as an obstacle for weeds. They either stop growing or die back. This is a great thing because it is completely organic and uses cardboard that is recycled by soil. This is where the key lies: You must keep out light, which can kill off weeds.

There is no need to use toxic concoctions, chemicals or back-breaking digging to remove them. All of this is done with mulch and cardboard. You can grab a cup of coffee and start sowing seedlings.

Remove perennial weeds

The best thing about dig-free gardening? There is no need for you to pull weeds before you lay your cardboard and mulch down. It can be tedious and time-consuming to pull out weeds from your garden. Many gardeners who are new to the hobby say that it is difficult at first to distinguish a weed from a “real” plant.

No dig reduces the likelihood of weeds. Weeds that do emerge can be removed from the loose topsoil structure. Because the soil is relatively soft and free of weeds, you don’t have to dig to remove them.

It’s best to first remove the woody crown before you lay the cardboard and mulch. Most perennial weeds can be destroyed by cardboard and mulch. There are exceptions like Ground Elder, Bindweed, and Mares Tail. These will all require constant observation and intervention.

Layering Cardboard to Dig-Free

Your beds will be prepared with cardboard. You can use a plastic membrane to kill the weeds in the first phase. However, it will need to be removed. To prevent weeds from coming back through, this should be overlapping by 2-3 inches.

Add a thick layer of compost

Use 10mm or less of sieved compost. However, homemade green waste compost and well-rotted manure are also good options. The best tip is to place your coarser compost at the bottom, and your lumpier compost at the top. This is where you ‘topdress’ the soil to allow worms and other organisms to break down the compost into the soil below. This means that you can plant directly into the top compost layer even if your soil is poor or damaged. This means you don’t need to soil test or dig in organic material. These beds are ready for planting.

It is important to add a thick layer. It should be at least 3-6 inches in thickness, and then 2 inches each year. Light sprinkling won’t have much effect, so it is important to do a lot with this one. Even if you have a small bed, it is worth ordering a few tonnes of compost. It will surprise you how quickly the compost is incorporated into the soil, meaning that your dig-free bed is actually working.

Your best friend is compost. It will propel your dig-free gardening to bumper harvests with minimal weeding. You must pay attention to the edges of your bed. The weakest point is where perennial weeds can grow again. These may require you to mulch more than the rest of your site.

You can plant out in a Dig-Free bed

It’s easy to plant using a long-handled, slender dibber. Think of it as a brush handle with no brush. There is no need to bend or kneel. It’s best to grow your seedlings as modules to save time and make them easier to prick. Also, make sure that the soil is sufficient to allow the plant to grow in a tight space. It’s important to bury the seedlings deep, covering some of their stems.

You can reduce the likelihood of pests eating your crop by keeping it tidy, such as removing any damaged leaves and regular light hoeing. Crop your beds several times a year. This will make it easier for you to harvest more and reduce the potential for weeds’ growth.

Why Dig-free Gardening Method is Best for Beginners

  • This saves time and allows beginners to enjoy the growing process instead of weeding/struggling.
  • It doesn’t matter how small you start, even a 1mx2m bed can be created dig-free in a matter of days!
  • It takes little skill to create a dig-free garden. You’re only layering cardboard and spreading the compost. This means you can spend more time learning about how to grow from seeds and picking your crops.
  • There is no need to fertilize or follow complicated plant care guidelines.
  • Improved growing conditions mean that there is less chance of harvest failure.
  • It is possible to walk on the soil without it being compacted. Compost is more flexible and has a stronger structure because it doesn’t require any digging.
Real Men Sow
Real Men Sow

Hello, I’m Pete and I’m currently based in the west of Scotland, in a small place called Rosneath, where I’m exploring my garden adventures. I personally started gardening around 6 years ago and initially, I started out by growing my favorite fruits and berries, such as strawberries, Raspberries & Gooseberries. Since then I’ve added a lot of vegetables and working closely with my neighbor, it’s been a lot of fun.