No-Dig Gardening (Why I DON'T Do It)

No-Dig Gardening (Why I DON'T Do It)

No-dig gardening is a popular and potentially effective way to garden, but it’s not best for every gardener. Good soil created by earthworms and soil organisms are important aspects of no-dig gardening. Without adequate soil life, there can be better garden options than no-dig gardening. (Video #219)

“Organic Gardening: The Natural No-Dig Way” by Charles Dowding:
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50 Comments

  1. Paul Taylor on October 21, 2022 at 8:14 pm

    Here in this part of Scotland we have New Zealand flatworms, probably introduced through potted plants. The flatworms search out and kill earthworms and the result is that on our allotment (community garden) there are no earthworms so compost spread on top does not get pulled down into the soil.

  2. Garden Wonder on October 21, 2022 at 8:15 pm

    My soil is clay and my root vegetables found it too hard to break with just cardboard for no dig. I didn’t like the results. All that soil is so expensive. I agree with you.

  3. Grahame Staines on October 21, 2022 at 8:16 pm

    We dig all our organic kitchen waste and any of our home grown pumpkins that have rotten back into our beds…. this brings a lot of earthworms into our ground beds…. we are carefully with the pumpkin seeds if you don’t want pumpkins growing in that bed….. if any animals dig it up, we put wire mesh over it for a few day….. the worms get rid or it quickly…. no smell if you dig a deep hole….. about 300mm…. worms love pumpkin….

  4. TheTrock121 on October 21, 2022 at 8:16 pm

    I built raised beds and went to no-till 3 years ago. Buying 20 yards of compost, acquiring 30 yards of composted horse manure, and mixing in the best of my top soil and peat moss allowed me to get started. We have chickens for manure and make 2 or 3 yards of compost each year to maintain the beds. It’s a lot of work, but for the first time our soil is improving each year instead of depleting. The weeding is also much easier.

  5. maartenvt on October 21, 2022 at 8:20 pm

    I agree with Charles. You just have to make this initial investment of some truckloads of professional good compost. Maybe you could start with a smaller area and expand in function of your capacity to maintain the space.
    But I’m very sure that you will succeed without digging the organic material in. You might need to use more water to irrigate, but compared with dug earth, it will be less. My opinion is that, when you don’t do the initial investment and start digging in smaller amounts, your efforts will not pay off and it will take longer with less yield.

  6. marvin mulford on October 21, 2022 at 8:21 pm

    Agreed, what you say is the truth and was praticed way back in farming with horses.

  7. R E on October 21, 2022 at 8:21 pm

    This makes a lot of sense! We have yellow clay with zero life. We have dug it out in areas and keave it as the base only. In other areas we have used biochar, bokashi and organic matter dug in to bring it alive.

  8. spritzpistol on October 21, 2022 at 8:23 pm

    I follow the no dig method to a certain extent, I do dig some beds, mainly to help with previously compacted and not so great soil, left from desire lines. However, most of my soil (here in the UK) is a dark, loamy mix, well draining but with clay way down to help keep a rich mix and moisture. We live in a slighter dryer region, but still have plenty of rainfall. As you rightly say, you would have to shell out hundreds of dollars to start your soil as it does look pretty compacted. Charles brought this method up to date here in the UK, and I think we find this method suits our climate. Those before him had done the same, such as Guest etc. He is the more modern day pioneer, and here in the UK it’s very popular as our garden soil is quite fertile in most areas (mainly due to our excessive rainfall and hence consistent cover of weeds, grass and a diverse selection of wild plants). Worms enjoy moisture, so if your soil is dry, you’d have a dig a fair way down to find moisture and soil life, which isn’t so prolific that far down, plus greatly lacking in sandy types of soil, so I totally see why this methods not for you. You’ve made great tracks and as you fill your space more and more with plants, such as shrubs to provide shade and deep rooted plants to help break up your soil, you’ll get the fertility back. The only downside to having rich, fertile soil is the amount of 🌧 we have to put up with. We are in the midst of our ‘Goldilocks’ gardening months, where we have both long warm days with pretty good sunshine and a small amount of rain. Thankfully our water butts are full from the earlier months🙏. Good luck and look forward to see your garden mature more and more. All good wishes 🐝

  9. umiluv on October 21, 2022 at 8:23 pm

    I’ll add that Charles Dowding bought that property because it was flat and used to be a small farm. So the land had already been prepared before for him – probably tilled and all the rocks removed. So of course he could do no-till on top of that! It was already prepped for him!

  10. Ronald Farmer on October 21, 2022 at 8:25 pm

    look at permaculture you could do a really cool guild

  11. Andrew Perkin on October 21, 2022 at 8:26 pm

    In effect Gardener Scott is doing a form no dig by using raised beds – no? But those are indeed challenging conditions. No dig was the only option in Dar es Salaam Tanzania where I lived for a while as there was only coral rock and lateritic soils, so I had to make my soils form garden and kitchen waste. No dig worked for me on hard stony, sandy and acidic soils in part of the Thames basin heath ecosystem in Surrey, UK which is good for heather and birch but not tender veges. I constructed raised beds, put down card board threw on leave much and garden compost which was cold composted so i do get weeds growing but its easy to deal with. I will now make more new beds with out timber borders. My partner says you are just making work for yourself but I say i’m just throwing some compost down and planting stuff and leaving them to it. My father in Devon who farms on clay soils complains of the back breaking work to turn it over constantly. I’m trying to convert him but hes stuck in his ways/clays! Nice to see these friendly exchanges between gardening gurus to.

  12. tudorpot tudorpot on October 21, 2022 at 8:29 pm

    Interesting, essentially you added organic matter equivalent to the 15 cm/6 inches of compost that Dowding recommends. After complaining that it would be too expensive in $ , time and effort. You chose to dig it in, when you could have dropped it on the surface, then immediately planted. Dowding is very clear on immediately planting. Waiting isn’t recommended.  

    I think the confusion here is based on language. Compost is organic matter. I too found myself frustrated 🇨🇦🇨🇦🇨🇦 when trying to follow Dowding’s teachings. Until I thought thru the essentials of No Dig, In Canada, we mostly have well rotted manure, wood chips and tree leaves available for home gardeners to use as organic matter. These materials all are organic matter. Suppliers are now offering “composted manure”. How is that different to well rotted manure? No real difference in materials. It’s all in a name. I’m fortunate in having lived & worked in the USA, United Kingdom and my birthplace, Canada. I’m fluent in all three versions of the English language.

    You chose to dig it in. Are you going to continue adding organic matter? Are you going to dig it in?

    Nature is more clever than we give it credit. Each year trees drop leaves onto the ground, seeds drop on it and grow. No one comes and digs it in to help seeds grow, Rain, worms critters, vertebrates &, invertebrates, bacteria and fungi all eat each other, travel, defecate and reproduce in the top few inches if the earth. In doing so the newly dropped leaves are broken down and incorporated into the ground. A top layer of new leaves is dropped,-what we call mulch, this protects the soil from wind, rain, heat and cold. Dowding IMO, is promoting supporting nature’s method, protecting the food soil web and as a side effect, protecting the spine health of gardeners.
    I will watch both your videos. Scott, yours provides a North American context, Dowding offers years of experience, knowledge, skilled teaching and profound understanding of plant growth. His videos need to be rewatched, as I find the depth of content is only fully appreciated this way. 
    thanks Freda

  13. Margot Robartes on October 21, 2022 at 8:31 pm

    We can buy earthworms at one of our major garden centres. They have grown all their own annual and many perennial plants for sale for so many decades. I’m 75 and kids I grew up with had holiday jobs with this business. (Mine we’re spent on family farms) so they sell garden worms at one of their big growing areas.
    My garden here was simply dust when I arrived with a few plants and everything cut back so hard that no goodness from leaves for example, to drop onto and ultimately into my soil. So I started building up this soil. Plus I personally got a few worms from my late Mother’s garden and I’ve now got a growing crop of worms in my soil. I’ve grown compost, I’ve bought compost and other organic materials and layered these in.these garden beds and some lawn clippings (when my landladies lawn mowing man lets me have some)
    20 years ago I did a horticultural course and I learnt so much. Much I already knew, but this course taught me WHY I was DOING this stuff I ALREADY knew and what and HOW my soil was gained. Worth the year I spent doing this.
    The only time I did a no dig garden was when I had a raised garden That I filled from this garden . It took a year to fill and then I added all the other nutrients that this garden needed. I added these items and forked it through and it was a wonderful garden. It still is. I’ve just planted my garlic (it’s winter down here in New Zealand) and added some Sheep pellets and forked them through before I planted. I also use a Seaweed fertiliser which is added to water and used to water my plants. Plus peat, new compost, old leaves, a little grass (I was lucky enough to gain) and some rotted sawdust and pig manure which I dug in last spring.
    So I’m not so patient either except for that one new garden which did take a year and ive used for this will be my third year.

  14. Wendy Burston on October 21, 2022 at 8:32 pm

    Thank you for explaining the reasons for the methods. I was a little confused until watching this because my garden has a lot of clay. No dig didn’t work well for me this time, but now I know what to do to fix it. Thank you so much.

  15. Loraborealis on October 21, 2022 at 8:32 pm

    I would love to see videos from different regions and climates to see what methods work best. Like here in southern Alabama we tried the back to eden or no dig method but the weeds are relentless here. The soil is good but it’s continuous effort as there is pretty much a year round growing season here. I might try again. It will take many more than three layers of cardboard though. It’s frustrating to do so much work and then have it not work out!

  16. Alfian Abdul Halin on October 21, 2022 at 8:33 pm

    Excellent tip my friend. Hope to see your no dig garden when the time comes 🙂

  17. Lindsay D. on October 21, 2022 at 8:34 pm

    Tip for if you’re dealing with hard or compact soil and you need to dig or break it up, go get a geological pick from the hardware store.

  18. al gunn on October 21, 2022 at 8:35 pm

    I have found that many methods suggested in books and videos were developed in areas that had more rain and longer growing seasons than where I live in Colorado. This is one of the reasons I appreciate your channel so much.

    For example, Hügelkultur is one of things I’m not sure is feasible for this area. I have found hunks of an old tree trunk in my garden that had to be there for over 20 years. It was barely broken down. I look forward to some follow up regarding your experiments with this technique.

    Keep up the good work!

  19. The Perfect Poor on October 21, 2022 at 8:35 pm

    ROCK ON GARDER SCOTT !!!!!!!!!!!!!! GREAT CHANNEL AND THANKS FOR HELPING TO SAVE THE WORLD !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  20. nik rakels on October 21, 2022 at 8:37 pm

    my property in Chch NZ had "Liquifaction" from the 2011 earthquakes like gardening in compacted vacuum cleaner dust there was nothing there or alive when I arrived
    I have no idea where the worms came from but after making my own compost I had gazillions
    you need to make large scale bins with lots of green and cardboard banana skins and coffee grounds ( free from local petrol station and supermarket)

  21. Metta Analysis on October 21, 2022 at 8:38 pm

    Love your channel Scott

  22. SenhorTudo on October 21, 2022 at 8:39 pm

    Ground (dirt) such as yours does not need "a couple of inches" of organic matter placed on it. You need a few tons of the stuff. This is where the Ruth Stout method comes to the fore. You cover the ground with bales of hay or straw and plant in THAT. This will break down and enrich your dirt. You may have to import a handful of earthworms once the organic matter has broken down enough, but in time everything will sort itself out. Basically you will be laying new soil over the old ground. The old ground will then soak up water from the layer above, allowing the earthworms to carry the organic matter into your ground, thus deepening the productive layer and turning it into arable soil.
    Our village is built upon solid rock. Sand had to be imported, so there is a few inches of it over the rock. When we arrived, my wife and I found a veritable desert landscape with only a few indigenous weeds and grasses growing. We gathered up all the fallen leaves, cut grass and any other stuff we could find – our neighbours registered horror at the sight of us placing layers of corrugated cardboard boxes on our yard! – but even in that first year we were able to grow a reasonable crop of vegetables. Now, six years later, the garden produced so much fruit that we have been able to preserve enough to last ‘way past the winter months.
    DEEP mulch is the answer: not "a couple inches"!

  23. brenda lloyd on October 21, 2022 at 8:40 pm

    I have watched and subscribed to your page and Charles Dowding…he lives in the United Kingdom and you live in the southern states…he is practising no dig on healthy green lawn and weeds..you have a sun baked hard base..you cannot compare the 2…I live in zone 5..I have raised beds but I’m going to start any new gardens with the no dig method…for you to compare your ground to his is just not sensible or fair…you have to remember where you live…I have a hard time finding gardening sites that I can relate to..I find your video quite biased and almost insulting..wish you the best gardening where you live…but Charles dowding is more useful for me and my zone…so I’ll be inscribing…stick to your zone and do not compare scorched soil to healthy fertile soil

  24. Oğuzhan İzmir on October 21, 2022 at 8:42 pm

    The idea is that we should cater for a healthy and nutrient rich soil! We share the earth with other organisms and we can only prosper together, not by taking the space for only us humans. Such invasive agricultural methods have proved unsuccessful in the past as we can see in the decreased soil quality in America and desertified areas. In addition, one can only dig such wide areas, water them and add nutrients by taking the energy, nutrients, and water from somewhere else as such things do not just exist by themselves. The tractors take too much fossil fuel, they produce emissions, those nutrients come from the developing parts of the world, destroying the soil there. Therefore, we need smarter methods that only tilt the balance a bit to ourselves rather than destroying everything to then recreate it with much more energy. I appreciate your perspective as here in Turkey, it is almost impossible for a farmer to wait for years until the soil quality is improved to start profiting. Yet, such a problem could be solved if it is included in a reform package undertaken by the state. So I think we should search for new methods rather than sticking to the old ones!

  25. LKSF on October 21, 2022 at 8:42 pm

    This would have been better titled ‘Why I don’t think I can use no dig’.

  26. The Perfect Poor on October 21, 2022 at 8:45 pm

    WE DEFINITELY BELIEVE THAT SOME SITUATIONS CALL FOR A 1-DIG !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  27. tim master on October 21, 2022 at 8:46 pm

    You’re 100% right as I am currently finding out. I recently bought a house that had a garden area. Well it hadnt been planted that year and the soil had severely eroded and was very clay like. I just threw mulch/fresh wood chips on top. This first year has been a complete bust. Worst garden you can imagine despite this year being one of the best climate wise. Im sure next year wont be much better. Its rather disheartening. Perhaps I’ll take next year off.

  28. Michele Marble on October 21, 2022 at 8:46 pm

    Gardner Scott I like most of your videos. However this one has some deficiencies. I have watched many videos of Charles Dowding and he has promoted no dig gardening for decades you are right about that. But it is not just the worms and soil life for the reason why he promotes it. It is mostly to not disturb the fungal network that works with your plants that helps feed them. No dig gardening is much deeper than you explained and maybe you want to look into it more in its modern form. It is also very connected with permaculture. I hope you do this because I think you support in theory what this is all about. I believe it’s the best for the soil as well as for gardening. Also a raised bed garden is a no dig garden.

  29. MrCollinsBHS on October 21, 2022 at 8:47 pm

    Nature is the master gardener. If she follows a no dig protocol, that’s what I’m doing. The worst soil will be improved dramatically over time by following no-dig methods.

  30. Morad Rabia on October 21, 2022 at 8:47 pm

    Thank you for your very useful advices i am from Algeria i am trying to learn about no dig and natural agriculture it’s a pleasure to follow a professional instructions

  31. Dusty Flats on October 21, 2022 at 8:48 pm

    I believe this is the Ruth Stout method also called lasagna gardening. I have similar soil to yours only it’s sand and it’s easy to dig. There were no worms until I added a lot of any and all compostable material and slowly I see a few more each year. I thought I would try this Stout method, but I really didn’t see fantastic plants in that garden, plus the thought of snakes that love piles of straw. For those reasons I prefer to get it mixed in as I’m not waiting for great soil at a glacier pace and like to see the snakes first. We have tree trimmers in the family and was lucky enough to get a couple truck loads of bark. I also added to the garden. I just make sure I have enough nitrogen. Lasagna gardening adds more to soil than Stout method. She added cottonseed meal or greensand and I don’t think that’s enough. The video I seen of her she was older and I’m sure her garden wasn’t as well kept as when she was younger, but I like a tidy garden. I don’t till all season only at the end and a few raised beds. I’ve never heard of the author you mentioned. Sometimes I bury comfortable material direct to garden in trenches. Great info, thank you.

  32. Mechanics 4 All on October 21, 2022 at 8:48 pm

    why dont you do a trial patch for fun

  33. rr bb on October 21, 2022 at 8:49 pm

    I’ve never seen as amazing a garden as Charles Dowding’s and all with a fraction of the work… that’s why I follow his example.

  34. Garden Secret on October 21, 2022 at 8:50 pm

    This is a great video I have just got an allotment the soil is very sandy and poor in nutrients. It was once a farm land about 30 years ago but once the farmer passed away the land was left to its own devices. Although easy to dig there is no live in it no earthworms. So has my year decided to do a little digging just incorporate the top soil with organic matter and than mulch the beds to keep the moisture so I could actually grown something in it. Maybe in years to come I will turn in to full no dig but at the moment it’s just not possible

  35. nathan ellison on October 21, 2022 at 8:50 pm

    I do a mix of no dig and hugelkultur. Some beds I do one or the other. Cover crop and always covering the soil and keeping roots in the ground have helped me a lot

  36. Lucy Rane on October 21, 2022 at 8:51 pm

    Good talk. Good advice. This is what I’m going to do. Thank you.

  37. K Wood on October 21, 2022 at 8:52 pm

    I can dig it .

  38. Clive's Conundrum Garden on October 21, 2022 at 8:53 pm

    Excellent video. Great information

  39. Al Cogito on October 21, 2022 at 8:53 pm

    You can even make a garden in the sand of an islet which is a part of an atoll in the Pacific.First you import soil by ship and ferry it across the lagoon in a motorboat. $$$ Add all the household food scraps and chopped up vegetation (palm fronds, seaweed) you can find, Plant some veg and incorporate all the plant trimmings. Eventually you have it.

  40. Carmen Slee on October 21, 2022 at 8:56 pm

    Permaculture would work in this dreadful ,dry, dead situation.

  41. M.R. B. on October 21, 2022 at 8:58 pm

    May I ask why you bought this house with such terrible soil?

  42. Mikey Byrne on October 21, 2022 at 8:58 pm

    I do no dig. The method absolutely explodes the population of worms and they really do churn up even heavy clay like mine. You would have to live on the moon to have completely sterile soil with no life in it at all.

  43. Esteban Juiz on October 21, 2022 at 8:59 pm

    Hi. I live in a small town in the pirenees, and i did exactly what you say in the video. Bringing life and improving the soil, mulch, manure from mules and horses and sheep, cardboard and some digging , compost…. 2021 was our first year and It went quite right.
    We grow in 150m2. I find your advices and expertise so interesting. Thanks a lot.

  44. Maryse Mazères on October 21, 2022 at 9:00 pm

    you tell you dig and incorporated fresh weeds, you should let the green dry a bit before diging it in, if not, you will have différents worms, eating you roots, or plants seekness.

  45. Angie Wombwell on October 21, 2022 at 9:04 pm

    A better method for soil in that state is have crimp roll the weeds, manure, spread 6in of hay, disc seed a summer cover crop, irrigate for the summer, then roll that in, newspaper line it, hay mulch again, then winter cover crop including radish varieties, roll that, repeat with newspaper and hay. By now you have bacteria, nematodes, fungi, worms etc. and from that point on as long as you keep the mulch up so it never dries out and dies and keep a living root in soil to feed sugars to those microbes, including nitrogen fixers, she’ll be perfect forever more. One year of effort to create good top soil for generations to come, but your method will never give you the quality top soil you need in a climate that dry.

  46. Skerries Rock Art Ireland on October 21, 2022 at 9:04 pm

    No dig doesnt work,especially on hard clay or thin soil

  47. Map Of The Soul: Tag Me on October 21, 2022 at 9:06 pm

    Hello, I live in Calgary, Canada and the Alberta province’s outdoor soil in general is hard gray clay soil. Some of my garden plots are like that too and don’t seem to have anybody living inside. On some patches, I put grass pieces as mulch. For some others, I planted alfalfa and red clover cover crop seeds a few days ago. Then next spring I can chop and drop cover crops.🍭🍭🐉

    From April- early June the city lets us take free compost made from things we put in our green compost carts. I only have a tiny bit left from last year so I can’t amend soil this fall. Next spring, should I take off most of the fallen cover crops and grass, mix in compost into the beds and then reapply the cover crops and grass as mulch again? Or is there a better way?

  48. silvia on October 21, 2022 at 9:07 pm

    thats exactly the soil i have in my garden, stony hard and compacted… what do you do about it? raised beds? near my garden there is a field where the farmer plowed and cared for the soil for years (30) and there are many earth worms and i can dig easily in a whole shovel in the soil withoud impact drill which i need in my garden to dig a planting hole for a tree.

  49. Mark is Living Deliberately on October 21, 2022 at 9:10 pm

    Seems like you spent a lot of time, money, and labor on your raised beds. Compost + cardboard or your whole set up price wise probably isn’t an astronomical difference. Cost prohibitive maybe. But investing effort and money up front for decades of less work maybe is a decent idea.

  50. DiscoChixify on October 21, 2022 at 9:11 pm

    A few years ago my aunt and uncle bought a house with a similar yard. The ground was hard with nothing but silt on top. Not even weeds would grow in it.

    What I did for them was to bring about 25 gallons of my homemade finished vermicompost to their yard and mix it in with the first 2-3 inches of soil and silt. It didn’t offer perfect coverage, it was patchy and clumpy because I was doing it by hand with just a rake and a shovel. I watered that in.

    Then I bought one bag of lawn soil amendment and sprinkled that throughout the yard. Again, it wasn’t a true layer and didn’t offer full coverage of any kind. Then I got a single bag of combination grass seed for full sun and full shade, and I sprinkled that around the yard. After that I watered in the seeds.

    The next thing I did was build them a stacking compost tower. I set up the first two trays in the tower with worms from my compost bins & fresh green & brown waste. I set them up on top of the new soil so that any worm tea or adventurous worms from the bin could travel out into the yard over time. I taught my aunt and uncle how to compost using their new composter & asked them to water regularly by hand until they could get a sprinkler system put in.

    Within the first few weeks their new grass was growing and they had a decent yard. My uncle was happy to have a lawn he could soon mow. And my aunt started using their new finished compost to create raised beds.

    It’s been 2 years or so since then and they’re growing fruit trees, vegetables in their raised beds, growing in containers outside on the patio, growing herbs in their kitchen window and in various pots around the house… all in their homemade compost. It definitely took them time and patience to get there but they’re happy they waited I’m sure. They’re always gushing about how much food they get from what they grow and how they start new planters only when they have enough finished compost to fill them.

    I can see how pointless it might seem to use regular compost to amend your soil and trying to plant in that & just wait for the critters to be attracted. Because my compost and my aunts compost started with earthworms, and they’re kept outside so that all of nature’s creatures have access to them, we already have those critters & we’re just offering them more room to proliferate. Here’s the real magic though. I took one of my outdoor vegetable pots that was already established and full of life, one of the smaller ones that I usually grow potatoes in but had left it barren for 3 months prior, and gave them that. I put it next to their compost tower and told them to add a scoop of soil from the bin into their stacking unit after every time they added scraps to the tower. That pot and it’s contents had been one of my originals from about six years ago so it was plenty established by that point. It would be a good idea maybe to find another grower near you with a soil that was already teaming with life, and ask to take a few cubic feet of it to help inoculate your yard & garden.

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