No-Dig vs No-Till Gardening

No-Dig vs No-Till Gardening

No-dig and no-till gardening are not the same thing. Many gardeners use the terms interchangeably, but there are key differences between these gardening methods. Both no-dig gardening and no-till gardening philosophies highlight the importance of soil and allowing soil organisms to aid gardeners. Gardener Scott discusses these gardening methods and helps identify the differences in no-dig and no-till gardens. (Video #220)

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50 Comments

  1. Thom Bluemel on September 20, 2022 at 6:44 pm

    Another great video! I like a hybrid of no-dig and no-till. I have 2 large (4′ x 12′ x 4′ deep) composting bins because I know the value of finished compost in growing, but I started my beds by employing mostly no-till methods. I have a climate very similar to gardener Scott’s and I am a huge believer in mulching. I have found chopped straw is great and this year I will try pine shavings and black plastic mulching; but every year when I put the beds to sleep, I spread about 2" of compost on top and then cover them with clear 6 mil plastic. Works like a charm in our zone 5b area.

  2. Diego A Secas on September 20, 2022 at 6:45 pm

    in the end it all boils down to use what’s most appropriate for your soil and your climate, so do your research and experiment a lot which is the fun part of all this plant stuff :->

  3. justgivemethetruth on September 20, 2022 at 6:45 pm

    I am watching your video, always informative and good by the way.

    What I am hearing is that *no* *dig* is putting compost on the top of the soil ( maybe with mulch or cardboard or something under it, and gradually over the seasons building up that layer of very good soil.

    But what I am hearing is that *no* *till* is virtually the same only you use hay or wood chips … and I think I must be missing something.

    Maybe it would help to define the terms *dig* and *till* .

    I somehow got the impression that both of these are reactions to the way the average American farm does agriculture these days. That is, to use the soil is a matrix on which is tilled, plowed or dug holes to put the plants in, and they are fed with chemicals, not with the nutrition in the soil. Is that true?

    So that *no* *dig* would mean not penetrating the soil below the layer of compost and just leaving it for the compost, mulch, wood chips, etc to foster the life that would slowly soften the ground and work its way into the soil. Would that makes sense?

    And then *no* *till* would be virtually the same but without using a plough to cut a valley in the soil to plant the seeds.

    I guess don’t really see the difference as far the basics of what both methods do … i.e. not having to work the underlying soil which may be problematic or need very intense labor?

  4. Get Real, Girlfriend on September 20, 2022 at 6:48 pm

    You have explained this in such a digestible way. Thank you for helping me do my garden right this year!!

  5. articmars1 on September 20, 2022 at 6:51 pm

    I watched an episode of epic gardening that he did with charles dowding an he said that charles tilled the soil when he first started then after he loosened the soil he went to no dig. So the first time he put in his garden where he is now he tilled. Keven said it cuts out years of waiting. They till that first year then go to no dig and no till.

  6. Love always Jasmine on September 20, 2022 at 6:51 pm

    Question when I harvest something should I leave the roots in and plant on top of that?

  7. Living Evida on September 20, 2022 at 6:53 pm

    If you really pay attention to Charles he does plan ahead to get compost ahead of time the organic material is brought in, foraged from his garden and then creates the compost. So basically what you do on your beds he does in his compost heap continually. It just makes it so that you can do what you are doing but have compost for no dig.

  8. H Wilkins on September 20, 2022 at 6:55 pm

    Do your wood chips not use the nitrogen in soil to break down? How do you overcome the decrease of nitrogen?

  9. justgivemethetruth on September 20, 2022 at 6:58 pm

    Yeah, but blended drinks are better! 😉

  10. Al on September 20, 2022 at 6:58 pm

    Video about word salad

  11. WATCHING THE WATCHERS on September 20, 2022 at 7:00 pm

    I’m both No dig and No Till.

  12. Brett White on September 20, 2022 at 7:01 pm

    I’m wondering where a broad fork tool fits in.
    Interesting information for sure!

  13. Eulogio Diéguez on September 20, 2022 at 7:02 pm

    Si "no till" es para el futuro y el Charles es inmediato pero sigue funcionando en el futuro es de suponer que es mejor ya que da resultados a corto y largo plazo.??? Para mi, como bien dices, el verdadero problema es conseguir todo el compost necesario.

  14. Angie Vu on September 20, 2022 at 7:02 pm

    excellent advice 👍😄

  15. Rocket-Pipe on September 20, 2022 at 7:04 pm

    How can you call it no till when you work in organic matter into the soil? I consider working matter into the soil tilling

  16. Lone Forest on September 20, 2022 at 7:06 pm

    thanks for nicely explained 👍

  17. Eric Shreves on September 20, 2022 at 7:07 pm

    I put down compost, THEN a thick layer of woodchip mulch. The soil is fed now AND later.

  18. Constantinos Shouftas on September 20, 2022 at 7:08 pm

    Hi Scott. Excellent video that makes many definitions and processes clear. You learnt it all the hard way and thanks for giving us this extremely useful information. What do you think about double digging? Ι have heavy clay in a semi arid region (only 14 inches of rain annualy, 5-6 continuous months with zero rain) and it seems to work for vegetables, do you suggest something better? But with existing trees how to amend this heavy clay soil? Only with compost on top as mulch to avoid damaging roots?

  19. LongboatAline on September 20, 2022 at 7:08 pm

    Thanks for pointing up the differences and clearing up misconceptions – I’m in an 8b with prolonged periods of no rain especially in spring and summer, and this video went a long way in my decision making.

  20. R J on September 20, 2022 at 7:08 pm

    I have just removed 40 oak trees from my backyard and it’s covered in hard pan clay. I can’t dig more than 1 inch. I can add wood chips and wait 2 years or till with rear tine once & amend the soil so I can have a harvest this year. Thoughts?

  21. Herrington Farms on September 20, 2022 at 7:08 pm

    Great video. Thank you for your knowledge.

  22. Dusk194 on September 20, 2022 at 7:08 pm

    Fantastic commentary.
    They key in understanding "no-till" is first defining tillage. Or the destruction of soil structure for the purpose of eliminating pests and competition. Tillage removes herbaceous pests and leave behind a tilth.
    In no-till, you can hand amend. The key factor above all others is that you maintain soil structure. You maintain the aggregate of particles held together by glomalin, root exudate, worm excretions, decaying bacterial films, humic materials an so on; all of that natural glue binding the aggregate together.

    No-Till and No-dig both seek to achieve this through varying methodologies. And both can achieve it when do properly.

  23. Jane Newley on September 20, 2022 at 7:09 pm

    I call my method of gardening…”low-dig” rather than “no-dig”….I still have to dig out the occasional perennial weed etc….Jinxy, UK

  24. A. E B on September 20, 2022 at 7:10 pm

    When you plant in a no-till system, do you re-cover where you planted the seeds with mulch, or do you keep the planted spot a bit more open to the environment to allow the plant to come up?

  25. Laurita Dominick on September 20, 2022 at 7:11 pm

    You guys make something simple into a complicated idea that makes peoples eyes glaze over… it’s simple… take care of the earth it will take care of you

  26. Ray Wharton on September 20, 2022 at 7:11 pm

    Charles no dig tech is good for humid climates, more resilient against slugs and other humid climate challenges, but needs lots of compost, but in humid climates there is more abundant organic mater to start from. We in dryer climates have to get the most out of the organic mater that we have, but need not worry so much about certain pests as humid gardeners. So we let things break down on site where it feeds the soil.

  27. Dylan Nguyen on September 20, 2022 at 7:12 pm

    Thankyou for your video. Really cleared a lot up for me as a new gardener and has encouraged me to experiment a bit and not feel like theres a right and wrong way.

  28. Chaz Dadkhah on September 20, 2022 at 7:13 pm

    Working in material that hasnt broken down yet does take nutrients away before getting any use. So however way you look at it you can’t escape compost. It’s a necessity, and gardening is pointless without it as your crops will be subpar.

  29. Charlie P. Foogo on September 20, 2022 at 7:14 pm

    Excellent explanation of distinguishing between the two.

    I agree with this video and thanks for posting.

  30. Brian M. B. Pedersen on September 20, 2022 at 7:14 pm

    Hello Sir.
    Ive started gardening in 2017, starting out with a few peas and carrots, this year im started to become fully self-sufficient in everything i can grow in my climate; Western Jutland, Denmark, zone 8A.

    Ive watched several youtubers over the years, but i must admit that you are the one that comes the closets to my scale of gardening, many of the others are borderlining commercialising their garden always squeezing out that last percentage telling how much money theres in it, for me that takes the joy and satisfaction out of it.

    What i learned is that in my soil, sandy/loose;
    1: My garden is too big for no-dig, i dont trust the free compost we can get at our recyclingstation.
    If i used the Charles Dowding method, which may be superb for others, i would need to buy compost and cardboard, which would be very expensive.

    2: If we do not get much snow during a winter, lets say less than 15-25cm, and frost, my soil would look like the surface of Mars without covercrops.
    Covercrops are vital to my soil, to avoid erotion, flushing out the nutrients and to keep some "loose" layer on top.

    3: I was very suprised of how fast sandy soil compact just by its own weight and water "dragging" it down.
    If it do not loosing it mechanically, by fork or machine, the compacted layer will after 7-10cm (3-4 inches) will become so hard that you cant push a fork into it without using you legs.
    So loosing it, not necessarily tilling it, helps to add a rootlayer and helps drainage and i find earthworms deeper down.

    4:Crop rotation helps a lot to prevent pests and helps to "massage" the soil layers.
    Rotation also keeps you on your toes regarding massaging the soil and making sure the nutrients and soil composition are correct at every place.

    5: Any kind of mulch needs to be help down by something othervise it would blow away within a few days, which would require something substantial; netting of some kind and that is not practical for my size of garden.

    6: I need to water relative often, since sandysoil do not hold water that well, but thats improving slowly year by year as i use the little compost i have and green manure/cover crops does a very good job for a very small amount.

    So what ive learned is that there is no golden solution; each garden requires slight adjustments to fit just that gardens needs, take that tip from there, that tip from there and that tip from him; its like a puzzle where you get each piece from a different place.
    Gardens are like humans; we all have the same basic needs, we just need them in slightly different ways to fit our needs.

  31. Marsh Momma on September 20, 2022 at 7:15 pm

    This really helped clarify what I need to do. Thank you!☺

  32. StormCaller5 on September 20, 2022 at 7:16 pm

    So can I do a combo if I’m in a hurry? Let’s say I’m planting a fruit tree. Can I drop compost into the hole and then mulch the top to continue feeding?

  33. Patrick Hutton on September 20, 2022 at 7:16 pm

    With no till can I put kitchen scraps into the soil? They’d have to be covered to avoid attracting out door pests or getting complaints from neighbours.

  34. Earthmagic on September 20, 2022 at 7:18 pm

    I always thought that ‘no till’ was a farming expression. I’ve heard of no till farming, but not no dig farming. What do I know lol.

  35. 4ever Growin’ on September 20, 2022 at 7:19 pm

    This was a great video

  36. Martha Thompson on September 20, 2022 at 7:19 pm

    If you’re just adding enough new soil (aka compost) to your soul top of course you wouldn’t need to till it.

  37. Susan Turner on September 20, 2022 at 7:20 pm

    No dig works well for me as I am also in 8b like Dowding even though not England.but rather the Pacific Northwest

  38. przybyla420 on September 20, 2022 at 7:21 pm

    I usually combine these when planting a tree or bush. Top dress with compost, then mulch with leaves, arborist chips or hay over that. Mainly because the compost starts immediately improving the texture, heavy clay in my case.

  39. wait where am I on September 20, 2022 at 7:22 pm

    Thanks, Scott

  40. Garden Jen's Journey on September 20, 2022 at 7:22 pm

    Great video on explaining the difference. I was so confused before. So many people/channels do indeed use the terms interchangeably and really make people afraid to garden, because they don’t want to do it "wrong."

  41. Pietro Del Franco on September 20, 2022 at 7:25 pm

    Personally I like to mix the two. Compost and then a layer of wood chip

  42. Locusttreegarden on September 20, 2022 at 7:26 pm

    I clear the land of weeds then mulch on top with compost , because there is never enough cardboard and never enough compost! Even the Great Charles ran out of cardboard in one of his videos…no till is more cost effective!

  43. nnp on September 20, 2022 at 7:26 pm

    I found that there are lots and lots of non-supported claims from the no-till/no-dig crowd online. At best it is backed by some anecdotal evidence, and often it is more ideological rather than scientific (the book by Bryan O’Hara mentioned here is a perfect example of that). I wish there were some more trustworthy scientific studies and comparisons of different methods. For now most of it is just snake oil until proven otherwise, so I will use my common sense. Some basic light tilling of compost in spring, or half-composted manure mixed with leaves in late fall has always worked well for me for example, and I will continue doing what works well until I see some reliable credible scientific studies that show a better way.

  44. mod1504 on September 20, 2022 at 7:26 pm

    With time you need way less compost. Most of it is used at the beginning. By buying wood chips and taking your neighbor’s green trash you can create a lot of compost by your self.
    A m3 of woodchips with some green stuff takes covered maybe 6 months ( with a monthly flip)

  45. Bobbie Jo Fouts on September 20, 2022 at 7:29 pm

    I love learning from you. At 10:32 in this video I see you sitting on the edge of a bed that has a metal outside. Please let me know what kind of sheet metal, for lack of a better wording, this is. I’m figuring out what material I want to use for only a slightly raised area for food producing bushes and strawberries. The troughs you use are attractive, but expensive, not even available here in the east. The raised beds provided by Epic Gardening are another expensive option, and I’ve seen some information that the durability is questionable. I see you have wood reinforcing that metal. Is it stained or otherwise coated with something that helps with rot without being too toxic? Thanks for your information.

  46. ELIZABETH ROBINSON on September 20, 2022 at 7:29 pm

    Thanks for making this important distinction. I tried "no dig" and it was a disaster. My muscular worms had a wonderful time pushing all my pea seeds back up to the surface early in the spring. They did the same thing with the carrot seeds and the beet seeds, and I think it happened because they had well-established tunnels and I did not disturb them. This year when I mixed up my compost into the soil before seeding, the worms were disrupted yes, but I don’t really think I killed one of them. My peas are up now and looking great so far. Even in vermiculture, worms are disturbed a bit.

  47. Brian Seybert on September 20, 2022 at 7:31 pm

    the main ting is what is in your compost. Are you amending your soil with harmful microbes or beneficial?

  48. przybyla420 on September 20, 2022 at 7:37 pm

    Does anyone water their young trees and shrubs that are deep mulched? That dry mulch soaks up an unbelievable amount of water. I know deep mulch is the way to go but I don’t know how I should water. Last summer I mostly filled buckets with a niffty manifold that fills five at a time, then dumped whole buckets out around the drip line, just heaved them over. Thoughts anyone? I’m zone 8b, it’s usually only 80s in summer but hardly a drop for four months and dry winds.

  49. russian fibers on September 20, 2022 at 7:38 pm

    6 inches can work in CO depending how does the water flow, if it’s the lowest area of the property and where the water is captured and slowed down (CO water rights, water is a commodity) and how much water do you have in the area. You will be much better off if you do clusters with compost as innoculator near the tree and with the worms introduced with the compost near the tree roots (taken from your 2-3y established garden beds should be good enough) and fed with coffee ground so they stick around that new tree, feeding those with say coffee grounds trench or other ‘feed’ stations around the tree, for example manure under the wood chips. Have say whole peas that can be bought at vitamin cottage or Indian market store planted with your trees, they germinate quite well, taste fine, make nice nitrogen fixer, 2 crops a year. the feed ring will be set where your tree canopy line is this year, next ring will be set in winter for the next year say in November so the water is caught but the tree is dormant, the manure will have time to break down, worms will be going between 2 rings , inner ring still will have some new manure feed stations. Roots will go after the worms, the tree is under ground after all. Bringing soil from the near by garden/forest with high fungal content will help you a lot faster compared to commercial micorize introduction, faster too, same ring application, only closer to the trunk and radial going out, it will take off faster this way, can have CSU help test . Best of luck.

  50. Nathan Hunt on September 20, 2022 at 7:40 pm

    really really clear explanation; love the clarity and nuance you brought to this, showing how context is everything. Makes me want to experiment with both methods. And try to be clearer with my own students at high school 🙂

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