No Till Gardening
Tillage makes it easier to incorporate fertilizers and plant small seeds. It also speeds up decomposition of any plant matter you bury in the process. Plus it’s satisfying to see the weeds disappear when you turn them under. But what if you could have a healthy, productive garden without needing to lift a shovel ever again, with less weeds than you have now?
Benefits of No-Till GardeningA growing number of gardeners are discovering that such a dream garden is possible. Their secret is using no-till methods. There are many additional benefits to your garden when you stop digging.
- A no-till garden promotes a healthy soil food web. When you dig, you disrupt the delicate structure of the soil that has been permeated by worm tunnels, woven with mycorrhizae, and populated by colonies of beneficial organisms of all sizes. No-till methods encourage earthworms and other helpful soil dwellers to flourish.
- A no-till garden is said to have less pests, probably due to the healthy micro-ecosystem in and above the soil which does not have to “start from scratch” after every spring or fall dig. Pests are further discouraged in no-till gardening by implementing crop rotation.
- A no-till garden reduces weed populations. This is because tillage can actually encourage weeds to sprout by exposing previously buried, dormant seeds to a better environment for growing. Tillage also exposes the soil itself, removing natural competition. Further, the heavy mulch in a no-till garden keeps most weed seeds from sprouting.
- A no-till garden uses less water. This is accomplished with heavy layers of mulch which lessens evaporation and shades the soil, keeping it cooler in the hot summer sun. In fact, no-till gardens should be watered less because overwatering will encourage weeds and cause soil compaction.
Starting Your No-Till Garden
- To start your no-till garden, some gardeners will actually begin by digging or double-digging the soil once (and only once! This step will not be repeated in future years).
- Others never dig at all, simply laying down multiple layers of cardboard or newspaper on unworked soil or even over an existing lawn, then topping it with a thick layer of compost and mulching with straw. (Learn more about this method in our video on Lasagna Gardening).
- If you have good soil already and are just transitioning to no-till, you can skip the cardboard layer.
- Lay down your paths and beds immediately. They will be a permanent feature. You should never walk on the beds because you will compact the soil—and with this method you cannot dig it to fluff it back up again!
- If your beds are too wide to reach to the middle, lay down a narrow board in the middle or stepping stones periodically within the bed.
- If you will be using drip irrigation, install that now, so it can water the soil directly, and the mulch above the irrigation will help keep moisture from evaporating. Drip irrigation is the preferred way to water a no-till garden, due to its efficient water distribution and that it won’t compact the soil.
- Mulch heavily, at least eight inches and as much as two feet deep. Straw is the best mulch for no-till. Hay is more likely to drop weed seeds. Leaves, grass clippings, finished compost, mulched yard waste, and forest duff can also be used.