Updated: May 24
New areas for planting flowers, veg or fruit can be very labor intensive not just during creation process but also maintenance. When you dig over soil you are exposing all the weed seed bank that has accumulated in the soil for last several decades. Some weed seeds stay viable for more than 20 years! By digging you are also upsetting the delicate microbiome network of fungi, bacteria and living organisms in the soil.
No dig system is not only easy way to prepare area for sowing or planting but also minimize weeding later on. It works for organic growing of vegetables, fruit, flowers, shrubs and trees, there are no limits to what you can plant using this method. And it`s eco-friendly alternative to plastic weed membrane.
All you need is plenty of cardboard and organic compost or woodchips. Edging is optional but highly recommended.
1. Mark out area for planting
In this case the land owner already used rotavator to get rid of the lawn but that step is completely unnecessary. And if the area is soggy (very common in Ireland) it`s even harder to prepare the soil by digging. Which is why No dig method is superior in many ways.
With No dig method you don't even need to mow the lawn short, but by doing so you will make the next step bit easier.
2. Put down cardboard
Use only plain brown cardboard. Black print is fine but remove all the plastic tape. Cardboard comes in different thickness so if you have very thin cardboard put down double layer. For thick or double wall cardboard one layer is sufficient. Make sure you overlap all edges and any gaps by at least 5-10 cm so that weeds don't exploit these in search of light.
3. Layer of compost/mulch
Once you have cardboard ready in place spread few inches of compost, woodchips or other mulch on top. Make sure the layer is at least 5 cm thick depending on what you plant. In this case we planted strawberries. Any vegetable seedlings will work fine and you can directly sow into organic compost too. I would only avoid sowing carrots, parsnips or other big root vegetable in the first 3 months. After 3 months the cardboard will be biodegraded and roots will have free run into soil below.
If you planting larger plants, dig a hole, plant and then cover the area around the plant with cardboard and mulch of your choice. Depending on the compost quality you might want to add extra organic plant feed such Grow It Bio Organic Multipurpose feed to boost the soil microbiome and nutrient profile.
For alpines or dry style beds mix grid or gravel to improve drainage and use as mulch.
Edging is good way to stop grass and weeds to invade your newly created planning area. You can use raised beds, horticulture or grass edging or timber poles placed directly on top of the cardboard. If you have bigger budget you can use bricks.
What about the weeds and grass?
This is the most common question and worry of many gardeners when they see this system. It is also completely unfounded. By using cardboard and compost to cover the weeds and grass, you are completely excluding light. And no plant can survive without light for extended period of time (except for winter as plants are dormant). Even the toughest "weeds" like dandelions or bind weed will perish once they use up all the energy stored in the roots. You are also preventing weeds seeds to germinate under the cardboard. What`s even more beneficial is the organic matter and open soil structure that is left behind when the grass and weeds die.
You can`t avoid the new weed seeds to blown on top of the compost, but weeds will be much easier to pull out and the quantity is minimal compared to huge amount of weed seeds that will germinate when you dig over the soil.
So really there is no excuse not to use this organic growing method.
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