wikiHow to Create a No Dig Garden

Do away with weed-infested areas the easy way. Make new flower/veggie beds in areas of poor soil by building it up. You can even skip weeding or sod removal. No Digging!


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    Build a raised bed first, if you wish. You can also finish your bed later, if you prefer.
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    Save your newspapers, including local and free press papers, that you recycle. Don't use the glossy, colored, advertising brochures, just newsprint. Use your neighbour's papers, too.
    • Another option for the bottom layer is cardboard, as shown in the photo. Use plain, brown cardboard. A bit of printing is ok, but avoid shiny or glossy stuff. It's usually plastic coated. Also, remove tape, staples, and adhesive labels. You can moisten the cardboard first or simply let it get rained on.
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    Get enough mulch from your local nursery (color/texture to your liking) to cover the area to a depth of three inches.
    • If you don't care about the appearance of your mulch, collect leaves in autumn and use those. They will gradually break down and nourish the soil underneath, and while they do, they will keep moisture in and weeds in check.
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    Pace out the area you wish to convert. You will be covering this space with cardboard or wet newspaper three or four sheets thick with a couple of inches overlap all round. Get a rough idea of how much you will require. This is not rocket science.
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    Closely mow or cut the area in preparation, leaving everything lying on the ground. A hoe is another option. If you wish, scatter "blood and bone" or a good multi-feed in powder or pellet form.
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    Water the area well, or let the next rainstorm do the job. A no-dig garden can retain water underneath fairly well, but it can also tend to cause water to run off, especially while it is becoming established.
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    Fill a wheelbarrow or other container with newspapers and cover them with water.
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    Open the wet newspapers and layer them onto the ground three or four sheets thick, overlapping a couple of inches at the edges. If the ground is uneven, use more paper.
    • Spread thickly enough, the paper and other matter will block light to whatever weeds or sod you cover with it. What you put on top of the paper will hold the paper down, conceal the paper from view, and make anything new that grows on top much easier to pull.
    • Certain weeds, such as Bermuda grass, don't respond especially well to smothering and seem to come up through just about anything. If you try newspaper for such weeds, use extra and make sure that the offending weeds remain buried on all sides for at least two years.[1]
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    Add a planting layer or layers. Spread a thick layer of finished compost. This step is optional, but it will allow you to plant sooner and above, rather than through, the newspaper. This option works well with a raised bed, if you choose to build one.
    • Worm castings and composted herbivore manure (rabbit, cow, horse) can also be blended with this layer if you have them.
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    Spread the mulch. A thick layer will keep the newspaper down if you didn't put a planting layer on top. In any case, mulch helps contain the moisture in your bed, keep the weeds down, and give a finished appearance.
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    Finish the edges, if you did not build a raised bed first. How you finish the edges is your choice. You can use large rocks, concrete blocks, or wood edging, depending on what materials are available and what look you want the bed to have.
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    Wait nine to ten months (if you didn't add a planting layer) and then make holes through the mulch/paper and start planting. If you added a planting layer of at least 12 inches (30.5 cm) in a raised bed, don't puncture the newspaper to plant. Just plant on top of it. The newspaper will eventually break down, but by then your bed should be established.


  • If you have worms, ants, or other digging creatures around, they will help spread the organic matter you add into the upper layers of soil.
  • Plan paths alongside your bed so that you can avoid walking in it. Walking on soil compresses it, which is not desirable in planting areas. When creating a bed that you will have to maintain frequently, such as a vegetable bed, use your reach to determine how large to make it. Four feet is a good width if you have access to all sides.
  • Most newspapers these days use soy ink for color printing, which is not harmful to plants. Still, your local paper may use petroleum-based colored ink, which is toxic, so you may want to avoid newspaper with color inks.
  • You can skip the waiting period by laying soil or compost from your local nursery onto the paper and putting the mulch onto the soil.
  • Many combinations and proportions will work, so don't get too hung up on exact formulas. Instead, try to use materials you have around or can easily and inexpensively obtain.
  • For ideas of other layers you can add to a no-dig garden, look up "lasagna" gardening.
  • If you have plenty of time to wait, you can do your composting in place. Put down the newspapers, spread plant matter (such as pulled weeds that have not yet gone to seed, grass clippings, and fallen leaves) in as thick a layer as you wish, keep it a bit moist, and let it decompose right there where you will plant. This is called sheet composting, and it is similar to how composting works in nature, as leaves fall and weeds die off. You can continue adding biodegradable materials as mulch to the top as you garden the area.


  • NEVER use dog, cat, or human feces in your garden beds. These contain pathogens that can live for a long time, even in a compost pile. And only use previously composted cow or horse manure. Unlike a compost pile, this method will not reach the temperatures necessary to kill any bacteria in the manure.

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Categories: Compost Mulch and Soil Preparation