How to Build a No-Dig Garden

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A no-dig garden is a basic Permaculture tool - minimizing the work required to maintain a garden. In essence the garden is built up in a series of layers on top of whatever you have before.

Basic structure

Mulch is usally an organic material used to cover the soil, it could be rice or wheat straw, dry leaves mixed with grass clippings etc. Mulch hold moisture and hide seeds while they grow. See the (definition). Water thoroughly for the first couple of weeks to start it breaking down, and add dilute Molasses (20:1 parts).
Growing base Something for the seeds to grow in, this could be good soil, or compost.
Weed Barrier Stops the weeds growing from the ground until the plants are established e.g. Cardboard or Newspaper. Soak with water so that it starts breaking down immediately.
Ground Whatever was there before you started - which is why its called a "No Dig" garden. If there are weeds on top, then add some Nitrogen to help their breakdown which otherwise will take Nitrogen from the soil. For example Dynamic Lifter (Chicken manure); Also diluted molasses (20:1 parts) will help breakdown

Variations include omitting the Weed Barrier and Growing base, this works well with fine seeds which can grow first in the breaking down mulch & weeds, and then get rooted directly into the ground.

For the first couple of weeks the garden should be watered a LOT to start the breakdown of the mulch and the weed-barrier. Watering with diluted molasses (20:1) can help this process.

After you've constructed the garden it can be planted different ways include:

Masanobu Fukuoka style: Mix fine seeds with dry sand and scatter on top of mulch, watering will wash them down to the base.
Larger seeds can be planted straight in the Growing Base, or after the initial couple of weeks into the breaking down mulch.
Seedlings can be planted into the growing base, or if there is none, they can be punched through the cardboard along with some potting soil. (drawing needed)


Since this garden is usually raised above the ground, some kind of edge is needed either to hold in the material and/or to keep the weeds back. This could be wood, tyres or rock.

If there are weeds outside the edge, then make sure the weed barrier extends under the edge, and wraps up around it so that weeds cannot find their way under the edge and grow in the fertile compost. This is especially important if the dominant weeds are runners such as Kikuyu grass.

If the edging is Rock, it will contain lots of warm, wet niches for weeds to grow in, fill these with potting soil and plant something you want in them, for example warmth loving herbs such as Oregano.

Some plants - such as Eggplant - will like being against a rock edge where they'll be warmer.


To work the garden you need to be able to reach everything. There are a couple of techiques for this:

Add a key-hole, a narrow path into the middle, with a turnaround/working space, like looking through an old keyhole.
Terrace the beds so that the ones further from the path or keyhole are raised and so easier to reach.

Other Variations

A variation for very small gardens, is to build inside a tyre. Get a Stanley Knife, the new style with the bend and the gold wheel (used to open it), and a packet of the hooked blades. Insert the blade close to the tread on the side wall and cut out one wall by following the edge of the tread, its quite easy if the tyre is not reinforced with metal wires. This will give you one wall that you can flip over and place over a small piece of chicken wire that has been placed into the remaining tyre and will lock the wire in place, then fill with mulch and soil and plant away. If well fixed, the chicken wire holds in the soil if you need to move them. These can be stacked easily since the tires are completely full.


Credits: Authored by Mitra, from information supplied by Steve Cran, Tire garden suggested by Greg & Deborah Hedger,