What Is A No-Dig Garden Bed: Creating Raised Beds In Urban Settings

The key to gardening is digging, isn’t it? Don’t you have to till the earth to make way for new growth? No! This is a common and very prevailing misconception, but it’s beginning to lose traction, especially with small space gardeners. Why are no-dig garden beds becoming so popular? It’s because they’re better for the environment, better for your plants, and so much easier on your back. It’s a win-win-win. Keep reading to learn about no-dig raised beds for urban gardeners.

What is a No-Dig Garden Bed?

You hear everywhere that you need to till your earth before planting. The prevailing wisdom is that it loosens the soil and spreads the nutrients of compost and last year’s decomposing plants throughout. And this wisdom prevails because for the first year the plants do tend to grow at a faster rate.

But in exchange for that faster rate, you throw off the delicate balance of the soil, encourage erosion, kill beneficial worms and nematodes, and unearth weed seeds. You also put a lot of stress on the plants.

Plants’ root systems are specialized – only the top roots are meant to absorb the nutrient-rich topsoil. The lower roots bring in minerals deep in the soil and provide an anchor against the wind. Exposing all the roots to rich compost may make for showy, fast growth, but it’s not what the plant has evolved for.

There’s no better growing condition for a plant than the natural, carefully balanced ecosystem of soil that’s already below your feet.

Creating Raised Beds in Urban Settings

Of course, if you’re making a raised bed for the first time, that ecosystem isn’t there yet. But you make it!

If your desired spot already has grass or weeds, don’t dig them up! Just mow or cut them close to the ground. Lay out your frame, then cover the ground inside with 4-6 sheets of wet newspaper. This will eventually kill the grass and decompose with it.

Next, cover your newspaper with alternating layers of compost, manure, and mulch until you near the top of the frame. Finish it off with a layer of mulch, and sow your seeds by making small holes in the mulch.

The key to creating raised beds in urban settings successfully is disturbing the soil as little as possible. You can plant in your no-dig garden beds right away, but you should avoid deep rooted vegetables, like potatoes and carrots, for the first year while the soil becomes established.

Over time, if undisturbed, the soil in your raised bed will become a balanced, natural environment for plant growth – no digging required!

How to Create a No Dig Garden

Last Updated: March 29, 2019 References

This article was co-authored by Lauren Kurtz. Lauren Kurtz is a Naturalist and Horticultural Specialist. Lauren has worked for Aurora, Colorado managing the Water-Wise Garden at Aurora Municipal Center for the Water Conservation Department. She earned a BA in Environmental and Sustainability Studies from Western Michigan University in 2014.

There are 22 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page.

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Gardening is fun and rewarding, but the digging process can be tiresome. That’s why a no-dig garden is a great alternative solution to the typical garden. Making a no-dig garden is similar to composting, meaning ingredients are layered to decompose the soil. Vegetables such as kale, chicory, corn, and tomatoes can be grown in your garden. This type of garden can be set up in 1 day. Preparing the no-dig garden can be quite a workout, but the veggies you will grow within 2 to 4 months of planting will save you several trips to the grocery store!

Advantages to Lasagna Gardening

Although you maintain a lasagna garden the same way you would care for any other garden, you will likely find that lasagna gardening is less labor-intensive. You can expect:  

  • Fewer weeds, thanks to the newspaper or cardboard suppressing them from below and the mulch covering the soil from above
  • Better water retention, as compost holds water more effectively than regular garden soil (especially if your soil is sandy or deficient in organic matter)
  • Less need for fertilizer, due to the nutrient-rich compost
  • Loose soil that is easy to work

As a member of the Garden Coach Society, and a certified Garden Coach, instructor Karen Creel will use her 30 years of growing vegetable gardens to take you from confusion to confidence.

In this class, we will talk about raised bed kitchen gardens: why you should plant in raised beds, where to locate your raised bed, soil, and planting, what you want to grow, and when and how to plant it. At the end of class you will develop a 4x4 foot garden plan for either a cool or warm season planting.

Karen Creel is the owner of Gardenchick, member of the Garden Coach Society and a certified Garden Coach. She lives on four acres in Chickamauga where she Gardens, creates DIY projects with her “junk” finds, and raises a few hens. Bees will be added in April and the urban homestead will be complete! After purchasing handcrafted soap for years, she attended several classes and started making her own, selling at craft shows and on her Etsy site. Created with natural ingredients including oils, herbs, honey and beeswax, her products include soap, lip balms, lotion bars, and herbal salves. You can keep up with her projects, and receive gardening and urban homesteading tips on her blog www.Gardenchick.com

The link to the webinar will be sent to you 48 hours prior to the start and again when it starts. There are no refunds for online classes. Can’t make the live class? No problem! If you are watching later, we'll be sending out a link to the recording after the class concludes. The link to the recording will not expire.

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