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A tale of two Charlies and how these gardeners agree and differ on no-dig techniques

An illustration of no-dig gardening or Hügelkultur shows a dirt mound with many plants in it, like tomatoes, lettuces and flowers.
NotVeryMae/Getty Images/iStockphoto
Local gardening expert Charlie Nardozzi practices no-dig gardening techniques. He also uses methods like companion planting and succession planting. In this episode, we compare Charlie's no-dig tips to those of England's no-dig guru, Charles Dowding.

No-dig gardening is just what the name suggests: no shovel or trowel required to successfully plant and grow flowers, veggies and all sorts of crops!

The method involves adding organic materials like grass clippings, compost or leaf matter on top of the soil, which then break down to feed and fertilize it.

Because the "no-dig gardening" method means you're never disrupting the soil itself, more of its rich and helpful components stay intact.

Your efforts to unhand the shovel and hoe will help build healthy soil in your gardens that attract and support helpful pollinators, provide a great environment for plants and flowers and sprout fewer weeds.

Our local gardening expert Charlie Nardozzi has written a book about the method and hosted several helpful how-to podcasts and webinars that you can find on his "Gardening with Charlie" page.

Much like Nardozzi, another "Charlie," - Charles Dowding of England- is a no-dig gardening expert, too.

Recently, Nardozzi compared his methods with Dowding's, to see where they crossed paths.

They both agree on the basics of no-dig: choose your garden space, add a cardboard layer, then layer on organic materials. Finally, you'll add seeds and plants. Over time, you'll have built up rich, weed-resistant soil without ever "breaking ground."

And though some of their gardening methods differ, both Nardozzi and Dowding are like-minded on many no-dig techniques. Here are a few options!

Adding compost v. organic layers
After choosing a no-dig garden spot and laying down a weed barrier, like cardboard, Dowding then adds a four-to-six-inch layer of compost onto the no-dig bed. This can be a pricey option.

Instead, Nardozzi uses other readily available organic layers to get the same effect. Laying down things like chopped grass clippings, hay or straw first, then a smaller layer of compost on top of that will save you some bucks.

Low beds v. raised beds
Because you are building your no-dig bed right on top of a lawn or other plot of land and making several layers that will become rich ground for planting, Dowding prefers low garden beds and doesn't create raised ones.

Nardozzi, on the other hand, sees benefits to building a raised no-dig bed. After choosing your no-dig plot, he suggests raising it to delineate it from the rest of the yard.

Use wood, stone, bricks or other materials to define the bed, then begin your layering. Raising the garden bed a bit can be helpful for keeping pets and certain critters out, too.

Adding organic material in spring v. fall
Dowding is a fall composter, while Nardozzi adds compost on top of his no-dig beds in spring.

The biggest reason for this difference is geographic location - Dowding is in England and able to grow certain crops right through fall and winter.

Instead, in the fall in our region, Nardozzi suggests adding on a blanket of organic material - chopped leaves, hay or a cover crop that will die back.

Then, come spring, add a layer of compost right on top of all the dead organic material and plant seeds, seedlings and starts right into that.

Interplanting v. crop rotation

Interplanting, sometimes called, "intercropping," involves growing crops in between others, based on their sizes, sunlight needs and grow times. This is a great way to use up every last inch of viable soil and yield more and varied harvests.

Crop rotation refers to the practice of planting different crops in the same soil. For example, plant potatoes then later in that same spot, grow a different veggie or flower. Crop rotation can improve soil health.

Though Dowding doesn't really follow crop rotation, both he and Nardozzi have successful gardens by using interplanting methods.

Q: I've got a very large indoor lemon tree. It's almost 10 feet tall and because of its size, the only room that can accommodate it is our great room. The room has east-facing windows including two really large skylights. Still, the tree has been losing leaves at a fast rate. - Celeste, in Westford

A: Growing citrus trees indoors during Vermont winters is challenging. Your citrus tree is likely dropping its leaves because it is not getting enough natural light.

Adding grow lights to your room could help the citrus tree some. And knowing that citrus trees also are rather finicky when it comes to how much water they need (aim to strike that balance between over-watering and underwatering!) might help your tree lose fewer leaves.

All Things Gardening is powered by you, our audience! Send your gardening questions and conundrums and Charlie may answer them in upcoming episodes.

You can also leave a voicemail with your gardening question by calling Vermont Public at 1-800-639-2192.

Hear All Things Gardening during Weekend Edition with Vermont Public host Mary Williams Engisch, Sunday mornings at 9:35.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or get in touch by tweeting us @vermontpublicWe've closed our comments. Read about all the ways to get in touch here.

Mary Williams Engisch is a local host on All Things Considered.
Charlie Nardozzi is a nationally recognized garden writer, radio and TV show host, consultant, and speaker. Charlie is the host of All Things Gardening on Sunday mornings at 9:35 during Weekend Edition on Vermont Public. Charlie is a guest on Vermont Public's Vermont Edition during the growing season. He also offers garden tips on local television and is a frequent guest on national programs.