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No-till gardening keeps helpful microbes in your soil for fewer weeds and healthier plants

Layers of organic materials like newspaper, cardboard, grass clippings and hay lay on top of a lawn to create a garden bed.

Igor Paszkiewicz
Layers of organic materials like newspaper, cardboard, grass clippings and hay can create a no-dig garden anywhere you have space. On top of those layers, pile on compost and soil, then plant directly into it. You'll have healthier soil and fewer weeds.

Instead of traditional tilling, or turning of the soil to prepare it for spring planting, the "no-dig" method is just that. No digging keeps the billions of helpful microbes intact in the soil. It could lead to fewer weeds and healthier soil and plants.

When temperatures rise and snow melts away, the temptation to schedule your garden for its yearly spring rototilling is hard to fend off. But knowing that your garden soil is its own biome with up to a billion helpful microbes in just one teaspoon might move you to try a different method.

Each time you break up the soil, you are disturbing the biome. But by keeping the soil in your garden intact, it allows helpful microbes in the soil to create a network that helps water and nutrients flow up into your plants.

More on no-dig gardening from Vermont Public: Step Away From That Trowel And Try 'No-Dig' Gardening This Spring

Also, by not tilling or turning the soil, you won't bring weed seeds to the surface, meaning less weeding for you.

Charlie Nardozzi has written a book about the "no-dig" or "no-till" gardening method, and he has a webinar on his website dedicated to it, as well.

This kind of gardening can be done in a number of ways, from simple to complex.

Some no-dig gardening methods

The key tenet to any no-dig type of gardening is that the soil needs the plants as much as the plants need the soil.

Always having plants growing in the soil throughout the season is key. Once one crop is done, chop it down, and without disturbing the soil, plant something else in its place.

Continue that planting rotation all summer long until winter. At that point, if the plants were healthy, chop the stalks and let them fall. If the pieces are large, chop them up with a hedge trimmer and leave all of that organic matter on top of the soil as mulch.

In England, a long-time proponent of the “no-dig” gardening method is Charles Dowding. His method involves creating a raised bed, to which he adds compost or a combination of compost and top soil. From there, he just adds plants on top.

Another renowned gardener, Ruth Stout, used a technique that she dubbed, "no-work gardening." Her method involves deep-mulching, by laying 8 to 12 inches of hay or straw over the garden year-round and moving the straw away to plant into the soil.

Perhaps the method people are more familiar with is known as “lasagna gardening," dubbed so for its multiple layers of organic materials. To employ the lasagna gardening method, layer materials on top of a lawn or even a hard surface.

More on no-dig gardening from Vermont Public: A tale of two Charlies and how these gardeners agree and differ on no-dig techniques

Start by putting down four layers of newspaper or cardboard and wet that layer down. On top of that layer, add some chopped leaves, grass clippings (from an untreated lawn) or chopped hay on top.

Once you've got several layers of organic materials, cap them all off with a 6-inch layer of compost and plant directly into the soil.

A listener question about stubborn moss in a flower garden

Q: The flower garden outside my kitchen, which gets sun a significant portion of the day, has become infested with moss. It has some shade, but not tons. The moss is really putting its feet down so that removing it is removing an inch or two of soil. Do you have any thoughts about what to do and why this happened? - Vicki in Williston

A: Moss indeed loves shaded and damp areas, which doesn’t quite sound like the conditions in your flower garden.

Moss also love acidic soil, and perhaps soil drainage isn’t ideal in the garden.

If the soil in your flower garden is staying wet, and because we are so far north, it might still be shaded enough for moss to flourish, even with full sun.

One course of action is to rip out as much mulch as you can and add back in some more organic material. You could add back in some sand to improve drainage.

And you can also check the pH level of the garden soil. If it’s a little acidic, add some lime to sweeten it up.

All Things Gardening is powered by you, our audience! Send us your toughest conundrums and join the fun. Submit your written question via email, or better yet, leave a voicemail with your gardening question so we can use your voice on the air! Call Vermont Public at 1-800-639-2192.

Listen to All Things Gardening Sunday mornings at 9:35 a.m., and subscribe to the podcast to listen any time.

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.
Mary Williams Engisch is a local host on All Things Considered.