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No Dig for perennials

GwenrGwenr Posts: 150
edited August 2019 in Plants
I've turned my garden into a cottage garden and when visiting Sissinghurst Castle this weekend, found they used the No Dig method, the results are pretty impressive. 
So what I want to know is can I use this method on a garden that is already planted?
I don't want to go lifting my plants, but having clay soil and having already dug in quite a lot of mushroom compost and core, I know that the clay will harden again.
The No Dig method also confirms less weeds and as I am becoming physically challenged with my back, it would be a bonus.
If anyone is using the No Dig method could you advice me please, I have read a lot on the net, but there is nothing about starting this method with a ready planted border.


  • JennyJJennyJ Posts: 9,608
    I thought no-dig was for veggie growing? I would have thought in an area that's already planted up with perennials, you would only dig when you want to add or replace something, or need to dig out a particularly deep-rooted weed. Otherwise you'd just pull or hoe weeds, and mulch between and around the plants for soil improvement.
    Doncaster, South Yorkshire. Soil type: sandy, well-drained
  • GwenrGwenr Posts: 150
    Apparently you can use it on flower beds, but so far, I've not read anything, about using it on an already planted bed, only on new beds and then every year.
  • LucidLucid Posts: 385
    I'm not at all an expert as my garden is very much a work in progress, but I think I've read before that for a no dig bed you can just add thick layers of organic matter as a mulch a couple of times a year, and the worms will eventually help to improve the soil underneath. I try going by a no dig method, but what I do when planting new plants is to dig a hole much bigger than the plant needs - as far as my clay soil allows - and loosen the soil and add compost and manure in there, dependent on what the plant I'm planting prefers. I've also layered newspaper on top of the soil and then mulched over that to help keep weeds out. The beds where I've done that at least once are definitely easier to dig in for planting when I need to. The slight catch is I've been rubbish so far at keeping it properly mulched on a regular basis, but am going to make a big effort to do the Autumn maintenance this year. I probably can't count my beds as completely no dig as I do walk on them, which you're not supposed to do. Once we've got a shed in place I'll invest in some kind of boards that I can use to walk on when I need to access plants.

    Lucid :)
  • ObelixxObelixx Posts: 29,645
    I have friends with a 2.5 acre garden on a slope and with heavy clay soil.   They make all their own compost for use in the veggie plot as they know what's in it and any weed seeds are regularly hoed but out in the tree, shrub and flower beds he spends most of December barrowing on a truck load of compost they get delivered form the hotter council green waste compost.   

    This way the soil is wet from all the autumn rains so moisture is dormant and the majority of plants are dormant and dead growth has been removed.   The worms and other organisms work it in and the new bulbs and other shoots come thru it just fine in spring.

    No digging except to lift and divide and plant new stuff.  
    Vendée - 20kms from Atlantic coast.
    "We don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing." - George Bernard Shaw
  • NollieNollie Posts: 7,326
    So far as I understand it basic concept of no dig (usually applied to annual veg growing) is that, instead of digging over new ground and removing weeds by hand, you simply cover it with layers of newspaper/cardboard than mulch heavily over the top with fresh soil, compost, manure etc. You then plant into the top layer and let the worms do the rest below ground. You don’t dig it over after harvest, just keep adding mulch.

    As you have an existing perennial bed, presumably prepared the traditional digging way, you have kind of missed the boat on the first bit and as others have said, you don’t dig over an established perennial bed anyway, not unless you want to destroy your plants! 

    All you can do is clear it of weeds as much as possible then deeply mulch to suppress subsequent weeds and improve the soil.
    Mountainous Northern Catalunya, Spain. Hot summers, cold winters.
  • HippophaeHippophae Posts: 154
    I have employed the no-dig approach wherever possible ever since I read about how destructive the act of digging can be to the natural soil food web and ecology below the soil surface. Digging destroys earthworm tunnels (which are themselves beneficial in helping to digest decomposing organic matter and making nutrients more bioavailable to plants and assisting drainage) and breaks up and exposes beneficial mycorrhizal fungi and soil fauna and flora to sunlight.

    We can copy what nature has done and perfected for millions of years by depositing organic matter on the soil surface quite regularly and over time the fertility, pH and porosity/workability will gradually get better and better. It is a cumulative effect. It will be markedly improved within a year, even better after two years until from the third or fourth year it will have improved vastly. This has been the result consistently in my own experience.

    It can require more effort and work on your part though. You need a lot of organic matter input whether it be by means of adding garden compost, straw, wood chips or another type of organic matter on a fairly regular basis. I have also used the ‘chop and drop’ method, which is a principle of some permaculture-based systems where whatever weeds you pull and prunings you make are simply dropped onto the soil surface around your plants, themselves eventually turning into mulch. Saves you having to take it all to a compost heap.

    I recommend trying to source a copy of this book if you can. Reading it fundamentally changed the way that I view gardening.

  • NollieNollie Posts: 7,326
    The no dig method is absolutely better for soil structure and by not digging, you are not exposing weed seeds that are otherwise suppressed via lack of light. Charles Dowding is another excellent source.

    The OP has an existing perennial bed already planted up, though, so you can’t reverse engineer that, nor do you dig over a perennial bed anyway...

    It does have it’s limits though. I chose not to use the no dig method when preparing virgin ground for my new raised vegetable and perennial beds because the soil was rock-hard, poorly-drained, boulder-filled clay on top of rock, full of perennial weeds. There was simply nothing to plant into. It required the removal of tonnes of rock, digging over and adding tonnes of grit and organic compost upon which I then created raised, no-longer dug beds. However, the bindweed is so deeply rooted into the bedrock, I still have to dig each shoot out individually so there is a certain amount of soil disturbance. Bindweed will grow through anything you put on top of it, no matter how deep!
    Mountainous Northern Catalunya, Spain. Hot summers, cold winters.
  • LoxleyLoxley Posts: 5,411
    Wait. Are people really lifting their perennials and digging their beds over every year?

  • JennyJJennyJ Posts: 9,608
    Surely not (that was my point!) I know old-fashioned books etc say you should lift and divide all your perennials every few years, but I can't imagine many of us have the time or the energy.
    Doncaster, South Yorkshire. Soil type: sandy, well-drained
  • NollieNollie Posts: 7,326
    Second surely not!

    It’s a game of two halves - how you prepare the bed in the first place (dig or no dig) and then what you do with it afterwards (dig or no dig for annual beds / definitely no dig if a perennial bed).
    Mountainous Northern Catalunya, Spain. Hot summers, cold winters.
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