INFO SHEET: No-dig or mulch gardening
by Russ Grayson, updated May 2020.
No-dig gardening reuses waste newspaper and cardboard.
Food and garden wastes are turned into compost. Recycled materials such as crushed concrete, bricks, pavers, wood chip, and sawdust can be reused to make paths and garden edges.
You need only a few materials to start no-dig gardening:
- newspaper or cardboard
- hay, lucerne hay (lucerne hay contains nitrogen, one of the main plant nutrients), straw (obtained from the hardware/produce store or nursery) or stable sweepings (a combination of hay and horse manure; let the stable sweepings sit for a few months to compost before use in the garden)
- compost, which can be made at home or purchased
- if your soil is sandy and porous add a fertiliser such as dynamic lifter or blood and bone to improve fertility garden edge and path materials; practice recycling by reusing concrete, roof tiles or bricks and pavers for paths and garden edges
In making a no-dig, mulched garden in which to grow our vegetables we copy nature. The mulch layer is like the leaf-litter in the bush. It provides the same benefits.
Mulch in our no-dig garden:
- reduces soil moisture loss and weed growth
- breaks down into nutrients that feed our plants
- reduces soil temperature extremes
- reduces the erosion of our garden
- soil during heavy rain; lessens the impact of raindrops and the force of rainwater runoff.
When first made, the amount of mulch we use might seem excessive. As it weathers it will compact down.
The no-dig method lays straw mulch over a thick layer of waste newspaper or a layer of cardboard. Once the weeds are eliminated from your garden you can simply apply compost, stable sweepings or straw when rejuvenating your mulched garden, rather than more newspaper or cardboard.
If there are perennial plants in our garden — those that live longer than a year — place the mulch close to them but avoid contact with the stem. Allow air to circulate around the stem to avoid collar rot.