A no-dig garden is just that – a garden bed made up of layers of organic materials that does not require backbreaking digging and tilling. Esther Deans, inventor of the ‘no-dig’ garden, recommends her method for all gardeners but says it is particularly useful for those physically unable to dig in the traditional fashion. Children, older gardeners, handicapped people or those confined to a wheelchair will find this method practical and toil-free.

Where to put a no-dig garden

A no-dig garden can go almost anywhere. It can be situated on a section of lawn or existing garden. It can be built over hard, rocky ground or even on top of a concrete slab. It is also possible to adapt the method to create an elevated garden. Use any type of frame or container, set at a convenient level, and line it with heavy-duty plastic punched with drainage holes and make the garden within the frame.


Making a no-dig garden

On the ground

  1. Select a site, preferably in a sunny position.
  2. Build a box frame with boards or bricks.
  3. Place a 5- to 10-mm thick layer of newspaper (not cardboard or glossy magazine paper) in the bottom of the frame. Overlap the paper so there are no gaps.
  4. Cover with pads of lucerne hay as they come off the bale.
  5. Sprinkle on a dusting of organic fertiliser.
  6. Cover with 20 cm of loose straw.
  7. Scatter some fertiliser onto this layer.
  8. Tip a circle of rich compost 10 cm deep and about 45 cm in diameter in places where seeds are to be planted.
On rocky ground or concrete
  1. Build a box frame with boards or bricks.
  2. On the bottom spread a layer of decaying leaves, small sticks and pieces of seaweed to a depth of 10 cm.
  3. Layer the organic materials as in the method above.

Tending to your garden

Do not dig a no-dig garden. It is both unnecessary and detrimental to the unique process. Simply replace new layers of compost, manure, lucerne and newspapers when necessary. Rotate your crops. For example, when leafy summer crops have been harvested the layers of the garden will have composted down and merged into each other. Add another layer of compost and plant autumn seeds such as carrots, onions, cauliflower or cabbage. Water during the early morning when evaporation is at its lowest. Weeding will be minimal because the organic materials added to the garden should be weed-free.

What to plant

Vegetable seeds and seedlings, flowering annuals, herbs, bulbs and strawberries all thrive in a no-dig garden. Use the following vegetable growing schedule as a guide to obtaining a rich seasonal bounty from your no-dig garden.

Vegetable sowing guide

This is a guide for temperate regions. Consult an advisor at your local nursery if you live in a different climatic region.


Sow seeds of French climbing or scarlet runner beans, beetroot, carrot, corn, melon, pumpkin, radish and summer squash. Sow seeds or plant seedlings of cabbage, capsicum, celery, cucumber, eggplant, lettuce, marrow, silver beet, tomato and zucchini. Set in potato tubers.


Sow seeds of French beans, carrot, corn, beetroot and radish. Sow seeds or plant seedlings of Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, capsicum, celery, tomato, leek, lettuce, silver beet, tomato and vine crops.


Sow seeds of broad beans, bok choy, carrot, Chinese cabbage, peas, radish and spinach. Sow seeds or plant seedlings of broccoli, kohlrabi, leek, lettuce and onion.


Sow seeds of pea, snow pea and spinach. Sow seeds or plant seedlings of lettuce and onion. Plant garlic cloves.

This information is from the Yates Garden Guide: fully revised & updated 44th edition, HarperCollins, $39.99. You can have this information and so much more at your fingertips by purchasing the Yates Garden Guide, available at all leading bookstores and Bunnings stores.

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