For the avid gardener, the idea of creating a new garden bed is an exciting one. Thoughts about a new place to add more irises to the collection, or a spot to place the daylily hybrid excess comes to mind (among many other reasons to make a new garden bed!) and excitement begins. And, as the gardener marks out the new bed with stakes, string, spray paint, or an old hose, and as the gardener pushes their spade into the soil, the excitement simply builds. And then as the gardener becomes a sweaty dirty mess the excitement in the air becomes so thick, a passerby could slice it with a pruning knife. Excitedly, they dig out the sod and bring over wheelbarrows full of compost, which they then turn into the soil as the sweat drips and muscles tire. At the end of the weekend, a new garden bed exists, so long as no ankles were twisted or backs strained. And then the next weekend the gardener is too sore from making that bed that they can’t even get to planting it yet! Yes- traditional methods of building garden beds ARE a LOT of work! But it doesn’t have to be!
For those of us that don’t get absolutely hysterical about an iris collection expansion project, building a garden bed the regular way of digging up sod and tilling in soil amendments simply sounds like too much work. That’s where the concept of the “no-dig” garden bed comes in. Yes, you can build a garden bed without digging!
The “no-dig” method of making a garden bed requires no real digging. You don’t have to dig up sod or amend existing soil. You simply create your garden bed right on top of the grass or existing terrain, and layer compost and other soil creating materials on top of the ground.
To build a garden bed without digging, simply follow these steps (you can of course customize as you go). Here’s how to build a garden bed without digging:
- A way to mark out the edges of your garden bed (an hold hose, chalk, spray paint, etc)
- Edger’s or landscape edging to edge your bed, such as field stones or premade bricks, or whatever you have
- Plenty of ready to use bagged compost or a pile of existing compost
- Lots of newspaper or brown paper shopping bags
- Start by marking out the edge of your bed with your chosen marking material and method (spray paint, chalk, etc).
- Install your edging.
- Cover the soil and sod inside of the garden bed with several layers thick of your chosen paper. These will stifle out weeds and kill the sod underneath. If it’s windy out, use rocks, bricks, pieces of wood, or whatever you have nearby to hold the paper down to the ground. Go for a thickness of about 5 papers thick of newspaper, and three thick of brown paper bag paper.
- Once your bed has a thick layer of paper in it covering all of the sod, wet it well with a hose.
- Before the paper dries out, begin placing your soil over top of the paper. The soil should be at least 4 inches in depth on top of your paper. The more the better. I typically aim for 6 inches or more!
- Wet the soil well. Add more compost as it compacts down to keep the layer over the paper thick.
- If you’re going to be planting potted plants into the garden bed in a couple of weeks, layer a weed barrier like black plastic over the bed to keep weed seeds out.
You can begin planting seeds in a no-dig bed right away, or wait about 2 weeks while consistently wetting the soil and adding compost to keep the bed high and fluffy as needed. You can even work in old leaves or grass clippings to add organic material to the bed. After about two weeks, the paper should have killed the sod and weeds underneath and you can begin digging and adding potted plants to the bed. After you’ve planted your bed, or after your seedlings have gotten large enough to work around without damaging them, add a layer of mulch like shredded leaves, grass clippings, more compost, or shredded bark.
And most importantly, enjoy!