What Is No Dig Gardening? (And How it Can Help Your Survival Strategy)

What Is No Dig Gardening? (And How it Can Help Your Survival Strategy)

If you wish there were an easy way to grow a thriving survival garden without all the work, you're in luck. The no-dig garden method could dramatically reduce your time on digging and free up your resources for other areas of your homestead. There are a few tricks to no-dig gardening, but it's a fairly straightforward process that puts you in charge of your time outdoors. 

What Is the No-Dig Method?

As the name implies, there's no traditional digging involved with the no-dig garden method. There are times you might need to pick up a spade or hoe to address some weeds, but otherwise, it's pretty simple. You set up your garden and skip the digging altogether. How? With the help of some light weeding, compost, and mulch, you can help your garden flourish without spending hours in the dirt.

Think of soil as rich layers continuously evolving to help plants grow and endure. Just like a food forest drops leaves and twigs, a no-dig garden also relies on the soil’s natural evolution. For example, once dead plant matter falls in a forest, it's taken over by bacteria and fungi that eventually decomposes into a type of compost. Worms and other organisms ultimately carry that compost deeper into the soil, eventually releasing nutrients to help trees and plants grow.

Why Not Just Dig In a Garden?

It may seem counterintuitive to skip digging in the ground to bring your survival garden to life. After all, gardeners and farmers have been tilling their soil for centuries to help aerate and stimulate microbial activity. The wisdom around digging and tilling every season is to help break down organic matter from the previous year and promote faster decomposition. 

Digging into your garden will help produce plants and a sustainable food source, but you're also left to repeat the vigorous cycle the following year to get the same results. Instead, you could let nature lead the way and take a less invasive approach to keep the process moving. 


The traditional digging method is also a good way to kick off your garden during the growing season and feels like practicing a time-honored tradition. Yet, despite the mainstream norm, digging in your garden isn’t always healthy for you or your property. 

In a survival garden, every plant counts as a valuable food source, turning weeds into a crisis. However, when you till your soil, you inadvertently bring weeds to the surface, encouraging them to sprout and quickly take over your plants. The digging and tilling can also kill off beneficial worms and beetles that help your survival garden thrive. 

Beyond the downsides of digging in your soil and disrupting its natural function, it's also hard on your body. In a survival situation, you want to conserve your health and energy as much as possible. Performing back-breaking labor that encourages blisters while depleting yourself outdoors isn't conducive to a long-term survival strategy. 

What are the Benefits of No-Dig Gardening?

Aside from saving yourself strenuous labor, the no-dig gardening technique increases your productivity. You accomplish more in your garden faster and move on to other projects on your homestead. Weeds are usually minimal in a no-dig garden, and the ones that pop up are generally easy enough to remove by hand or with a shallow stroke of your hoe. 

As a general rule, you should see your plants looking healthier and find fewer problems with pests like slugs. You'll also discover your survival garden needs less watering and stays moist with the help of compost and mulch.

Compost is a necessary part of a no-dig survival garden and can help smother most weed seeds and sprouts. The microbes in the compost and soil will help break the organic matter down and quickly turn it into nutrient-rich plant food to keep your garden healthy. Adding natural organisms like worms to your garden can also help work the compost into the ground and aerate the soil.

How Do You Plant Seeds Without Digging?

You can argue that some light digging is involved in a no-dig garden; however, the approach is non-invasive and doesn't involve anything you'll do with a shovel during traditional tilling. Instead, you can use a gloved hand, garden knife, and a trowel instead of trenches to plant your no-dig survival garden. Lift up the mulch or dirt, place your seeds from your seed bank and allow them to sprout. Or you can open up a small hole with your hand or a trowel before dropping in the seeds and gently pushing them into the dirt. 

It's also possible to transfer seedlings with the no-dig garden approach. With the intention of trying not to disturb the soil, part the mulch or soil with your hand or gardening tool and slice it into the ground. Slip the seeds into the bed before moving out your hand or trowel, and pat the seedling in place. Even potatoes can be grown by laying their seedlings on top of the soil and beneath the mulch to let them grow. 

How to Maintain a No-Dig Garden

There's no big secret to maintaining a no-dig garden; it's primarily about clearing out the mess and taking a more passive approach. Before you add compost and mulch to your garden, remove any debris and weeds before you start layering. 

Next, add a layer of newspaper and about three inches of compost each year when most plants are gone in late winter. Another layer of mulch can help keep your soil and compost in place while suppressing the weeds. As with any garden, remove any weeds that pop up throughout the year before they start taking away nutrients from your food source.

The rest of your maintenance strategy is about the same as any other garden, just without the tilling and shoveling. Consider rotating your crops each year to ensure your garden distributes and absorbs nutrients efficiently. For example, it's best practice not to grow the same crop in the same space for two years in a row or you could risk depleting your soil. 

The type of nutrients your plants produce also matters. Consider growing nitrogen-producing plants like beans and legumes next to feeders like tomatoes that quickly soak it up. You end up with more balanced soil. However, next year, you should consider growing cabbage or spinach in those areas that need nitrogen to thrive. 


Are There any Cons to No-Dig Gardening?

No dig gardening sounds like a dream, but there are some downsides involved. For starters, you need a large garden to make it work to make sure your soil gets the nutrients it needs. Fortunately, space isn't usually an issue for survival gardeners who want an expansive plot to grow a healthy food source. 

You also need a lot of good quality compost to activate the microbes and attract worms to do the work of aerating your soil. Fresh mulch is also necessary every season to help keep your soil in place, protect your seedlings, moisten the ground, and suppress weeds. Despite the lack of digging, you'll also need to prepare your compost and wheelbarrow it to your garden, which can lead to the strenuous work you hoped to avoid. 

What About Soil Amendments?

Because no-dig gardening relies so heavily on compost, adding soil amendments to bolster your soil's health just enhances your results. Our Azomite - Micronized Powder is a micronized volcanic dust with rare minerals called lanthanides that are easily consumed by microorganisms you need to help a no-dig garden thrive. You can till the soil amendment into the ground if you want, or take a no-dig approach by adding it to compost or with the help of monthly localized watering. Don’t worry, you can't over-mineralize your soil, so you don't have to worry about harming your plants.

Myco Lightning also helps your no-dig gardening efforts. This beneficial fungus helps colonize the root systems of plants to help increase their production. This soil amendment works best when used at the seed-starting or planting stages. However, you can also help established plants by adding to the surface layer of your soil and some watering.

How Do You Close Up a No-Dig Garden In Winter?

With a traditional garden, you would close up a garden at the end of fall or winter by pulling everything up and getting out the shovel for tilling. You might add compost and pull up more weeds, hoping the soil stays nutrient-rich for next year. 

With a no-dig garden, you can cut off plants at the base and let the rest decompose and add to the nutrients of the soil. If the plant is dead or you want to pull it out, you can toss anything left into your compost pile. Add some of your compost and mulch to suppress any renegade weeds, and call it a day until the growing season.

There's no need to tidy anything up, except for large debris or anything that doesn't belong in your garden, like weeds. Leaving your no-dig garden in its natural state helps promote its organic health and lets native insect and microbiome populations do their thing.

Can You Switch from a Dig Garden to No-Dig Garden?

There's no rule that says you can't make the switch to a no-dig garden, but it may prove challenging in the middle of a growing season. You can't just stop pulling weeds or suddenly restore the structural problems of your soil without some time and effort.

You'll see better results if you wait until you're ready to plant seeds again in fall or late winter. Or you can create a new garden on your property to quickly adopt the no-dig method. Another option is turning to raised garden beds. You can harvest your plants and start fresh with a no-dig garden. Some raised beds are also in garden bags or fabric containers. When they sit directly on the ground, they also benefit from the natural biomes in the soil beneath them.

Next Steps

If the time and labor involved in survival gardening is holding you back from growing your own food source, consider adopting the no-dig method. You could quickly improve your own health and that of your garden simultaneously. Ready to take the next steps? Get everything you need to help your survival garden flourish, from survival seeds to bat houses and tools.

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