Evidence for the No Dig Method

This spring we cleaned out the zinnia hedge pretty thoroughly. You might remember that I posted this photo of the zinnias being planted.

This strip of dirt used to have irises in addition to annual zinnias, but the weeds had gotten out of control, and the iris bulbs and rhizomes made it difficult to weed, so we ripped everything out to start fresh. The irises never looked that great, so it wasn’t such a loss. (I don’t have a photo of it before. Below is a photo from google maps street view taken in June 2019. I think we must have weeded shortly before this photo was taken, because it doesn’t look nearly as bad as it was.)

In the process of weeding everything, the soil was turned over multiple times.

Shortly after planting the zinnias, the zinnia bed looked like this:

You can hardly recognize the zinnias anymore. That carpet of green is all fresh weeds.

If you’re familiar with the No Dig gardening method, this probably seems like a no-brainer to you. As I understand it, the No Dig method tells us that as we dug up the bed to refresh it, weed seeds were brought to the surface of the soil, allowing them to germinate. It would have been smarter of us to smother the bed with cardboard and mulch or a plastic sheet to kill everything before planting the zinnias, but alas.

The No Dig method, promoted by Charles Dowding, is really interesting to me. I had always thought that you need to till and loosen the soil before planting anything, especially root crops. But according to Mr. Dowding, tilling the soil actually breaks up beneficial fungi, worms, and insect homes disturbing the soil natural biome. In addition – as evinced by our zinnia hedge – turning the soil reveals weed seeds. So not only are you destroying a lot of the health of the soil, you’re making more work for yourself – both the tilling and the weeding. He advocates simply mulching with compost on top of soil to improve it, rather than digging compost into the soil. It’s less work, plus, he still grows fantastic crops.

Now that we’ve dug the soil and have weeds growing amongst our zinnias, what would Dowding tell us to do? Could we lay mulch (or cardboard) over the weeds at this point, or is it too late?

We did the traditional thing and weeded the bed. This task was painstakingly slow and took several people several hours each to complete. Then we added more mulch to the bed with a layer of bark chips along the blueberry cage where we don’t have any zinnias planting. Looks pretty good…for now anyway.