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.

It Was Too Good To Be True

Well. The horsetail is back again. The north blueberry patch – the one we spent several work parties weeding and covering with newspaper and bark chips – has horsetail again.

We hadn’t seen any horsetail the past few weekends, so I was optimistic that maybe – just maybe – all that weeding and mulching had done some good. But of course not. It’s back again.

Nate and I spent a couple of hours on Sunday weeding that blueberry patch. Hopefully we can stay on top of it this year. Persistence persistence persistence.


It was a beautiful day out, and, while we were weeding, four other members of the garden were there working in shifts to plant the zinnia hedge.

The zinnia hedge prior to planting

This space separates the garden from the sidewalk/street, and so its nice to have some flowers out there for everyone to admire. We get a lot of compliments on the zinnias. Several passersby today said they couldn’t wait until the flowers were up: something for us all to look forward to.

Zinnias: planted and watered in