No Till Gardening: No Dig Garden and Farm, Soil Layers For Growing Plants

Georgette Kilgore headshot, wearing 8 Billion Trees shirt with forest in the background.Written by Georgette Kilgore

Gardening | October 12, 2023

Woman with a hand fork propped up against a tree wonders what is no till gardening while looking at how to build a lasagna garden using layers of organic gardening materials, and no dig gardening tips, methods and growing options.

The no till gardening method, sometimes called “lasagna gardens,” is the perfect alternative for everyone who has been avoiding gardening because they hate the idea of spending hours digging.

Wondering what’s the difference between till and no till gardening or why should you try the no-till approach? What no-till method will work best for me?

This guide explains the process of no till gardening, and how it can be used as an organic gardening method to grow vegetables, flowers and other plants.

To Till or Not To Till Your Garden: What’s the Difference?

No till gardening involves building layers of organic medium that plants can use for food.It generally begins with a base and sometimes is referred to as “lasagna gardening,” because you simply keep adding layers of material.

Like composting, the layers are added in a ratio of 80 percent ‘brown’ material and 20 percent “greens.”

The table below breaks down the key differences between tilling and no-till gardening.1,2

Graphic of tilling soil vs no-till garden showing the benefits of a no-till garden and tilled garden soil.

Tilling SoilNo-Till Gardening
This process requires digging, turning, and aerating it so that moisture and air can easily permeate.

The primary goal is to help seeds germinate, encourage healthier root growth, control weeds, and integrate fertilizer.

This process doesn’t disturb the soil with gardening tools like shovel or tiller.

Instead, you continuously layer organic material (or mulch) on top of the soil.

The organic material decomposes slowly and adds nutrients to the soil, helping your plants grow healthier and stronger.

No Till Gardening Methods (Building a Lasagna Garden)

Beginning the no til garden starts with your browns and greens.

Brown materials are leaves, newsprint, pine needles and other organic materials that would be considered high in carbon for the plants.

The green materials are those like grass clippings, vegetable scraps (like peels and coffee grounds), which provide the nitrogen.

These are some of the most popular methods that can be employed in a lasagna garden:

Sheet Mulch

This technique (which some people call the “lasagna method”) works well in various soil types. You can also use it to turn hay or grass fields into fruitful gardens.

The process starts by laying down a layer of cardboard or newspaper (which helps to prevent weeds from sprouting up). Next, you’ll add a layer of natural material like old hay or wood chips.

Repeat layering until you use all the materials you have on hand. Then, top the bed with quality compost,3 which will act as the growing layer.

Instant Soil

The instant soil method is, as the name suggests, one of the fastest ways to start your no-till gardening journey.

Like the sheet mulch method, this process also begins with cardboard or newspaper. After you put down that layer, you simply cover it with several inches of compost and topsoil.

When you’re done, you can start planting right away.

No Till Gardening Tips and Tricks

What’s next after choosing a method for your no-dig gardening?

These no till gardening suggestions will help you set yourself up for a more successful planting season.

Pick a Location for No Till Gardening

First, if you don’t already have a gardening space established, you’ll need to choose a spot for your no-till garden.

Spacious backyard with a lush green lawn, mature trees, and flowering plants, providing an ideal space for no dig gardening practices.

(Image: Michelle_Raponi6)

You can set it up in the ground if you have room in your backyard to do so, but you can also practice no-till gardening in other garden planters like the raised planter boxes if you prefer.

Just make sure you choose an area with sufficient sunlight for the types of plants you want to grow. Usually a southern sloped section of your yard is the best choice.

Prepare To Plant

After you’ve found a good spot, it’s time to prepare for planting. Use whichever no-till method you prefer from the options shared above and set up your garden (choose either the instant soil or square-foot method if you want to be ready to plant right away).

When you’re ready to plant, use a digging fork, which looks like a small rake, to poke holes in the soil without turning it. When you’re done, simply place your seeds or seedlings in the holes, cover them with soil, and water them as directed.

Sow Cover Crops

Cover crops act as mulch and protect the soil while also adding additional organic matter. The best nil till cover crops are those that have a relatively short lifespan and won’t last through the winter.

Small grains like buckwheat and millet work well as cover crops,4 as do certain radishes and artichokes because they help to break through clay.

Rotate Crops

Rotating crops helps to prevent diseases and pests from affecting your soil and plants. Take notes on which crops you plant (and where) each year.

That way, you’ll have an easier time rotating them and promoting better soil health.

Keep Adding Organic Matter

Regularly adding organic matter helps to nourish your soil further and promote healthier, hardier plants.

But, remember that you should use the composting ratio to ensure that you don’t cause an imbalance and stress the plants.

Having enough gardening supplies will come in handy, but making your own compost is an easy way to ensure you always have organic matter readily available.

Avoid Foot Traffic

When you avoid foot traffic in your no-till garden, you prevent accidental soil turnover (which is the whole point of a no-dig approach).

Planter boxes help to minimize foot traffic, but you can also set up dedicated pathways in your in-ground garden if you prefer. Keep your furry friends out of the garden, too!

Why Try No Till Gardening

It might seem like no-till farming is just about skipping a step and making gardening for beginners easier.

In reality, though, it offers many other advantages, including these:

  • Helps the soil retain carbon, which can make it more fertile
  • Attracts more earthworms, which dig tunnels to create natural aeration and drainage systems
  • Discourages weed growth (less pulling!)
  • Provides extra structure and reduces the risk of soil erosion
  • Boosts water retention, which means you have to water less during the growing season

Skipping tilling also, naturally, saves time and makes gardening a little less labor-intensive (meaning it’s more accessible to a larger group of people).

For those who have been hesitant about gardening due to the daunting task of digging, no till gardening presents a convenient and efficient alternative.

Frequently Asked Questions About No Till Gardening

What’s Wrong With Digging?

One of the biggest problems with digging or tilling your soil is that it can turn up buried weed seeds and bring them to the surface to germinate. Digging can also disturb the soil and contribute to erosion.

How Do I Prepare My No-Till Garden for Winter?

In the fall, trim the plants down to the ground level. As the roots decompose during winter and early spring, they enrich the soil, and adding compost further boosts its nutrient content.

How Do I Make My Own Compost?

You can make compost at home with a combination of “brown” materials like dry leaves,5 twigs, cardboard, and paper and “green” materials like grass clippings and food scraps. You can create a compost pile in your backyard or contain it in a bin to prevent strong smells and avoid pests.


1Oregon State University. (2022). Tillage and Cultivation. OSU College of Agricultural Sciences. Retrieved October 10, 2023, from <>

2Bernitz, N. (2020, October 16). Low and No-Till Gardening. University of New Hampshire Extension. Retrieved October 10, 2023, from <>

3U.S. Department of Agriculture. (2023). What is composting? U.S. Department of Agriculture. Retrieved October 10, 2023, from <>

4Regents of the University of Minnesota. (2023). Cover crops. University of Minnesota Extension. Retrieved October 10, 2023, from <>

5United States Environmental Protection Agency. (2023, June 14). Composting At Home. United States Environmental Protection Agency. Retrieved October 10, 2023, from <>

6Photo by Michelle_Raponi. Pixabay. Retrieved from <>