No-Dig Gardens

Growing a small, outdoor no-dig garden

If you have a backyard or access to a community garden, here’s how you can grow your own garden without ever digging.

This is a big project that will require quite a few supplies and the help of an adult. But the best part is that you can bring your friends along to help, too! It is also a great project for you to do with your teacher and classmates.

Before you start building

  • Choose an area that gets at least 5 hours of direct sunlight a day.
  • You can plant on top of grass, a weed patch, or even a driveway or paving stones. If you plant on a hard surface, place some organic matter—like as grass cuttings, leaves or bark mulch—over the area to provide some cushioning.
  • Smooth out the intended planting surface as best as you can if it’s not level.
  • Choose the material you will use to create a frame for your raised garden bed. You can use rocks, bricks, logs, or planks. Your frame should be at least 8-10 inches high.
  • Choose your garden size. Do this by measuring your arm. You want to be able to easily reach the middle of your garden from each side. An ideal size for your garden frame is twice the length of your arm.

Tools you will need

  • Your chosen materials for the frame
  • A measuring tape
  • Chalk
  • Layers for the garden
    • Newspaper
    • Lucerne or alfalfa hay
    • Manure (such as chicken, horse, cow or sheep)
    • Straw
    • Compost
  • A shovel
  • A trowel
  • A watering can or a hose
  • Seeds or plants


  1. Using chalk, mark the size of the perimeter on the ground of your raised bed.
  2. Build your frame.
  3. Start with layering. Begin with newspaper. Create an overlapping layer that’s at least ¼ inch thick.
  4. Next layer inches of compact lucerne or alfalfa hay.
  5. It’s manure time! You’ll need a 1-inch thick layer of manure.
  6. Add an 8-inch thick layer of straw. This aerates the soil, which helps the roots go deeper and deeper!
  7. Add one more layer of manure, 1-inch thick.
  8. Add the last layer--4 inches of compost.
  9. Water the garden until it is wet, but not soaked.
  10. Plant your seeds or sprouted plants.

Tips on planting

  • Draw a diagram or plan for your garden to decide what to put where.
  • Choose seeds and plants that you like to eat.
  • Read the seed packets to determine how much growing space your plants need.
  • Find out what plants like to grow next to one another. For example, tomatoes grow well next to basil. Learn more about companion plants here.
  • Seeds are best started in spring, once there’s no risk of frost. You can also start your seeds inside in trays on your windowsill and then transplant your seedlings into your raised bed once they have two or three established leaves.

To sow your seeds:

  1. With the tip of your trowel, drag a shallow line in the compost the length of your desired planting area. Check your seed packet for the appropriate depth and spacing for each type of plant.
  2. Evenly sprinkle the seeds along that line and gently cover with soil. [PICTURE]
  3. You want to plant more seeds than you want plants to grow because sometimes the seeds don’t germinate.
  4. As the seeds push through the ground and turn into seedlings, you can remove the less sturdy and robust seedlings and allowing the strongest seedlings enough room to grow. This is called thinning.
  5. Repeat the same steps with your other seeds.
  6. Water your seeds regularly, especially in the first week.

You can also buy plants from your local garden store or farmers market and transplant them into your bed.

To transplant:

  1. Transplanting is stressful for plants so it is best to do it in the morning or evening when the heat of the sun won’t add extra stress.
  2. The type of plants you’re planting will determine how much space you need to leave between each plant. Check the back of the plant’s label or ask at the store for spacing directions.
  3. With a trowel, dig a hole that is wider and deeper than the roots of your plant.
  4. Remove the plant from the container by holding the base of the plant and gently squeezing the plastic container on all sides. 
  5. Gently pull on the roots to release them, especially near the bottom.
  6. Place the roots in the hole and fill in the plant with soil slightly higher than the soil level of the container it came in. Press gently at the base of the plant to secure it.
  7. When all your plants have been planted, give them a generous drink of water.
  8. As with starting your garden from seed, it’s a good idea to keep a garden journal, writing down all your observations.

Keep a garden journal where you can draw pictures and make notes of what you observe, like how plants are growing, any insects you see (like worms, bees, slugs, snails or spiders), and how they’re interacting with their new home.