‘No dig’ flower borders – Charles Dowding tips

‘No dig’ flower borders – Charles Dowding tips


Have you ever wondered how no dig gardening could help your gardening? I’m here with Charles Dowding who’s the Guru of no dig and author of Organic Gardening The Natural No Dig Way and I’m going to ask him to tell us how gardening in the no dig way can make a real difference to our gardens if we’re growing loads of flowers and not just vegetables. This is Alexandra from the Middlesized Garden YouTube channel and blog bringing you tips, ideas and inspiration for your garden. To be honest I don’t do much digging, but I did wonder if the principles of no dig veg, which is getting so popular in allotments all over the world now, and no dig flower borders are the same. Aam i doing the right thing by mulching my borders but not digging it in? And what else do I need to know about no dig flower borders? Charles Dowding is known for his trials, carried out over around 30 years, comparing yields of dig and no dig vegetable beds. He runs workshops, writes books and has a a fantastically successful YouTube channel It’s all based at Homeacres, which is about three quarters of an acre in Somerset. Charles maintains that digging the soil destroys its structure and makes it less healthy. If you lay a few inches of compost or manure on top of the soil once a year the worms will dig it in naturally, he explains. He weeds manually or with a hoe, just on the top inch or so of earth, and for perennial weeds, such as bindweed or couch grass, he covers the whole bed in light excluding mulch so that the roots die. It’s a way of looking after the soil for the best results and in order to saver time All those ‘no dig’ benefits you can bring to your flower borders just as much as to the vegetable garden. The main difference is that the flowers are not such greedy plants, You know vegetables being the Olympic atheletes they are… flowers are not quite so demanding, so generally I use a little less compost – maybe half the amount on the flower border, compared to what we put on the vegetables, and also often with vegetables we’re double cropping in a year – doing second plantings and we don’t do so much of that with flowers The fundamental tenet of no dig is to thoroughly mulch at the beginning the year. Year one is often different to all subsequent years, so you’ll thoroughly mulch to get your ground clean of weeds like buttercup, ground elder, dandelions, stinging nettles – the perennial weeds that can be so ongoing and difficult. If you have a herbaceous border full of weeds, you maybe do have to ask yourself ‘do I want to fiddle around mulching around all these plants?’ Or maybe it might be – in the long term – more worthwhile to dig them out, tease out any roots of bindweed in their roots and keep them in a pot, and then replant them. Then it’s much easier to do a light-excluding mulch for perennial weeds. That’s if you’ve got a lot of perennial weeds – it can be better just to have completely bare ground, and do a thorough light- excluding mulch. that’s the main point – ‘light excluding’ – because then weeds like bindweed, couch grass, for example, – they try to grow, but they’re growing in darkness and their roots gradually exhaust themselves. The mulch you use – it could be any combination of cardboard and compost or compost and black polythene/plastic – take your pick. so cut that basically the reason for the compost – and compost, by the way, can be decomposed, so it could be leaf mould. It could be well rotted animal manure, or it could be compost you buy or homemade. It’s to feed the soil, that that’s what the organic matter is for. Feeding the soil literally means feeding organisms in the soi,l and that’s what keeps us all alive and healthy, and makes your plants healthy. He plants seedlings with the dibber, dropping them straight into the hole without disturbing the soil around them, and his trials show that undisturbed soil, which is fed with compost, will be firm, easy to plant into and will have fewer weeds and better yields of vegetables. So how does that work for annual flowers? Charles says the same principles apply to no dig borders of flowers, perennials and shrubs. At Homemacres there are flowers everywhere, from companion plantings of marigolds to purely ornamental cosmos and zinnias – which are annuals – and perennials such as roses. One of the reasons why this is so effective – ‘no dig’ compared to digging – is that you haven’t disturbed the soil when you mulch rather than trying to dig all the roots out, the soil thanks you for it. Soil does not like to be upheaved – it’s it’s a disturbing process – you know, soil is a living organism. It’s not just dead material. If you haven’t disturbed it, the soil does not need to recover. It recovers by growing weeds, so if you haven’t disturbed the soil you get fewer weeds – I hear it again and again – people say ‘well, this is amazing, I’ve tried no dig – I can’t believe how few weeds I’ve got’. I think that if you haven’t tried it, it sometimes is hard to believe that but that’s why it’s really worth having a go. The principle of no dig flower growing is the same as no dig vegetable growing. I watched Charles plant out a tray of spinach seedlings. He made holes with a dibber and then dropped the seedlings straight into the hole>He finds that seedlings are more likely to succeed than sowing the seeds straight into the soil. When it comes to planting shrubs or perennials, Charles advises digging a hole big enough to hold the root ball of the plant but no bigger. He doesn’t think that you should loosen the soil around the area or that that would help the plant grow. He believes that plants grow better in firm soil and certainly the plants at Homemacres bear this out. You can actually walk on no dig borders as well. I’m always diving into my borders to deadhead or pull out a weed, so I was worried I was damaging the soil structure, but Charles says that healthy soil is firm enough to walk on. ‘One of the beauties of no dig gardening is that you can walk out onto your beds to work without damaging the soil structure.’ You can learn more about no dig gardening with Charles Dowding’s courses, talks and books and there are links in the description below, or catch up with his really excellent YouTube channel on growing organic no dig vegetables. And if you don’t subscribe to the Middlesized Garden YouTube channel, do join us we upload on Saturdays and I aim to be as clear and informative as Charles is about gardening in a middle-sized garden with tips, ideas and inspiration for those of us whose gardens are well… not very big

17 thoughts on “‘No dig’ flower borders – Charles Dowding tips

  1. Thank you Alaxandra. You are bringing us more and more valuable vudeos. I have not shared with my friends yet but I will soon. Keep going – well done.

  2. Oh wowza! Two of my favourite YouTube stars in one episode! Great video Alexandra – I know Charles Dowding's methods backwards and I'll be using them in my upcoming little flower farm. Awesome!

  3. Very interesting Alexandra – especially his thought's on soil being a living organism with recovery time etc. That's really cool

  4. I never dig over my soil but also never added compost. I shall try adding compost this spring once I’ve done my annual cutting back.

  5. Some rare tips are given in this excellent video. I had wondered about no-dig gardening for borders at various times and the explanations given by Charles support the value of this approach. Interestingly, the last tip about being able to walk out on the border is really important to me as my main garden is on a slope and after digging compost into the soil I can't walk on it comfortably and have to take a lot of care. In fact I ruined a good pair of shoes a week ago walking out onto a bed to tend to plants. The shoes are now covered in a solidified mixture of clay and compost! (groan) One part I am not keen on however is thorough mulching (excluding light) as I would have to give up a bed for a while to get it done. I am also not sure that I have the patience and energy to dig out perennial plants, separate out any entangled perennial weeds and return the perennial plants to the garden. I will have a look at Charles' channel to learn more about his approach. Many thanks Alexandra for putting together this interesting and informative video!

  6. I grow beds of dahlias and, because of space restrictions, grow them closely. How would planting and lifted them be possible in a no-dig bed? Could I sit the corms on the bed and mound them up with compost?

  7. I love Charles! I have 4 of his books!! He is my favorite gardener, US or on BBC. He has figured it out!! I have gardened for years but since I have used his No Dig method its been amazing!! Less work, more flowers and veggies, I plant both in the garden. Husband and I started the classic long border last fall. We are using the no dig method. Thank you Charles!!

  8. Excellent video, thanks for the professional advice on no dig, it's impressive the way you get the good guests.
    Would you think about doing a video about Hugelculture? It looks rather fun and promising but not sure of the end results or what is best to plant on them, in them, etc.

  9. I am experimenting with no dig flower and veggie gardening, and so far so good. The richness of soil I have made from covering leaves, deadheaded flowers, lawn clippings and pulled weeds clumped with soil with black garbage bags (which I save and reuse) is unbelievable. Thanks, Alexandra!

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