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No Dig – Fall Bed Preparation

One of the great benefits of gardening with a “no dig” approach is that the end of the growing season is really where most of the work for the year happens. For me, it comes down to three things: removing plants, adding compost, and adding leaves.

Compost is really the key element to this whole thing. Between Spring and Fall I save most of my grass clippings and leaves from the yard and turn it into a huge pile of compost. It is a good amount of work because you need to turn the piles every so often to keep them hot and decomposing, but it is worth it in the end.

Unfortunately, even this pile will not quite fill all of the beds in my garden. It’s a good start though. You can always order some in as well.

Once we have our compost, we can begin.

Previous Harvest Removal

When the year is coming to a close and plants are done producing, its time for the bittersweet task of removing plants. I’m always grateful for all the fruit and vegetables provided during the year, but am kind of happy that the mad rush of harvesting is finally over.

Your garden probably looks like mine – a wasteland of half dead, carved up, plant stalks and weeds. A far cry from it’s former glory only months before. If this is the case for you, it is time to start next year’s preparation.

The first thing I do is start to remove the plants and weeds from the beds.

With the “no dig” method, plant removal is simple. Just cut the plant off at the base of the ground and dispose of everything above. Leaving the roots in the ground will allow them to decompose, adding organic material and creating pockets in the soil for air and water. All of this helps to prevent compaction of the soil. Compaction makes it difficult for plant roots to move and seek out nutrients.

I also remove any weeds out of the bed. These I pull out and do not leave the roots in. Some weeds are incredibly resilient and will regenerate if you leave any part of them in the bed.


Throw the foliage that you removed into your compost to break down for next year. Sometimes I will leave the removed plants on the soil to decompose as well. Legumes like beans plants are one plant I will do this with. Be careful not to do this with any plants that were diseased though.

Compost Layer Addition

After removing the spent plants, I should now have a nice clean slate. From here all we do is add a new layer of compost on top. You can add nitrogen in the form of Alfalfa meal, Kelp meal, or Bone meal if you would like. You could add different manures if they are available to you. I also tend to mix in some rock dust for added nutrients. This layer of compost can be as thick as you want. I tend to think the thicker the better as it will break down some by spring.

The bed should look nice and clean like this.

You could stop here and now you are ready for Spring if you wish.

Leaf Layer Addition

In addition to compost, I like to finish with a layer of leaves on the very top. This I found really helps to keep down weeds as well as continues to feed the organic life in the soil. This year, the peppers were planted in a bed with a layer of leaves on top. This bed rarely needed to be weeded all year!

If you can chop the leaves up, it’s for the better. Un-mulched leaves will tend to form a matted layer on top which can prevent water infiltration and actually work against you. This step is optional, but I’ve found very helpful. You could also use hay. I left some of the hay from my tomato beds on the top to mix with the leaves.

Come spring, if you are trying to direct seed, just move the leaves off to the side until the seeds have come up successfully.

And there you have it, you are done! Now repeat the process on each one of your beds. You will be amazed at what it looks like come Spring when the snow melts. Your plants will love it as well.


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About the Author

Geoff has been growing plants and vegetables consistently for the last 6 years and actively experiments with, and writes about, all aspects of gardening.

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