My backyard has just been cleared of convolvulus ( field bindweed ), and native bush/trees exposing what used to be a lawn a decade ago. I'm thinking I would like to try the no-dig method of layering down some newspaper, putting some compost on top, mulching on top of that, and then planting.

I just wonder if there's any benefit from using a fork to loosen the soil ( not turn it over ), before I put the newspaper down. This would be the same as the second step when double digging. I do understand that it is claimed that vegetables are shallow rooting so don't need this step, but others claim that they're shallow rooting because the soil has not been double dug!

So, does anyone who does no-dig gardening have any experience?

Or should I just double dig and get out as many convolvulus roots as I can?

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    You are growing vegetables there?
    – J. Musser
    Jan 1 '17 at 23:54
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    Yes, both root and leafy vegetables Jan 1 '17 at 23:55
  • My goodness Graham. Yes soil needs to be turned over. To raise the plant bed and get air into the soil. But once is all I have found is necessary. Gotta have raised beds (1') off the normal surface. Sides are too much trouble and totally unnecessary. Drainage is critical. Addition of decomposed organic matter at the time and then just applying decomposed organic matter to the surface of the bed. This makes the best soil. There is no other way. To think we can make artificial soil for the garden is a waste of brain cells. Apply 2 inches of sterilized soil or mulch to control weeds.
    – stormy
    Jan 2 '17 at 21:30
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    @stormy Clearly there is no one turning over the soil in nature, and yet plants grow fine without human intervention. Double dig and no-dig beds have been compared and there is no difference except no-dig uses nature to aerate the soil. Jan 2 '17 at 21:37
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    @stormy I suggest you try it before you dismiss it Jan 2 '17 at 21:50

One thing - you've mentioned field bindweed, or Convulvulus. Whether the bindweed you have is Convulvulus arvensis or Calystegia sepium, I'm afraid you will need to disturb the soil, certainly annually, to try to keep it under control. I strongly advise you do not use a rototiller or cultivator or any kind of machine that turns the soil over where this weed is present - as I'm sure you're aware, regrowth will occur from a tiny fragment of its root, and any machine that turns the soil over will break up the roots and distribute them more or less evenly over the plot, making the problem worse.

It sounds like you're intending to grow edible plants in the area, which effectively rules out the glyphosate solution (where you insert canes when you see bindweed appearing, let it twine up those to the top, then spray thoroughly with glyophosate, which is a reasonably effective method to control or actually destroy some of it), so I'm afraid it sounds as if the only thing you can do in preparation is to thoroughly and carefully hand dig the whole area, extracting bindweed roots as you go. Or as much root as you can, anyway, but there will inevitably be regrowth during the first year, because some root is always left behind, and more and more in the second and third years and so on...

The presence of this particular weed means that area is probably not well suited to the no dig method of gardening, I'm sorry to say.

  • My bad, it's convolvulus sepium or hedge bindweed. Jul 12 '16 at 10:38
  • Convulvulus/Calystegia sepium, not quite so large as convulvulus arvensis, but still a right pain - the gift that keeps on giving, unfortunately, and my advice remains the same. It's a great pity its present in that area.
    – Bamboo
    Jul 12 '16 at 12:03
  • Nice information, Bamboo! If he puts a couple of inches of mulch on top will that deter the seeds/vegetative bits from growing? Weeds are a 'right pain'...but so easy to manage, gives us a good reason to get out in the garden and have something to do!
    – stormy
    Jul 12 '16 at 19:40
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    @stormy - nope, absolutely nothing will deter calystegia sepium, nor convulvulus arvensis come to that. Can be pulled or dug out on a regular basis but will always return, which means no dig gardening in such an area isn't going to happen. Sorry about the 'right pain', that's a very English cockney expression!
    – Bamboo
    Jul 12 '16 at 19:54
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    Yep, glyphosate, but it doesn't work first time and regrowth is to be expected. The presence of bindweed, equisetum and japanese knotweed, in reverse order of noxiousness, are reasons not to move in to a house as far I'm concerned!
    – Bamboo
    Jul 12 '16 at 20:35

I came across this video from Charles Dowding which addresses this issue. He says this is method one of preparing a no-dig vegetable garden. The video then goes on to show ground that is covered in grasses, weeds including bindweeds, thistles, dandelions etc.

He covers the whole area with black plastic for a month to kill the plants growing underneath. He then rolls back the black plastic and puts down a layer of manure, and compost so that he can no longer see the dead weeds. And then he replaces the plastic. In the video, three weeks later he then makes holes in the plastic and plants some marrow plants.

The video doesn't go into detail as to whether the plastic remains in place for another year. They usually say it takes 3 years to exhaust the roots of bindweeds so that they die. And of course in the no dig method, the channels left by the decomposing weed roots are open to the plants you're growing.


Note that this technique is not solarisation as the rhizomes of bindweeds are often too deep to be killed by that method. This appears to work by depriving the roots of any place to send leaves above the ground to sustain themselves.


  • Someone decided to use black plastic and came up with a lame reason why it works...clear plastic accumulates enough heat to kill all living things in the top few inches. Roots of vigorous weeds are starved if no green plant parts are able to produce food for the plant...starving the 'weed'...I don't care what roots, what plants are buried in the soil, keeping the top growth down and unable to photosynthesize WILL diminish/kill unwanted plants. As well as micro and macro organisms. They will beat it to the cooler darker regions of the soil and go dormant while decomposers do their job.
    – stormy
    Jan 2 '17 at 22:42
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    @Stormy, sorry, wrong. But best to take it to chat Jan 2 '17 at 23:31
  • Not true that clear plastic is the only thing that works - it depends where you live. Try solarization with clear plastic in the UK and you might as well dance round the moon at midnight chanting spells, it'd be about as effective, complete waste of time, uv levels aren't strong enough. What works here is thick, black plastic, tightly pegged down, to exclude all light, air and water - but needs to be in place for a year minimum, preferably two or three for serious root systems like Hedera
    – Bamboo
    Jan 3 '17 at 1:11
  • What zone is London again? Why black? The plastic would absorb the rays of sun but beneath just ain't gonna get very hot. The black will kill top growth but no more. Solarization I've done lots with clear plastic in zones 3 and 4 with excellent results. I am still giggling with your analogy, damn. I would LOVE to be able to take you to lunch, preferably Thai with Sake and Cigars!! Clear plastic acts similar to glass, magnifying the light, holds in the heat. Black definitely not white effectively keeps the top growth from feeding the roots. I am not keen on killing all biota of soil.
    – stormy
    Jan 3 '17 at 21:55
  • @stormy you know it's common for growers to plant in black plastic, and why? Jan 3 '17 at 22:02

my first garden in this crappy pumice soil and freezes every month see raised bedsThe first time new plant beds, vegetable beds are created, YES one needs to dig and turn over. If you have sandy sandy soil then rototilling is ok. If any clay forget it. Simple to DOUBLE DIG. I've always gone as deep as a foot (actually more but that was a different story). Start at the head of the bed, remove a good 2' length of soil down at least a foot. Then dig and turn the rest of the soil over beginning just behind the removed soil, replacing that soil and then replacing the soil you just removed. At the end take the first removed soil and throw it back onto the bed. I've had beds 4' high, raked down and compacted for planting and it was back down to 1 1/2 ' and soon 1' or less. The less manipulation with clay the BETTER! At the same time I add decomposed organic matter. This is the last time I mess with manual digging and turning of the soil. I always have 'raised' beds without any boards or blocks. A trench along all of the sides between the walk and bed.

Why the newspaper? For weeds? Forget it. That soil is so full of seeds no barrier in this universe will stop weeds from growing. Turning the soil over is HEALTHY. No dig is just plain SILLY. Make your beds the right way the first time will be the last time. This no dig stuff is nonsense. You don't want any barrier, even newspaper to hamper the soil organisms from coming up to the top to eat decomposed organic matter and then go back into your soil profile to poop it out and do the mixing of organic matter into your soil with no manual help from you. Get used to pulling weeds, so easy, such a non-issue I wonder about people that are afraid of WEEDS. Mulch the tops of your beds and that will reduce any germination of weed seeds (which are by the millions in your soil).

Mulch IS compost. Depending on who is trying to talk. What you want is DECOMPOSED ORGANIC MATTER as mulch/compost. Otherwise you have to wait for non-decomposed matter to be decomposed by the decomposers. A year, 2 years...depending.

You WANT to dig into your soil, turn it over and just keep going. Do it right the first time and you'll not have to do it again...depending on what you grow, how high you allow your 'beds' to be and what your soil composition IS. The only ONLY ONLY way to improve soil is by the addition of DECOMPOSED ORGANIC MATTER. Nothing else! After this first time to build your beds, all you have to do is add compost to the top of the bed.

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    I don't think this is true " The only ONLY ONLY way to improve soil is by the addition of DECOMPOSED ORGANIC MATTER. Nothing else!" because humus is formed by bacteria/fungi creating complex sugars based on secretions from plant roots. The formation of humus improves soil. Jul 13 '16 at 0:21
  • The only way I know is the addition of organic matter, decomposed organic matter. That is what I've been taught, what I've read, what I've found to be true and what I have every reason to put out here for others to know. Nothing else can or should be added to any soil. Secretions from plant roots is part of the symbiotic process. Organisms with enough food are able to procreate, enlarge their population and create great great soil out of any soil type. Decomposed organic matter is faster so that all organisms are fed. Don't have to worry about the decomposers...they will always be there.
    – stormy
    Jan 2 '17 at 21:24
  • And btw, this is another point for NOT rototilling. Using the shovel, one can double dig and pull out whatever roots they come across. It will take a couple of years but weeds like these should not dictate you planting cash crops! Easy peasy to keep pulling up chopping down. Glyphosate would work if you painted it on the green foliage of the weed plants. But not any quicker than simply pulling, wacking or covering...manually. Glyphosate painted on the top growth of weeds will not ruin your soil. It could hamper newbie plants and seed germination. Manual labor is much maligned.
    – stormy
    Jan 2 '17 at 22:58
  • Humus is DECOMPOSED ORGANIC MATTER that the micro and macro organisms have eaten and gone back into the soil profile to poop it out. Digging in no way is detrimental. Humus can be formed and mixed into the raised beds just by the addition of DECOMPOSED organic matter to the surface of the soil. I did a test where I had BLUE PORCELAIN clay beneath the grass. I dumped 4"+ on top to start a new plant bed. The next year, taking a shovel and slicing down that blue clay was completely black down 2" and 4 to 6" streaked with 'humus'. Just allowing the organisms to feed and poop.
    – stormy
    Jan 2 '17 at 23:10
  • Decomposed organic matter isn't really the ONLY way - green manure crops are very useful
    – Bamboo
    Jan 3 '17 at 1:14

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