When using the no dig gardening method with mulched vegetable beds, what do you do in fall with the old plants?

I know that in no dig you do not want to disturb the soil. Also when mulching it's best to leave the mulch at the surface.

But now it's autumn and I have to take out some annual vegetable plants. Some of them are quite big and have developed large root systems. When I pull them out a lot of soil comes away with the roots and some mulch gets mixed inside the newly created hole.

Should I keep uprooting or should I just cut the stalks where they meet the ground?

That seems less disturbing to the garden bed, but with some big plants it's leaving a lot of big hard roots in the ground. Since the ground is frozen in winter where I live I don't know if they will have time to rot down.

  • 2
    @stormy The idea behind no dig is that you leave the soil structure intact. This allows beneficial fungi such as mycorrhizae, and bacteria to establish and also reduces weed pressure over time. You leave it up to worms and other soil organisms to aerate the soil. I learned about it from watching Charles Dowding's youtube videos. He does a dig/no dig experiment every year and routinely gets the same or higher yields from his no dig plots. His point is why spend the time and labor digging if it doesn't improve yields. Read more here: charlesdowding.co.uk/no-dig-growing/homeacres
    – MyNameisTK
    Commented Sep 7, 2017 at 14:05
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    "No Dig" method would be more accurately called a "No Till" method. We have adopted it in our greenhouses cut flower gardens about five years ago, and it works like a charm. We sometimes scratch in more compost in the upper 2 inches if we don't mulch, or when we plant we add some compost deep in the planting hole, but typically we just add a 1/2 to 1 inch of compost and then put mulch over it. The worms and insects carry it into the soil. We also only pull large unsightly plants in the spring, I often leave small annuals in the ground so the roots can rot off.
    – CloneZero
    Commented Sep 7, 2017 at 14:36
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    Stormy, I would suggest doing a little research into the benefits of a no till system before offering up your opinion as you clearly don't know what you're talking about. "No till" means that you do not till or turn over your soil every year or twice a year as many conventional farmers/gardeners do. Contrary to popular belief, tilling has NO benefit to long term soil health and it in fact has detrimental effect. Tilling actually causes more soil compaction especially in areas of clay soil. Tilling causes millions of pounds of precious topsoil to erode away every year.
    – Tyler K.
    Commented Sep 10, 2017 at 18:58
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    Tilling oxidizes the soil and causes rapid organic matter decomposition which is why most heavily tilled soil is basically void of organic matter. Because of the oxidation and lack of organic matter as well as applications of synthetic fertilizers, this soil generally has much smaller populations of micro and macro organisms that aerate and loosen the soil. Most importantly, tilled and fertilized soil have very small if any mycorizzal fungi and bacteria that associate with plants and assist them in nutrient uptake. There is a reason why many conventional farmers and gardeners are....
    – Tyler K.
    Commented Sep 10, 2017 at 19:06
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    converting their fields to 'no till' because they can achieve the same if not better results while also securing the long term health of their soil. In the Unites States, most areas of heavy farming have lost up to 90% of their topsoil because of extensive tillage. Not to mention, it's less work. While I'm no purist by any means, nor some woowoo hippie, no till is definitely the best practice for home gardeners and commercial growers in most situations. I do typically till when I'm establishing a new garden bed, but after that I don't till every again except with a shallow (2-3") tilther
    – Tyler K.
    Commented Sep 10, 2017 at 19:12

1 Answer 1


Even with a no dig method, it's still necessary to disturb the soil a little if you want to clear or plant, especially vegetable crops. Remove the plants you no longer need, uprooting them - it doesn't matter if a little mulch gets mixed in with the soil, shake off what soil you can from the roots you've pulled back over the hole. You will have to disturb it all over again in when you want to replant vegetables as well, so no dig doesn't really mean never, ever disturb the soil, it simply means don't actually dig it over and disturb it as little as possible. Ultimately, unless you've got permanent planting, some small disturbance is unavoidable.

  • I would agree with Bamboo here, although the testing I've seen they do add organic matter to the surface like a mulch and lightly rake it in, the early results of such tests actually suggest that crop yields are higher using this method, but one can agree at the moment until further information and a longer range of yearly results can be added up- too early in the trial I'm watching at the moment to make ones mind up. but does look promising!
    – olantigh
    Commented Sep 8, 2017 at 20:49
  • Bamboo you are so politically nice. Need to just 'tart' it up a little, grins!
    – stormy
    Commented Sep 9, 2017 at 0:23

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