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Is no till gardening a good idea?

I want to plant an acre of berry plants in a field of grass. Is no till a good, organic approach? I was thinking of maybe laying down newspaper and pine bark mulch. Or should I just leave the grass and mow between the rows? Thanks. Janie

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Joined: Sat Jun 07, 2008 7:17 pm

A very interesting question Janie and one I hope others will give input to.
My way would be to remove the turf along the rows to be planted and leave it between rows to reduce the work. I'm sure no till gardening is fine in some situations and for some crops but I think initially the soil needs to be prepared for the crop in question. You don't say what type of fruit bushes but assuming currants, gooseberries, raspberries and the like initial soil preparation would be my first thoughts. Deeply dug and much organic matter incorporated. A good start to any bush fruit will I'm sure pay dividends. I know it is a large area but the aim is still the same - good soil preparation means good healthy growth, all else being satisfactory. Also, grass takes needed nutrients from the soil especially nitrogen. The latter can be a good thing as too much nitrogen can go for leaf growth at the expense of fruits - but, you really want that in your control and not left to what the grass dictates.

Green Thumb
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Location: Ohio

pd has sound advise.

Dad started a 1/8 acre or so of Black Raspberries from starts(got from a friend(all day process, maybe more, can't remember)) we transplanted.
He mowed the area, spread manure in rows then tilled just the planting rows(It made for easier planting).
The first couple years he mowed between the rows. After that the grass was allowed to grow unchecked. We would(two year cycle) mow new paths in the patch to re-establish a walk path and mulch the old canes at the same time. This technique made for a neat rotating cycle that allowed new growth to always be in fresh ground.
Later he determined the initial mowing and tilling was likely not necessary, as the birds created new berry patches in weeds and tree lines.
Personally, I would at least mow the site short(till if growing by seed).
The manure was on the same 2 year cycle as the mowing.

If you have the space a three part cycle would be easy to maintain, 4 foot wide strip/row, as the canes grow they get bent over into the next 4 foot row and root in that section, the next year the canes get bent over into the 3rd 4 foot section and you mow the first row end of 2nd year, this technique may require a year or so to get a good crop started. This is a very clean and easy process with new canes always moving in the same direction and a free row to stand in for picking.

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Super Green Thumb
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Location: TN. 50 years of gardening experience.

I think no till is a great idea. There is a 10 acre field of Blue Berries south of town. They have the rows far enough apart so they can drive a tractor between the rows and bush hog the grass. It works great. I pick about 50 lbs of Blue Berries there evey summer, they sell by the pound and you pick your own.

The Helpful Gardener
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Adding clover to the grass would support no till better; clover fixes nitrogen from the atmosphere. Buckwheat would do the same...

No till supports the fungal structure healthy trees and shrubs require, allowing it to mature and grow. Tilling destrys that structure as well as destroying soil tilth. No-till is better, especially for plants that will outcompete grass like raspberries. Mulching with sawdust or cips will help to support shrubs and discourage grass...


Super Green Thumb
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Location: El Cerrito, CA

There was a good discussion on no-till very recently at


There are others, too; they have "no till" in the discussion, but not in the thread title. Just use the Search at the upper left-hand side of each page. Use the phrase "no till," and several pages of results will show up, all of them from right here at The Helpful Gardener.

Cynthia H.
Sunset Zone 17, USDA Zone 9

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