Author Topic: Any experience and and/or advice about rotivating then ‘no dig’?!  (Read 1353 times)


  • Hectare
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So, i posted before about my new allotment being a real mess and my ability to dig being very limited due to tennis elbow... I paid for someone to come and dig an area - with the intention of having a small bit done this year, covering the rest with membrane and then doing more as possible. However.....after 4 hours digging today, the guy had only managed to do a relatively small area - mainly because of the huge nettle roots that really take a lot of digging out. He’s suggesting either spraying or rotivating as he thinks it will be too expensive (I agree!) to dig much more. I really don’t want to spray so think I will have to rotivate even if it just cuts up the weeds.

So sorry for long post. My question is - has anyone any experience of rotivating and then putting a lot of manure on top over cardboard (a bit ‘no dig”)? I am thinking of keeping half the allotment covered with membrane - probably for the next year, rotivating the rest and putting as much manure as I can over cardboard to try to suppress the weeds more. Any thoughts please, I’m a bit desperate at this stage in the year. thanks

Allotments 4 All


  • Acre
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  • Posts: 431
  • Duston, Northampton. Loam / sand.
Well there are several things to consider. Firstly, rotavating can be pretty heavy work, and could potentially aggravate your elbow. Secondly, it seems rather pointless to rotavate before covering with cardboard and manure. Go direct to that stage, and done properly it will, after a time, kill all the annual weeds and considerably weaken the  perennial weeds.

Thirdly, rotavating can be very counter productive. If you chop lots of perennial weed roots into small pieces, chances are they will be back worse than before. So all in all, I'd seriously suggest avoiding any rotavating. Or at least get the weeds under control before you do.

However, the difficulty with weed suppression using membrane and/or cardboard and manure is that once things are under control you will need to fork out the perennial weed roots. Now this is not as hard as digging but is certainly not easy.

So logically I can see only two possibilities. One is the use of chemical spray to kill everything before you rotavate. But arguably better, especially given your limited ability to dig is to go totally no dig. The aim is to destroy the perennial weeds by attrition - constantly making them weaker and weaker by repeated application of mulch and top dressings.

I will not say more as I'm not a " no digger" and cannot offer much advice. But there are quite a few no dig enthusiasts here who will happily offer better advice if you ask. Just think hard about your options and especially avoid doing anything to make things worse.

Not mad, just out to mulch!

Tee Gee

  • Hectare
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  • Huddersfield - Light humus rich soil
    • The Gardener's Almanac
Firstly let me say I have never been in such a position but I will offer a suggestion and that is not rotovate it but plough it!

If the roots are as large as the impression I have in mind I doubt if a rotovator wil be able to tackle it as the stringy strong roots will just bind round the rotors, where as a plough might be able to cut through them.

Then hopefully once the ground has been loosened then you might be able to use the combination of a rotovator and spade and slowly clear the roots out.

Personally I would have gone the herbicide route when I first got the plot, and possibly the herbicide would have dispersed by now.


  • Hectare
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  • Retford. Notts
I did as TEE GEE has said and ploughed, disced and the rotovated and the very next day planted the whole plot, but it will make it easier for you to get manure into the soil before you start the nodig method.
you may be a king or a little street sweeper but sooner or later you dance with de reaper.


  • Hectare
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  • Plot is London clay, rich in Mesozoic fossils
As a committed no-dig participant, I understand your quandry but would not support you rotovating at all, for the previously outlined reasons. My approach would be to work out what you wish/ intend to plant this year. Survey the worst areas for nettles and get them planted with spuds, with compost/leaves/manure. Pull off all new nettle growth (with thick gloves!) and compost. For areas for leaf(salads,spinach,brassicaes ), mow off weeds, cover with 1/2   layers of heavy cardboard, add 2" manure and place your plants strait in.
For roots(carrots/beet/parsnips etc); as leaf but dress 1" compost (homemade/bought) on top of the manure layer. Seed into this compost layer, firm tightly. The unworked areas(as time is finite!),lay cardboard* and plant courgettes, squash etc. Beans maybe above (Three sisters?)
No-dig is a technique not a religion, you are 'working towards' a an ideal not delivering overnight .
* Those large boxes that fridges, washing machines etc travel in are readily available and cover large areas when opened out. Ensure you overlap the edges 3-4", no light to reach the 'thugs' downstairs.
Any  reports welcomed; dont despair, its likely to be a late Spring so plenty of time yet.
Freelance cultivator qualified within the University of Life.


  • Hectare
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Thanks so much for all the advice- it really helps a lot. I am going to spend a little time thinking about my preferred options rather than panicking. It might be good to talk o the allotment committee so the know the score too. They know no one has got on top of this for years.....!


  • Hectare
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  • Vendée, France
When we started work converting former cow pasture t a garden 20ish years ago we had the earth moved to dig a drainage pond and then smoothed out th rest to make beds and grassed areas.  We covered one large future bed with plastic to cut out light and kill weeds.  The following year, impatient OH rotavated it all and lo and behold, nettles, dock, thistles, bindweed, dandelions, creeping buttercup multiplied with gay abandon and loads of seeds were woken up for things like bittercress and groundsel.   

I urge you not to rotavate but to cover all the weeds with layers of cardboard.  If you can't plant straight away, hold it down with bricks and keep piling it on as it breaks down.   Where you are ready to plant, pile on well rotted manure if you can get it or spent mushroom compost and decomposed garden waste.

We are dong this in our new veggie plot and it's working well so far.   Slightly different weeds here - fewer thistles, different bindweed and lots of wild persicaria and mallows - but just as persistent.
Obxx - Vendée France


  • Hectare
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This may not help with the nettle problem (I don't dig, I fork out the worst and hope for the best) but for your tennis elbow, have you tried one of these
hope that works! it's an epicondylitis clasp, and is absolute magic, I'd been plagued by TE for years, had steroid jabs, now when it flares I just use this device for a day or two and it's gone again.
Don't rotovate, the previous owner of our plot rotovated all the time and I've not cleared the couch he left in 34 years of trying.


  • Quarter Acre
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I find the trouble with rotavating, is that the more you do, it only rotavates the top six inches, below that it gets more and more compact, and in time will be a water barrier, especially on clay, maybe best to cover, in my opinion.  :glasses9:
Spring has arrived I am so excited I have wet my PLANTS