Till Vs No Till: Which Is Best?

Updated on October 31, 2019
Juli Seyfried profile image

Juli grows vegetables in containers. Tomatoes, eggplants, green peppers and cucumbers are favorites. Containers of herbs surround her patio.

This article will break down the pros and cons of tilling so that you can decide what kind of approach is best for your garden.
This article will break down the pros and cons of tilling so that you can decide what kind of approach is best for your garden. | Source

What's the best way to prepare the soil for vegetable plants to grow?

Vegetables use up the soil’s nutrients, which need to be replaced for next year. Thus, you want to add nutrients to the soil that feeds the plants. You want to make the soil loose enough to put in seeds or young vegetables.

How do you make the healthiest soil for plants to spread their roots and absorb food and water?

Some gardeners use tilling, the traditional approach to improve garden soil for vegetables. But what is tilling? It is breaking up the ground by digging the soil 8–10 inches deep and turning it over.

Gardeners debate whether or not tilling is a good practice for renewing soil that has been depleted of its nutrients. This article will provide some points on both sides of the fence. Which makes sense for your gardening needs?

Kohlrabi | Source

Reasons to Till

Here are some of the main reasons why tilling might be a good idea, along with some directions on how to best do so.

It adds nutrients.

  • Dig in organic materials such as compost or fertilizer. Add lime to change the pH level of the soil.
  • Turn over cover crops planted at the end of last season to control erosion from wind and rain. This speeds the plants' break down. It returns nutrients like much-needed nitrogen to the soil.
  • Plants still standing at the end of the growing season in fall, when turned over, decompose more quickly to supply nutrients to the soil.

It loosens soil.

  • Break up hardened or compacted soil including clay; make soil particles smaller.
  • Start a new season by loosening the soil for seeds or transplants of young vegetables.
  • Soil aeration so plants' roots can get air, sun, water, and nutrients.

Some additional reasons to till.

  • Remove weeds and their roots.
  • Create a new garden bed in the yard.

Lettuce | Source

Reasons Not to Till

  • It disrupts soil structure. Very simply, soil structure is the combination of mineral particles, organic matter, water, and air. Digging and turning soil loosens it but also destroys the complex structure that is already there.
  • It disturbs and kills earthworms. Earthworms tunnel through soil, consuming organic matter that becomes nutrients and minerals in soil. Their tunnels allow water and air into the soil. Digging ruins tunnels.
  • It increases water runoff and soil erosion. Wind blows organic matter away along with topsoil. Nutrients that feed the plants are carried into water systems like creeks and streams. Nutrients wind up in the wrong place. Instead of feeding plants, they pollute water ecosystems.

Additional reasons not to till:

  • It brings dormant weed seeds to the soil surface, causing them to grow.
  • It creates extra work in the garden—backbreaking work at that.

Radish | Source

Are There Other Ways to Improve Soil?

Before you decide whether or not to till, here are a few alternatives to tilling that improve garden soil. Building healthy soil structure takes time. It’s the most important part of tending the garden. Plants thrive in it. It lightens the carbon footprint.

Adding Organic Matter

Spread a couple of inches of compost on top of the soil. Let rain, worms, and soil microbes do their job to break down the material to feed plants.

Crop Rotation

Each vegetable plant has different nutritional needs, pests, and diseases. Switching locations between plants in the vegetable garden the following year improves their chances to thrive. Additionally, pests and diseases don't have much time to develop.

Scientists have actually found which plants are beneficial to each other. For example, this year, plant tomatoes in section A of the garden. Tomatoes consume nutrients they need and leave behind those they don't. Next year, plant beans in section A to consume nutrients left behind by tomatoes. Tomato plants can go in another section. It's sort of like swapping lunches in grade school. Everyone gets what they want.

Aeration (Increasing Air in the Soil)

The freeze/thaw cycle breaks up soil. Worms create passageways as they move through the ground. Even dead roots of plants leave tunnels once they decompose.

Reducing Weeds

Pull weeds by hand, making sure to get the roots. Use a weed fork to get at deep roots like a dandelion’s. A 2 to 3 inch layer of mulch prevents weed growth.

Raised beds are easy for gardeners with limited mobility.
Raised beds are easy for gardeners with limited mobility. | Source

Growing Crops on Top of the Ground

  • Raised beds sit on top of the ground with borders made of untreated wood roughly 11–12 inches tall. Fill them with organic rich soil. Add fresh organic matter on top every year. (Note: Raised beds also refer to box-like structures on legs in varying heights created for those who need to stand up or work from a wheelchair.)
  • Containers including bags, sacks, and hollowed straw bales when filled with organic rich soil provide options for planting. Layer on top of the ground, beginning with several sheets of newspaper or cardboard. Pile on organic rich soil to make a garden bed.


Creating a new garden for the first time requires some serious digging and tilling. After that, build soil by layering organic material on top every year.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2019 Juli Seyfried


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No comments yet.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, dengarden.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://maven.io/company/pages/privacy

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)