Drought Garden Secrets – Soil, Mulch, and Water

Garden — By on August 18, 2012 7:02 am

Shawna Coronado in her front lawn vegetable garden

This summer has been a drought-filled doozy in Chicagoland, redefining the phrase “hot damn” and killing unsuspecting annuals and vegetables in gardens across the Midwest. Our temperatures have matched Dying Vegetables in GardenSanta Fe, New Mexico’s heat and until mid-August we were inundated with drought. Believe me, we front lawn garden vigilante’s have a watering bill that rival our air-conditioning bills. Looking at the photo above, I am sure you are wondering why I have the giant smile plastered across my face after such a difficult season.

Simply put – this season I had a few secret weapons which helped my garden survive when many others did not. To the right you see a photo I took of a local vegetable garden; this is what a lot of the gardens in my region look like after drought. Below is a photo I took yesterday of my front lawn vegetable garden and it is looking pretty good thanks to my secret weapons.


  1. SOIL – For three years I have been building the soil in the garden. I have added a mix of composted manure (both bison and cow), regular compost, and organic soil. The first year I tilled the soil under. Since then I have practiced a no-till policy, simply layering the new organic soil amendments on top of the last. Strong soil means strong microbes for the plants to interact with and it also means more water holding capability.
  2. MULCH - Every year I mulch the garden. Mulch helps hold moisture in the soil below it and eventually rots down into the soil, marrying with the complex soil system. I prefer mulching one to two inches max for the vegetable beds and I primarily use natural mulching products; leaves and chipped wood. This year I added pine bark mulch from Midwest Trading and have found it remarkably water retentive.
  3. WATERING - For the first time ever I have added a dedicated hose system to the front lawn garden. Usually I use rain barrel water, but without rain, there was no filled rain barrels. I have two over-ground sprinklers which helped to maintain the plants. I noticed that no matter how much I watered via the hose system, the garden did not grow significantly until a good rain soaked the soil, so some of the tropical plants I have are a bit stunted. Overall, however, it has been good. I water before 10 AM and after 6 PM to help prevent evaporation during watering. Also, it is better to water for a longer period at a time so you can build deeper roots. Watering every day is not necessary, but having a long drink helps the roots grow deeper and stronger.
  4. SOIL ADDITIVES - In the spring I mixed in Worm Castings with the vegetable garden soil to help attract worms. Having worms in your garden means the soil is going to be better aerated and absorb water more readily. During planting I added Actino-Iron, a soil additive which helps build a stronger relationship between the roots and its surrounding soil microbes, thereby strengthening the plant and allowing it to absorb more water. I applied Actino-Iron when planting and a second time in July. Organic fertilizers included Jobes All-Purpose Organic Fertilizer, which I apply only to a few selected plants and only twice through the summer.

If you want to see the full on design and planting schematic details so you can grow a similar garden, please go to this LINK.

My best advice to all gardeners is to prepare your garden for ANY conditions. Almost all great gardening starts at the root and specifically the soil; by strengthening the soil you strengthen the plant. Think of it as vitamins to help your organic vegetables grow to their very strongest. Particularly in drought conditions, soil and mulch can make a tremendous difference for your garden. Plant a row for the hungry next garden season using my secret weapons for success and make a difference!

Shawna Coronado's Front Lawn Vegetable Garden 2012 August

Special Note – Because the FTC requires it, I am letting you know that Jobes Organic FertilizerBonnie Plants, Organic Mechanics Soil, Midwest Trading, and Natural Industries supplied the plants, mulch, soil, and soil additives I used in this garden. I have used their products because I WOULD even if they had not given the products to me and they have produced great success. I donate a large portion of the vegetables I grow in my soil-improved garden to the local food pantry when harvested. All opinions are my own!

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  1. Jenny says:

    Oh, this is gorgeous! And the info in the post is very helpful. I would give anything to do a garden like this in my front yard!

  2. Kathy says:

    Beautiful front yard garden! Can you believe cities are upset about people wanting to plant beautiful edibles in their front yard! I say it’s Patriotic, ala Victory Gardens. Great garden.

    • Shawna says:

      I’ve been fortunate that my city approves of this garden as they have not supported of my behind-the-fence garden. I donate about 100 lbs of food from the garden to local food pantries every year. :-)


  3. Have you seen Paul Wheaton’s article on Huglekulture? That might be just what ya’ll need up there? Down here in Texas we have to make in ground Huglekulture beds due to how arid it is, but above ground would work for all of you up north. Here is the article if you have not read it: http://www.richsoil.com/hugelkultur/

    • vgr says:

      This is a must-read for all gardeners if you want every possible line of defense against drought! If you look you can also find Sepp Holzer’s videos online, whom Paul Wheaton has interviewed, with sub-titles. He’s a hoot, and a very astute observer of nature. If the whole world had known of him years ago, we would not have starving people! We have robbed the very soil that sustains our food….

  4. porter says:

    sc-follow you thru greenalltop-admire your energy and passion to be green-have you considered a greywater irrigation system-expensive yes but we all throw away a lot of readily reusable water from showering, washing dishes etc-best porter conservastore

  5. Robyn says:

    Congratulations on a wonderful effort. Useful as well as ornamental. And the best thing is you are not being prosecuted for growing veg as some people in parts of the USA and Cnada are – which is disgraceful. Well done!

  6. Julie says:

    Your garden looks gorgeous! I hear you about the rain barrels–theoretically, an excellent idea…unless there’s NO RAIN! My hubby built a pretty fabulous irrigation system out of PVC pipe for our raised beds, which has worked really well. But, I never water in the evening–too much risk of disease here in SC. Thanks for sharing your gorgeous garden!

  7. Plant Stands says:

    Amazing results and good tips to boot…thanks.

  8. Pam says:

    I’m going to check with my city government to see if there are any ordinances that would prevent a front yard veggie garden.

  9. Ezra says:

    This is very interesting, You’re a very skilled blogger. I’ve joined your feed
    and look forward to seeking more of your fantastic post.

    Also, I have shared your website in my social networks!

  10. Steve says:

    Shawna thank you for all the great info on drought gardening. I myself have learned to use mulch and watering early and late in the day. I love the picture it shows a great garden.

  11. Shawna thank you so much for your tips on drought gardening. I just came through a hellish summer, with daily temperatures exceeding 100degrees Farhrenheit (southern hemisphere) and I want to be prepared for next summer.

    You garden is lovely.

    • Shawna says:

      Thanks. Stick with the soil — that’s one way to protect your plants from drought. Tons of mulch. Lots of compost. And, of course, a heavy dose of love. :-)

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