Front Lawn No-Till Vegetable Garden Design

Create a No-Till Garden and Retire Your Tiller Forever

It is a wonderful feeling to discover a gardening hack that saves you time and effort without decreasing the health of your garden. Imagine the extra time you would have if you never tilled your garden again. Guess what? Not only can you save time with a no-till garden, you can improve the quality of your soil that way too!

Improve Soil with a No-Till Garden

My friend Shawna Coronado is a talented gardener, promoter of green lifestyles, and garden-hack pro. Shawna joins us today to share the details on how to create a no-till garden from her wonderful book 101 Organic Gardening Hacks. If you like this time-saving, soil-improving, organic gardening hack, you’ll love the other 100!

Retire Your Tiller

By Shawna Coronado

If you love your soil, stop flipping it over.

Sometimes the best way to improve something is to let it be. A no-till garden is a perfect example. And creating one also means less work for you. Imagine building a large garden without having to turn the soil over in your garden beds.

Turning soil kills the microbes living beneath the ground that contribute to a healthier root system by living symbiotically with your roots. There are billions of bacteria, millions of fungi, thousands of protozoa, and scores of other nematodes and organisms found in one small tablespoon of healthy soil. Hacking your garden soil with a few simple no-till tips can make for hugely successful growing because you keep those vital creatures alive and happy in your garden beds.

A no-till garden has other benefits. Because you are consistently smothering weeds with mulch or compost, they struggle to grow there, and an undisturbed, enriched soil requires far less fertilizer in order to support successful plants. The no-till technique works in almost any garden space and can help grow extremely healthy organic vegetables and herbs.

How to Create a No-Till Garden

Never till your garden again with this hack

Instead of turning your soil over for a garden, start by removing all of the grass, either by stripping the sod or smothering the grass (see Hack 79: “Kill Grass by Smothering It”).

  1. Put down a 2-inch layer of rotted manure or compost on top of the bare soil. Do not turn the soil over.
  2. Dig holes to plant your plants.
  3. Mulch the garden the first year with wood chips or another natural mulch, such as pine needles, rotted leaves, or straw.
  4. After the harvest at the end of the season, do not pull out the vegetable or herb plants by the root; cut their stems at the base of the soil and leave the roots in the ground to overwinter and eventually rot. Compost the cut plant matter.
  5. Next planting year, cover the garden with another 2-inch layer of compost.
  6. When planting new vegetables and herbs, only pull out roots from the previous year if they block an area for a new plant. Be sure to rotate the crop so that no plant from the previous season is planted in the same location in the current year.Front Lawn No-Till Vegetable Garden Design
  7. In your third planting year, follow the same practices, but add a layer of mulch instead of a layer of compost.
  8. In your fourth planting year, follow the same practices, but add a layer of soil instead of a layer of mulch.
  9. In the fifth planting year, follow the same practices, but add a layer of rotted manure instead of a layer of soil.
  10. In the sixth planting year, follow the same practices, but add a layer of compost instead of rotted manure.
  11. Continue every season layering up the compost, mulch, soil, and rotted manure without ever turning over the soil.

About the Author

Shawna Coronado

Shawna Coronado is an author, columnist, blogger, photographer, and spokesperson for organic gardening, green lifestyle living, and culinary preparation who campaigns for social good. Shawna’s goal in authoring gardening and green lifestyle books is to promote a world initiative to encourage healthy and sustainable living. She was featured as a Chicago Tribune “Remarkable Woman” and speaks internationally on building community, simple urban garden living, and green lifestyle tips for the everyday person. Shawna lives in the western suburbs of Chicago where she has a famous front lawn vegetable garden. You can learn more about her at www.shawnacoronado.com.101 Organic Gardening Hacks

 

 

  1. Allison Blank
    Allison BlankMay 25,17

    My gardening hack is to create compost the same way… in a 3×3 brick area, start with a layer of sticks to provide air circulation at the bottom, then layer fresh grass clipping and healthy kitchen scraps until the layer is complete. Top with a layer of leaves. Continue layering for a year the turn over and let sit until compost formed. Start a new bin while that one gets happy.

  2. Rebecca M.
    Rebecca M.May 25,17

    Hi – I am a big fan of your blog and Shawna’s. I started a vegetable garden 2 years ago (this will be my third summer) and I am completely in love with the planting process and the joy that comes from watching everything grow. I can’t tell you enough how much I appreciate the wisdom you share on your blog. Thank you. :)
    And since I’m fairly new to gardening, I don’t think I have any really good hacks – other than I think its important that you make a nice place to sit in your garden (shade if possible). You’ll spend more time out there as a result and be more inspired to keep gardening.

  3. Anna Pry
    Anna PryMay 25,17

    I started my 1st real garden this year. I tilled this year but don’t plan on needing to till in the future as I am following a similar method. I didn’t have time to smother the grass first since we had just moved into this house. After tilling, I pulled the dirt from the paths into the rows, covered the rows in layers of newspaper, then compost, then straw to keep out the weeds. I dug out a hole in each spot where I planted and filled the hole with garden soil to get the seed started well. Once they sprouted I pulled the straw back around the dirt. So far, so good! Only ‘weed’ issue I’ve had has been from wheat grains still in the straw that sprouted. Would have been better using wood chips but didn’t have any available to me. So I guess my tip is to not use straw! Haha ;)

  4. Kathi
    KathiMay 25,17

    I used to have to completely rework my garden plan in order to rotate plants from year to year. Now it’s easy: I’ve numbered my raised beds, and every year I just move each bed’s contents down one bed. So what was in Bed 1 last year will be in Bed 2 this year, and in Bed 3 next year. All the companion plants, etc., move right along with the vegetable plants. I don’t know why I didn’t think of this before, it’s so simple.

  5. Gillian
    GillianMay 25,17

    I have built my garden up over about five years the same way – every year adding mulch, my own homemade compost and sometimes manure. There is never uncovered soil – even cardboard helps to keep moisture in and eventually breaks down (and worms love to congregate under it!)

  6. Theresa Rouse
    Theresa RouseMay 26,17

    This has been very informative. I will be starting a garden at a new home in the fall and this info will be useful.

  7. Patricia La Pat
    Patricia La PatMay 26,17

    Interesting idea. Will try this!

  8. Dorothy
    DorothyMay 26,17

    After trying to till 2 very large gardens for years I had a bad head injury. I thought my gardening days were over. Now my husband has made a large raised bed which is super & just out my back door!

  9. Cyndee Phelps
    Cyndee PhelpsMay 26,17

    This is something I will try! Since I am disabled, it has become harder to have a garden. I am looking forward to having one this year!

  10. Patty
    PattyMay 26,17

    Since I am brand new to your blog my only hack is to pray. I am better since I retired but still not sure I am doing things correctly. Having problems with my Hydrangeas and my lilac tree bloomed the first time this year. I can use all the hack I can get. Thanks.

  11. Martha Franks
    Martha FranksMay 26,17

    My grandmother just dug a hole and buried veggie scraps, coffee grounds and egg shells in her garden. I’ve done the same for years and have such good rich soil.

  12. Katie Sagar
    Katie SagarMay 26,17

    My best garden hack is to use plastic knives where my new plants and seeds. This allows my husband to help me weed the garden without him pulling something he shouldn’t be

  13. Barbara Peter
    Barbara PeterMay 26,17

    My favorite gardening hack is to collect grass clippings and deposit them in my flower beds. It helps to retain moisture in the soil and allows my plants to flourish. I also do the same thing in my veggie garden with great results. Great supplement to my sandy soil.

  14. Jeannie
    JeannieMay 26,17

    I love to garden and, I need some hacks! We have a pretty short growing season here in the Michigan U.P. Thank you!

  15. Leeann
    LeeannMay 27,17

    I have gardened for over 40 years. Love my compost pile, but lately have been burying daily scraps (coffee grounds, peelings, egg shells) in holes through out the garden/flower bed areas. I have used grass clippings in between the plants in the garden to keep weeds down. Also, in the fall I save fallen leaves to use as mulch in the spring/summer.

  16. Mel
    MelMay 27,17

    Love Shawna, and would love this book!

  17. Brenda Nickels
    Brenda NickelsMay 27,17

    My best gardening hack is using cardboard or newspaper to smother weeds.

  18. Cathy Streett
    Cathy StreettMay 27,17

    I have used “no till” for about 20 years in my veggie garden. I use natural mulches (straw, leaves etc.) each year so there is also NO weeding. When you dig up the soft earth and see the many organisms working through the soil leaving their waste behind it is nature at it is intended. Enjoyed seeing Shawna earlier this spring and looking forward to following this site.

  19. Sharon Elsberry
    Sharon ElsberryMay 27,17

    Awesome garden tips and wonderful ways to make the best garden possible! Mulch – it’s one of best things you can do for your garden. You simply use it to cover the bare soil between plants in your planting beds. That’s nature’s quick and dirty way of ensuring that soil doesn’t wash away or blow away. But if you’re a gardener, you aren’t exactly in love with weeds, so you should try mulching. This is one garden job that makes other garden chores easier. As well as making your beds look neater, it does a lot of other great things. Happy gardening everyone!

  20. Barbara Mountjoy
    Barbara MountjoyMay 27,17

    My best gardening hack is to read Shawna’s books–she always has something that’s doable for me!

  21. Cheryl
    CherylMay 27,17

    My gardening hack is to put your bird baths at ground level instead of a pedestal. You will attract more birds. Put things like a bubbler up on a pedestal or pots of annuals to vary the heights.

  22. Crystal Rogers
    Crystal RogersMay 27,17

    I’m a lifetime gardener and am always looking for labor saving tricks.

  23. Janit Calvo
    Janit CalvoMay 27,17

    I thought I recognized that garden! Lol! I love Shauna’s work!

    My fave garden hack is my oversized metal mailbox that I have planted in the front garden. It’s painted green to blend in but looks cute when you see it. It holds all my tools, kneelers and fertilizers boxes. It’s a great place for overwintering hose parts. And I put a magnet on the door to hold my favorite pair of clippers. It saves me having to go to the back potting bench when I want to putter in the front garden.

  24. Joan Michel
    Joan MichelMay 27,17

    Would love to have this book! My best gardening hack is mulch & compost. Both make planting so much easier & it helps to minimize weeds!

  25. Nancy Kramer
    Nancy KramerMay 27,17

    Create more room to have different plants that are special to you by using containers. Here in Texas Duranta get pretty large in one growing season. You can control their growth by keeping them in containers. Same with Satsuma Mandarin, Valencia Oranges, Key Limes, Meyer Lemon. You get the picture!! Take out and root prune when necessary. Prune back foliage to keep a nice shape.

  26. Carrie
    CarrieMay 27,17

    My favorite hack is to use newspapers with compost or mulch on top.

    • Stephanie Rose
      Stephanie RoseJune 20,17

      Congrats. Carrie! You won the book! Please check your email for details.

  27. Melanie huttner
    Melanie huttnerMay 27,17

    I just started gardening this year and don’t have any hacks yet but I’m eager to learn and think this book would help!

  28. Jeanne
    JeanneMay 27,17

    I would love to learn about organic gardening hacks! I am using the lasagne method to turn grass into a bed…cardboard to smother the grass, manure, and bark dust on top.

  29. Kathy Grossman Chamberlin
    Kathy Grossman ChamberlinMay 28,17

    I tried this for the 1st time last yr & had the best garden than I’ve had in years. I’m eager to see how it turns out this yr as I also started a compost barrel by using an old plastic garbage can drilled full of holes for aeration. I would turn it on it’s side periodically & roll it to keep the contents mixed up. It got quite heavy after awhile, but sure did get exercise rolling it. Hopefully it was all worth it.

  30. Lauren
    LaurenMay 28,17

    I only clip a 3rd of my greens at a time allowing regrowth and more harvests.

  31. ruby
    rubyMay 28,17

    this is sooo exciting! would love to have a copy of this book! i keep a large pretty container with a matching lid on my kitchen counter for items going to my compost pile. the lid keeps the yukky in and because the container is large, less trips to the compost. it’s pretty, so i don’t mind it being on my counter top.

  32. Kate Todd
    Kate ToddMay 29,17

    I’ve been reading for this way of building a garden for fwe years already and I intend to try it next year. Tilling the soil has always been the hardest part for me and forI’ve been thinking to try skipping it finally. Great photos and plant arrangement :)

  33. Terri H
    Terri HMay 29,17

    Thanks for the chance to win

  34. Paula
    PaulaMay 29,17

    My garden hack is composting, like so many others on here…although when I plant flowers in a large outdoor pot, I put banana peels, tea bags, eggshells, coffee grounds, whatever hasn’t gone in the compost yet, on a layer of soil in the bottom of the pot. Then fill it up with cheap bagged garden soil and plant my flowers, etc. Boy, does that save me from buying expensive Miracle Grow soil…works great!

  35. Liz Thompson
    Liz ThompsonMay 29,17

    As an urban community gardener, I have limited real estate. My hack is to take cuttings of my tomatoes and let them root in water. Invariably I’ll have a plant fail at a point in the summer where garden centers no longer carry tomato plants (or those they do have are half dead). This allows me to restock at no cost and extend my season well into Sept/Oct (I’m zone 7a/b).

  36. JE Lilly
    JE LillyMay 29,17

    Wow, ever since I got to sit in on one of her classes at a Mother Earth News Fair in PA a few years ago, I keep seeing her writing all over the web. She’s really nice in person too. Thanks for this article, I’ve been trying at “lasagna gardening” and can definitely improve. My gardening “hack” is to maximize space by succesion planting. This year I’ve been planting summer plants in the middle of cold weather plants because the cold weather plants (like lettuce and onions) will be done before the summer plants get really big and crowd them out. I really like the garden therapy blog, by the way, and will be sure to stay in touch.

  37. Heather
    HeatherMay 31,17

    My newbie gardening hack is to use newspaper to smother weeds. Love your blog!

  38. Heather S
    Heather SMay 31,17

    My garden hack is to use rain barrels to catch rain water to water plants. Super resourceful and easy peasy :)

  39. Laurel Hounslow
    Laurel HounslowMay 31,17

    I would really love to win the book, one reason being ammunition to get my husband to stop tilling! Your blog and Shawna’s are so full of great gardening tips I really look forward to reading them. I am always looking for ways to deal with our cool Zone 3 climate and short growing season to increase productivity. We have only been back here for 4 summers after being at the coast where it is so different Zone 8! My best hack is to record everything so I can retain what works best and try new approaches where things go sideways. Adding shelter hacks like tunnels, cones or even protective larger plants has helped. But best of all is paying close attention to those with lots of experience in this particular area. The old folks know! I’ve learned to be patient and not get carried away by one or two nice days.

  40. Carrie
    CarrieMay 31,17

    I have just started a layered garden. I didn’t know about the altering compost/ manure etc. each year. Thanks for your expertise. I look forward to following your blog.

  41. Debra
    DebraMay 31,17

    I love this idea. Thank you!

  42. Debbie S
    Debbie SMay 31,17

    Thanks so much for all the great info in your newsletters. My garden hack is to place clean coffee filters in the bottom of plant pots to prevent soil from seeping out after watering. I would really love to have a copy of Shawna’s book. :-)

  43. Sandra
    SandraMay 31,17

    My best gardening hack is to mulch with straw. It works so well to conserve moisture while keeping the weeds in check!

  44. Kerry
    KerryJune 1,17

    Keep herbs under control by planting them in a pot and burying the pot in your garden.

  45. Debbi
    DebbiJune 1,17

    My gardening hack is to immediately pour the boiling water that is left from cooking directly on weeds that sprout in the pathway. This kills the weed, avoids using chemicals, and gets me out of the kitchen and outside for a minute!

  46. Carol hammond
    Carol hammondJune 1,17

    Love it!

  47. Karen
    KarenJune 1,17

    I love this idea for building up the soup. I never did till though because in my Master Gardener class we were taught that if you continue to till every year you will case the soil underneath the tilled layer to become hardpanned, especially if you have clay soil. This will prevent moisture to percolate down past the hardpan and also roots will not be able to penetrate any further down. That is not exactly a hack but a bit of info.

  48. Bev
    BevJune 1,17

    I would love to give this a try. I seem to be better at growing grass and thistle (though thistle has beautiful flowers) in my garden. Even the raised bed part of my garden. Since I’m getting older it’d be nice to not have to be digging around all the time.

  49. Ana Ziegler
    Ana ZieglerJune 1,17

    I don’t have a lot of space, so composting is a challenge. I dig a 6″ x 6″ x6″ hole and bury a few fruit peels, coffee grounds and egg shells. Let it be for few months and then open, mix it up a little and cover again, 2 months later is sort of ready, Only on my 2nd cycle… is not much volume but I know exactly what’s in there so it feels better than buying unknowns.

  50. Krista anderson
    Krista andersonJune 1,17

    Will this work in an existing garden?

  51. Ann Stone
    Ann StoneJune 1,17

    Fabulous article, I am not familiar with Shawna but will be checking out her blog. I use many of the techniques here that others have shared, but haven’t implemented the no till although we do use straw as mulch. I will begin using these suggestions immediately!

    Thank you!

  52. Charlie
    CharlieJune 1,17

    I have not been able to have a garden for six years, as I have been looking after my mother.
    Last fall I had someone dig for me and plant bulbs galore. How happy I am to look out my windows and see God’s bounty in beauty. It has encouraged me to garden even more, once again.
    I am more or less starting from scratch and trying to remember all that I used to do, so really don’t have any hacks to share.
    Could sure use Shawna’s book to get me going again!! I think it is a need I’m going to have to fill!
    I could use all the help I can get at this point.

    Have been so enjoying your post.

  53. Debbie
    DebbieJune 1,17

    Just stared following your blog and finding great information. My favorite hack is to visit different places to purchase the broken bags of soil, compost, manure,etc. Half price or even lower is always in my budget. Thank you for offering this book!

  54. Lauren
    LaurenJune 1,17

    This is my first year with a full garden, but one tip I’ve learned is to plant basil alongside tomato plants to keep bugs away from the tomatoes!

  55. Sherryl Husereau
    Sherryl HusereauJune 1,17

    My best gardening hack is to use a blended mixture of eggshells, coffeegrounds, and citrus peels at the base of all of your flowers and just work it into the soil to prevent all kinds of pests such as slugs, aphids, ants, cutworms and so many more! Also, for every tree or shrub that you have with needles, insert rusted chickenwire in the soil around the base of your junipers, cedars and pines. This releases the acids in its natural form to infuse the roots to protect your trees and shrubs and keep them beautifully green.

  56. Tricia Barnabe
    Tricia BarnabeJune 2,17

    Although, I love getting down and dirty, as soon as the weather warms up, (I live in Winnipeg, MB, with our long winters, I am eager) . But if I wait a bit, I am rewarded with seedlings from the previous year, such as Snapdragons, Zinnias and sunflowers. Truly a gift from Mother Nature.

  57. Helen Tulip
    Helen TulipJune 2,17

    I love these hacks, though I have gardened for years I can always learn more. I use coffee grounds and Epsom Salts round my tomatoes, they really help them

  58. Vallerie Byers
    Vallerie ByersJune 3,17

    Hi and thank you!
    I have two raised plots on stilts built for us seniors at the community garden by the Boy Scouts. The boxes were initially 5-6″ deep but we have added 4″ depth to most of them. They have a drain hole in one corner which connects to a pvc elbow to allow drainage into a 24″ deep 12″ x 32″ box built on the ground, initially meant for tomatoes but I have tried that once and no luck. Since we have a trellis pre-built on that side, beans and peas work great.
    This is my third year gardening with these. The upper box itself was first lined with black plastic film. I am sure there are tears in this lining, and the drainage hole gets clogged at times. I have one of them disconnected to drain into a plastic bucket instead and use that water to water with.
    Well, I have been fighting bugs (mostly ants and sow bugs) and algae, mushrooms…smells….I don’t scrimp on buying potting soil. I get Dr Earth or Ednas’ best, add some vermiculite, coffee grounds, egg shells…I won Gardner of the month last year for being the first one to really get harvests in the boxes.
    But my question is: Should I continue adding good soil and watching the watering excess ?(no automatic waterers on these). I pull out plants and replace them with no plan, no schedule, but trying to utilize empty space. We have been cautioned not to leave root matter because of the set up. I have used so much organic spray to fight dusty mildew, diatomaceous earth for ants and sow bugs, sluggo plus for sow bugs….I don’t know what else to do. The Prez said to completely clean out and start over in my first box. I rebelled and am paying for it.
    Have you had experience with boxes like This? I am income challenged and really can’t afford the real ground plots, plus the constant bending over is detrimental with my spinal maladies and age. I do plan on using more pots in my area, which are easier to drain, clean and replace soil one by one.
    Thank you!

    • Maggie Van Fossan
      Maggie Van FossanJune 8,17

      I wonder if your bugs are caused by the plastic liner. You don’t say where you garden. Is the amount of pest normal for your area? I garden in raised beds in ground. I have about 12″ soil above ground. I am in the Pacific Northwest. I am bothered by slugs, but my garden grows beautifully. I add compost when planting each year, but don’t do anything special. I have seen a lot online about using compost tea. Supposed to strengthen plants and make them less susceptible to pests. Good luck.

    • Stephanie Rose
      Stephanie RoseJune 8,17

      Hi Vallerie, I think that bugs are a natural part of the ecosystem and that component doesn’t sound like an issue to me. But there were three other things you wrote that raised red flags for me: 1. the drainage is clogged, 2. there is a stink, and 3. you are getting disease (mildew). All of these point to drainage issues and watering. Can you add more drainage holes? Soil should never stink, and if it does, it is not healthy. To prevent mildew, try watering the soil (not the leaves) to stop spreading it as it is transferred by water. Does this help?

  59. Annette M Cousineau
    Annette M CousineauJune 4,17

    Great ideas. Thanks

  60. Debi Ady
    Debi AdyJune 5,17

    Best Hack ever!, Use whats FREE Buand Pallets

  61. Melanie Stephens
    Melanie StephensJune 6,17

    Newspaper to snuff out grass and block weeds.

  62. Carol Baker
    Carol BakerJune 7,17

    We chop up our leaves in the fall and fill my beds with a good 4-6 inches of them. Keeps a lot of moisture in and prevents soil erosion. Then come spring I just pull away a small spot, plant a seed and leave it as mulch for the growing season. By fall, there’s room for more chopped leaves etc. enriches the soil. I also do vermicomposting and add that to my plants.

  63. Carolyn Morales
    Carolyn MoralesJune 8,17

    When the county fair is finished in October, I get the leftover hay and poop from the animal pens. I let it sit over the winter, and mulch with it in the spring. It is amazing!

  64. Maggie Van Fossan
    Maggie Van FossanJune 8,17

    I have a double composter, but I never have enough room. When I don’t want to add new material to my bins, I do trench composting. I dig a trench in an in improved garden spot and bury my kitchen waste. I cover it well. I’ve never had animals bother anything. My soil improves each year.

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