Working on Your Allotment

Beginning work on your allotment can be an exciting time. An important piece of advice is to take your time, especially if your allotment is quite overgrown. Plan your garden properly, and tackle small areas at a time. This way you will see some results without being daunted by the whole area.

We have put together some simple information pages to provide advice and guidance when working on your allotment. The advice we provide here is very limited, so for further information, we recommend you scour the Internet for useful information, and use books and magazines to help you. Below is a list of Internet links which you might also find useful:

BBC gardening website - all gardening advice regularly updated

Royal Horticultural Society Plantfinder - puts gardeners in touch with growers and suppliers of plants

Kitchen Garden magazine - the UK’s no. 1 fruit and veg-growing magazine

Orange Pippin - specialist information about apples and orchard fruit

Safe Gardening - interesting advice on staying safe in your garden

Downsizer - help and advice on making changes to the way you live

Clearing an overgrown plot

Many allotments have been vacant or neglected for years, so taking on a plot may mean getting involved in clearance work. This includes removing all rubbish and clearing the weeds and scrub which may have developed.

Good tools for this job are:

  • strong pair of gardening gloves
  • shears
  • secateurs
  • loppers
  • slasher or grass hook
  • rake
  • fork / spade
  • strimmer

Take an initial look around your plot to determine what is worth keeping and what may need protecting. Features such as ponds, terraces and other structures can be used to help you decide how you want the layout of your garden to develop and what you want the overall look to be.

Explore the overgrown garden and see if you can identify any plants that you may wish to keep such as herbs, foxgloves, ferns or herbaceous flowering perennials left by the previous gardener. Fruit trees including apples, pears, plums and possibly even a quince or mulberry could be present. Soft fruit bushes such as gooseberries or black and red currants could be hidden among the grasses and brambles.

When you are ready to begin clearing, start by cutting down everything that you want to remove close to ground level using shears and loppers or by using a strimmer. Place all the cut vegetation for composting in a heap and then concentrate on the remaining growth. For areas to be cultivated your objective will be to remove the roots by digging. This can be a lengthy and difficult operation, depending on how overgrown your garden is.

One effective and energy-saving method for the removal of weeds is to cover all or parts of the plot with material that will prevent light from reaching the soil surface. Old carpet, cardboard or black polythene is ideal. Weigh down the edges of the sheets to prevent them from blowing away in the wind. Leave the covered area for at least a season, when the weeds will have died off and the area can then be uncovered and dug over ready for planting crops. Some persistent roots may still have to be dug up and removed.

While some areas are masked with the sheets, you can dig up and remove weedy roots from other areas to gradually prepare them for crops. The time of year will determine which if any crops can be planted, hence the need to plan. Experience has shown that spending a little time planning can save some endless regrets and also avoid many problems encountered on the allotment garden.