Taming An Overgrown Allotment

Last week I was asked if I had any tips on clearing an overgrown allotment.  I thought this would be a good subject to write about, especially as two out of my four allotments were very overgrown when I took the plots on.

Below is a picture of my very first allotment, which I first rented in June 2005:

This is allotment number three, which I first rented in March 2010:

As allotment number three was so overgrown, the allotment society didn’t charge me rent in the second year, as they deemed it too overgrown to grow anything the first year (though I did have a good harvest from it).

How I cultivated my overgrown allotments:

I love a good challenge and I like nothing better than taming an overgrown allotment, especially when people tell me that it will be too much for me, or I will never manage it.  I find it so exciting, as you never know quite what you are going to find under all the overgrown weeds and brambles.  In fact,  I found a dwarf bramley apple tree on my first allotment at the back, which I had no idea was there.

If you have been offered an overgrown allotment and it is covered in weeds and brambles, please do not feel disheartened.  In actual fact, an allotment that is lush in weeds is usually very fertile.

The first thing I did was to walk around my new plot, as best as I could, and assessed what weeds I could actually see.  Weeds can tell you an awful lot about your plot:

If you have large areas of nettles, docks, daisy’s and buttercups, then you are likely to have acidic soil.   If you have large areas of chickweed, then your soil is likely to be more alkaline.

Large areas of dock and mares tail (sometimes known as horse tail), indicate damp conditions.

Large areas of clover indicate a lack of nitrogen, whilst large areas of nettles show your soil is rich in nitrogen.

The next thing I did was to cut back the weeds so I could actually see how big my plot was.  The top half of my first allotment was mainly couch grass, so it was easy to strim, however the bottom half of my third plot was completely covered in brambles above my head, so I cut the brambles down using my loppers.  I’ve got to be honest, it did take some time to cut the brambles down and I made sure I had a very thick pair of gardening gloves to wear.

After this, I built a large compost bin out of pallets and I put all the weeds, couch grass and even the brambles into it.  I left this compost area for five years, without turning it and it made the most wonderful free compost.  Yes it did have weed seeds in, but as I’ve said before, if you hoe each and every week then this just isn’t a problem.

At this stage I needed to decide how much time I was planning to spend on my allotment.   I decided to cover one end of my third allotment in weed suppressant.  It wasn’t cheap to do this, in fact it cost me approximately £30 on eBay.  I left it for six months and it killed all the couch grass and most of the perennial weeds, so it really did take the hard work out of it for me.  I actually just dug the dead couch grass into the soil afterwards.  A word of warning though, if your plot has lots of bindweed on, then this will just travel under the weed suppressant until it finds some light at the edges.

If you do decide to cover your plot with weed suppressant, you can actually put some plants into it, you can see in the photo above that I planted pumpkins through mine.

Brambles will need to be dug out.  I once read that if you disturb the roots of brambles they will die.  I certainly found this to be untrue as I spent six months digging up brambles again and again.  I found the area covered in brambles the hardest to clear.  Eventually, I managed to plant my dwarf fruit trees in this area.

Chemicals:

If you really can’t wait and decide you have to use chemicals, then you will need to use a glyphosate weed killer.  This should be used when the weeds are growing actively.  However, this can be an expensive option too, as you may need to spray more than once to kill the perennial weeds.  Using chemicals may be a quick, effortless way to kill weeds, but you need to trust the chemical company’s information and be sure you do not mind growing food on soil that you have sprayed complex chemicals on.  Please bare in mind that it will also destroy all the beneficial insects on your allotment too, which will take time to build up again.

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After the weed suppressant:

I then decided I was going to dig part of my plot over.

I think it is a good idea to cover an area with weed suppressant, while you concentrate on digging another area.  If you try to cultivate a whole plot at once it can just become too much for you.

I have seen many people rotavate their plots after they have strimmed, to remove the top growth of the weeds.  The plots look wonderful for a few weeks, until the dreaded weeds come back with revenge.  The problem with rotavating your ground is that it chops up all the roots of the weeds.  Bindweed, couch grass and mare’s tail all love this.  From each tiny piece of chopped up root, a new plant grows, so all you will have done is increase your perennial weeds, which is not a good thing!

I preferred to dig over my ground so I could remove all the weeds, one at a time.  It did take a long time to do this, but it is so worth it in the long run.  In the process, I put every single weed in my newly built compost bin which made the wonderful compost five years later and the digging certainly helped me to get fit.

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One thing that you must remember when you take on an overgrown allotment is ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day’.  It can take months or even years to get an allotment the way you want it.  Don’t rush as it can save you time in the long run.

I hope this information has been useful if you are thinking of taking an overgrown plot on.

Thank you for reading my blog today.

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18 thoughts on “Taming An Overgrown Allotment

  1. WOW, that is amazing. I bet you are glad you took photos of the before so you could compare. Sometimes we forget just how much progress we make till we see the old photos.

  2. I have found this post fascinating, you are quite inspirational taking on such overgrown allotments – and keeping four of them cultivated. I think this information will be really helpful for anyone deciding to take on an overgrown allotment.

  3. This is facinating! There is nothing like this around here — I dunno if we actually do this in Australia? Have to check… And your weeds are different to ours too. Um, not the clover. We have clover. I LIKE clover, lol. But stinging nettle, for instance, buttercups, mares tail…. I have never heard of dock so I cannot say if we have t or not under another name… Its all really interesting!
    Oh, and good job on all that hard work! They say that gardening is the fastest way to loose unecessary callories, and a good way to keep your weight steady!, lol, I have proved this for mine self, but how about you?

  4. I’m going through a similar situation at the moment. I breathed a sigh of relieve when I saw the last lovely picture, it’s nice to be reminded that there is an end to all the digging!

  5. Hi there, I am now (after reading about your journey of gardening love) feeling a little more positive about the jungle I have recently purchased, we moved home in may of this year and the garden is huge everything has overgrown so much, from what I can gather from the neighbours it has not been touched in 3 years ugh!.. I love to garden but I am not a gardener and it really did worry me. I have limited knowledge of shrubs plants and lawns but I have managed to tame the 3 foot grass (hay) and it is now looking green, all the walls had fallen down and they have now been rebuilt by my fair hands (Proud or what!) but its the trees and shrubs and honey suckle, you see our problem is, is that we do not have a back entrance so everything has to go through the front door, which means all I pull out and cut back has to stay up the garden ready to be shredded or burnt, but your comment about it doesn’t have to be done all in one go made me realise ” well actually, no it doesn’t does it” I was 12 stone when I moved here I am now 9 1/2 whoopee!! I would like to ask you though what is the best place for a compost heap, and does it need lots of light or best in a shaded area. my husband has bought home some pallets from work as that is what we thought of using. another question, we found after weeks of cutting back a huge pond in the front garden which was filled in with rubbish and dead trees, pot plants, pots, tin cans you name it its in there, its is so big it takes up most of the garden, what can I do with it my brain is just addled by it. any ideas would be appreciated.
    many thanks

    • Hi Lou John, lovely to hear from you. Rome wasn’t built in a day and a good garden isn’t either, so don’t beat yourself up about it and take your time.
      It’s great you are planning a compost heap. I have two types of compost heaps…one that have my peelings etc in (which is ready to use quite quickly) and one that I put all my weeds in (even though the books tell you not too). I do make sure that my heaps are covered so the light doesn’t get to the weeds in it so they die off. I am a lazy gardener and I don’t turn my heaps so it does take three to four years for my weedy compost to become ready.
      Compost heaps are best sited in a sunny area as the compost heap becomes hotter and is ready sooner, however, i’ve had them in the shade before and they are fine but just take longer.

      You pond?….Could you replace the liner and have a new pond? I suppose it depends how big it is. The only other thing is to fill it in if you don’t like it?…You can get top soil delivered so you could fill it in as it’s in your front garden, but I’m not sure how much they deliver or how much it is, you would need to look it up on the net. Do you have children?…I know someone who filled their pond with play sand while the kids were small and they loved it.

      Let me know how you get on and if you have any other questions just ask and i’ll do my best to help.

      Forgot to say, not sure if you have read this post as some of it may help: https://notjustgreenfingers.wordpress.com/category/gardening-taming-an-overgrown-allotment/

  6. Thank you. This has encouraged me. My allotment is now two years on. My daughter fractured her coccyx on the very first day we got our very over grown wilderness. We’ve only used half of it up to now and I tore ligaments in my foot 5 weeks ago. I am growing organically as I don’t want to use weed killer.

  7. Thank you for taking the time to write this. Its really useful and has come at exactly the right moment. I have just taken over a really overgrown allotment and have been battling brambles for a couple of weekends. I’m loving it though and keep finding things in the undergrowth, I’m begining to think they were harvesting refuse.

    I’ve got it in my head what it will look like and I’ve decided to try and retask all the random things I’m finding, a folding shower screen making the ideal hotbed roof etc. Here’s to sitting in my chair listening carefully to everything growing soon!

    Onwards!

    • Hi Dave, I am so pleased this has helped you. My favourite part of allotment growing is when I first took over each one of my four overgrown plots….it’s amazing what you find. I also love the planning too. It may be hard work but how proud you feel at the end when you (and everyone else) can see how much you have achieved. I too looked forward to sitting and watching things at my allotment but it is very hard to sit as there is always so much to do lol….but it is important to do just that as you notice so many things when you are sitting still and the wildlife is incredible to watch.

      Good luck Dave with your plot. I am here if you have any questions.

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