Community Garden Rules and Etiquette

A shared community garden.

Community gardens offer more than just a space for residents to dig in the soil — they're also a great place to build connections through sharing in the labor of love that is growing and producing food.

But before we dive into the world of communal gardening, it's important to understand that you have to follow certain community garden rules. Here's what you'll need to consider.

How Membership Works

Once you've decided you'd like to join a community garden, the first step is to check whether you're eligible for a garden plot and if there are spaces available. Community garden space is in high demand and limited, so check the websites of your nearby gardens well in advance of the following growing season. Even if you don't get in right away, many locations have waitlists.

While some community gardens allow gardeners to choose their plots each year, the vast majority will assign plots to avoid confusion, reserve space for people with disabilities and avoid potential conflicts. Included in your welcome letter, you'll often find a garden plot number and corresponding map to locate your growing space — usually a raised garden bed for ease of use. If you don't receive a specific location, be sure to ask!

What to Plant in a Community Garden Plot

Next, you'll want to ask whether there are any specific plants you shouldn't grow in your community garden. If some plants are invasive to your location, for example, these should be well-documented in the community garden rules. One person's beautiful cut flower might just be another's invasive nightmare. Growing fruits and vegetables is generally a safe bet, and restrictions are mostly for illegal plants.

Once you know what you can't plant, think about what plants you're interested in growing. What fruits and vegetables do you actually enjoy eating? How much space do specific crops require? If you're new to community gardening, check out this list of vegetables any beginner gardener can grow. Overall, smaller fruits and vegetables tend to do better in community garden plots. Compact bush varieties, such as bush beans, 'Saffron' summer squash, container-friendly 'BushSteak Hybrid' tomato and leafy greens like mesclun, do well in smaller spaces. The key is to think about how you can create diversity in your garden without taking up too much of your usable space.

How to Care for Your Plot and the Garden Grounds

Now that you have your garden plot and have planted your first seeds and plants, what about upkeep? As you might have guessed, gardens require proper maintenance. Unkempt gardens can lead to weeds, pest outbreaks and unhappy garden neighbors. When your plants first begin growing, stop by and check on them daily or, at the very least, every other day. Young plants that have yet to sink their roots into the new soil will require quite a bit of watering — especially if you live in a warmer climate with less rainfall. After they've become established, take note of how quickly weeds grow within your space and how much water you need. Eventually, you might note you can stop by less often as the season progresses.

Many community gardens contain clauses that require some maintenance of the community garden grounds as well as your plot. Regardless, it's always nice to lend a hand when the opportunity arises. As you get to know your neighbors, you can also set up watering and upkeep schedules to allow for more flexibility and assistance for times you aren't able to stop by the garden.

If you encounter pests during your upkeep, check with the garden managers about what pesticides can and can't be used before you apply one. Many gardens are maintained as organic-only to minimize the risk of cross-contamination, misuse and unnecessary treatment. Organic pesticides such as neem oil, pyrethrin and insecticidal soap are commonly used for a wide range of applications.

The Importance of Communication

Finally, communication is essential in the community garden. Chatting with neighbors, sharing growing techniques and recipes and planning garden events are usually encouraged by community garden managers, and they help to create a welcoming space for all. Be sure to communicate any major changes to your schedule, such as vacation plans, to your garden managers and garden plot neighbors. And as you begin to harvest your crops, share with your neighbors, friends and family. Let others know you'll have excess fruits and vegetables ready soon, and exchange harvests, seeds and seedlings.

To learn more about setting up your community garden plot, check out these tips for amending garden soil and zero waste habits for gardeners to try.

Written by Derek Carwood, Greenwood Horticulture

Derek Carwood, a native of Northern California, currently resides in the Upper Midwest and has been involved in horticulture for over 30 years.  Derek holds a Bachelor's Degree in Environmental Sciences and a Master's Degree in Sustainability Education & Policy.  He has been heavily involved in education throughout his professional career and has volunteered and worked across the Americas, Europe, and Asia.  Most recently, Derek started Greenwood Horticulture focusing on both indoor and outdoor horticultural consultation, education, and design.

January 13, 2022
©2023 W.Atlee Burpee & Co