Getting your first allotment can be very exciting, especially if you have been on a waiting list for months or even years – then you realise it’s a completely overgrown mess, and you have a total nightmare on your hands.
This actually happened to us with our first allotment. It was so overgrown and neglected my wife started crying when we arrived. It was great for wildlife though!
Clearing an overgrown allotment can be a daunting task, especially if the space has been neglected for a long time. Some plants, in particular, can be tough to remove and may require special techniques and tools to get rid of them.
In this article, we will look at some of the hardest plants to clear in an overgrown allotment and offer some tips on tackling them.
One of the hardest plants to clear in an overgrown allotment is bamboo. Though not often found on UK allotment, it is sometimes planted for screening and privacy. This fast-growing grass can quickly take over a space, spreading underground through its extensive network of rhizomes. To get rid of bamboo, it is necessary to dig up the entire root system, which can be time-consuming and labour-intensive. Alternatively, you can use a bamboo-specific herbicide, which may not be suitable for all allotment holders. It is important to follow the instructions carefully to avoid damaging other plants.
Another difficult plant to clear is Japanese knotweed. This invasive species can grow up to 10cm per day and can push through concrete, making it a challenging plant to deal with. The best way to tackle Japanese knotweed is to dig out the entire root system, up to 3m deep. However, this can be a challenging and time-consuming task, so it may be best to seek the help of a professional. Once the plant has been removed, it is important to dispose of it carefully to avoid spreading it to other areas.
Overgrown trees can also be a challenge to clear from an allotment. If the trees are small, it may be possible to remove them by hand using a spade or shovel. However, for larger trees, you will need to use a tree-cutting saw or hire a professional tree surgeon to do the job for you. It is important to be careful when removing trees, as they can be unstable and may cause damage if they fall the wrong way.
The other allotment devil plant is brambles. The first step is to prepare the area by removing large debris and cutting back the brambles as much as possible with sturdy gardening gloves and long-handled loppers. Once this is done, you can use a pruning saw or a brush cutter to trim the remaining stems down to ground level, taking care to dispose of the cuttings safely to prevent regrowth. To tackle the roots, use a mattock or a garden fork to dig them out, ensuring you remove the entire root system to prevent regrowth.
Now we have looked at the main culprits, here are some tips to clear the whole allotment.
10 Tips to clear an overgrown allotment
Clearing an allotment is a major job, and you must plan carefully to avoid any damage to your plot. We will discuss some of the main tips that should be considered while clearing an overgrown allotment. Let’s take a look at the following instructions to make the whole process easy.
1. Plan your attack
Before you start, work out where you’re going to work and draw a map of your plot and a route plan. This will help you keep an eye on how much of the plot you’ve covered and ensure you’ve not missed anything.
2. Pull out weeds
Use your hands to pull out the weeds; don’t let them go to seed if you can help it. Continue to pull out the weeds throughout the growing season. You don’t want to leave any weeds to grow and seed themselves because you will face them again next year.
3. Cut long grass
Cut back the long grass to tackle the hardier weeds later on. Cut back the grass, if possible, to the woody stems and use a strimmer to cut them flush to the ground. This will make them easier to remove and is better for the soil structure.
4. When to tackle different types of weeds
Winter is the best time to tackle woody plants, such as blackberry and hawthorn. They have few food reserves, so they must draw on their roots for survival.
Just be careful where you tread, as brambles can still cause damage. It’s best to tackle perennial weeds, such as brambles, in late winter, when the ground is moist and the plants are full of leaves.
5. Use a combination of old-fashioned elbow grease and modern tools
Old-fashioned tools like a scythe or billhook can tackle tough woody growth (like brambles).
Here is a list of tools you may need to clear an allotment:
- Garden fork
- Garden hose or watering can
- String trimmer or weed whacker (if necessary)
6. Wear the right clothing for the job and protect your skin
Gloves, a hat, and long trousers will help protect you from dirt and small cuts. If you are clearing a wooded area or an overgrown orchard, you may want to wear long sleeves and gloves.
7. Use herbicides to kill off unwanted plants
Many gardeners use herbicides to kill plants they can’t bear to have on their land. This is particularly useful if you’ve got a lot of ground you need to clear. However, be sure to do your research beforehand. The same herbicide might be effective on one plant but completely ineffective on another, so you must ensure you’re buying the right product for the job.
You can buy herbicides in concentrated form to use in a sprayer or buy them ready to use as a weedkiller in a can or dust-free granules.
There are several natural, eco-friendly ways to control weeds in your allotment. One option is to use a mixture of water and vinegar as a weed killer. Simply mix equal parts water and vinegar in a spray bottle and apply it directly to the weeds you want to control. The vinegar will kill the weeds on contact.
Another natural weed killer is a solution of water and salt. Mix one part salt with two parts water in a spray bottle and apply it to the weeds. The salt will dehydrate the weeds and kill them.
You can also try using a mixture of lemon juice and water as a natural weed killer. Mix equal parts lemon juice and water in a spray bottle and apply it to the weeds. The citric acid in the lemon juice will kill the weeds on contact.
Although environmentally, they will not work as well and as proper commercial weed killers.
8. Remove unwanted plants by digging
Digging out plants from an allotment is the most effective way to eliminate them. Use a shovel, spade, or fork to cut out weeds and remove them from your allotment. Anyone can dig a hole, but it takes skill to clear an overgrown allotment with minimal damage. After that, remove any roots you can see with a garden fork.
9. Don’t spread weeds or pests
Ensure you don’t spread weeds or pests around your allotment after clearing it. When you’ve cleared your plot, you must eliminate all that unwanted vegetation to avoid attracting unwanted pests and weeds. Some allotment holders use a wood chipper to do this since it is cheap and will eliminate all the waste for you.
10. Plant the right things
When you are planning to clear an allotment, it’s important to plant the right things. Make sure you choose plants that will grow well in the soil and suit your space. Some plants need to be grown in a greenhouse or in a cold frame to be hardy. Others, such as trees, will need a different environment.
Allotment clearing is a great way to get your garden into shape. The most important thing to remember when clearing an allotment is to take your time. If you’re taking on a large project, you may need to take a break to recover and ensure you have enough energy to get the job done.
Overall, the sooner you start clearing your plot, the sooner you can enjoy your allotment. After you have cleared your plot, you will be left with a big space that you can use to grow more vegetables. You’ll have to get the soil back into good condition and amend it with compost and fertilizer, but you can grow anything you want in your plot.
We hope all the tips and instructions mentioned above will be useful for an excellent gardening experience. If you have any questions regarding this guide, then feel free to ask; we will be happy to help you out with your confusion.
Allotment Clearing FAQS
What time of year should you clear an allotment?
The ideal time to clear an allotment largely depends on the specific tasks you wish to accomplish and the crops you plan to grow. Generally, autumn (late September to November) is a great time to clear your allotment, as this allows you to prepare the soil and remove weeds or any unwanted plants before the winter season sets in.
Clearing your allotment during autumn also provides ample time to incorporate organic matter, such as compost or well-rotted manure, which will break down and improve the soil structure over winter. If you’re growing winter crops, clearing and preparing the allotment in late summer (August to early September) is recommended. However, if you acquire an allotment during spring or summer, you can still clear the area and plant crops with a shorter growing season, such as salad greens, beans, or radishes.
Should you dig over an allotment?
Whether or not to dig over an allotment is a matter of personal preference and gardening style. Traditional gardeners often advocate for annual digging or double-digging to aerate the soil, improve drainage, and incorporate organic matter. However, the no-dig approach has gained popularity in recent years, as it promotes healthier soil structure and preserves the ecosystem of beneficial microorganisms and earthworms.
With the no-dig method, you add layers of organic matter, such as compost or well-rotted manure, to the surface, allowing the natural processes to break down the materials and enrich the soil. Both methods can be effective for allotment cultivation, so choose the one that best aligns with your gardening philosophy and available resources.
Brian Sheridan has an allotment in Edgbaston and is a competitive grower. Brian is also a keen photographer and loves cooking. Brian and his wife Mary will also be running a stall at Edgebaston artisan market this year, selling products made from the allotment, including his award-winning relish!