Ultimate Beginners Guide to Starting an Allotment

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Starting an Allotment: The Ultimate Guide

You may have been thinking about getting an allotment for a while, or it might be a relatively new idea.

Either way, there are several things to plan and organise when it comes to starting an allotment.

To make sure you know exactly what to do, step by step, we’ve put together this ultimate beginners guide to starting an allotment.

This guide will walk you through every stage: from finding an allotment in the first place, to harvesting your first crops.

Home-grown meals could be just around the corner.

10 Steps for Starting and Preparing an Allotment 

1. Get an Allotment

The first challenge is actually getting an allotment. In some areas, there’s plenty of space, but in others, the waiting list is 20 years. As soon as you start thinking about an allotment, you should put your name down ASAP.

You need to contact your local council to apply for an allotment. They will then either assign you a plot or (more likely) put your name on the waiting list.

It’s possible that you will be assigned an allotment that is not the closest allotment to you. This can be a bit surprising sometimes. Think about how far you are willing to travel for an allotment.

If you are lucky, you will be assigned an allotment within a one mile radius of your home – this will take approximately 15 minutes to walk to. Some people travel over five miles to their allotment – consider if this is something you’d be happy to do, or if this would be a deal breaker.

2. Clear the Rubbish

When you first get your allotment, the dream scenario is that it will be a beautifully-kept plot that’s been manured, dug and cared for. 

In reality, this is pretty unlikely – you’re likely to find an unkempt plot that’s overgrown and requiring a lot of TLC. People often abandon their allotment plot before officially giving it up, so it may be a while since it’s had much attention.

If you have a really messy allotment you may have to spend the first year clearing the site to get it in tip-top condition.

Before you put blades and spades anywhere near the plot, you may have to get rid of broken glass, metal, stones and the previous allotment holder’s junk. Be sure to wear sturdy shoes and thick gardening gloves for this job

3. Cut Back the Plants

If the allotment plot is overgrown, you’re going to need some reliable equipment to help clear the space.

Go armed with loppers, a strimmer, a good pair of secateurs and a garden shredder.

Keep your safety gear on and work your way through the tangle steadily but surely. If you’re offered a plot in winter, or you’re in no rush, try laying cardboard or polythene over weedy areas. This smothers them, cuts out light and deprives them of water so your job will be less back-breaking.

Bear in mind that wildlife that will take up residence in the long grass and overgrown greenery. This includes hedgehogs, frogs, grass snakes, toads and so many others, so don’t just hit it with a strimmer because they cause horrific injuries. Poke about in the grass before you begin, make noise and go slowly – give the wildlife a chance to escape.

Also, a useful, thrifty tip: keep an eye out for previous plot holder’s perennial plants as you cut back. This could be fruit bushes or strawberry runners. Dig them out and pop them in a pot of compost until you’re ready to plant them out again. There’s nothing like the satisfaction of free plants!

4. Take Up the Turf

On newly created allotment sites you may have to remove turf. Hire or buy a turf cutter to make the job easy, but if you’re energetic you can slice off squares of turf with a sharp spade.

5. Pick Out Weeds and Stones

allotment weeds

Stone-picking and digging up weeds are without a doubt the most boring garden tasks, but it makes a huge difference to the quality of what you’re able to grow. No scrimping on this job!

The more you remove now, the easier life is later.  If you have helpful children offer them a penny per stone and provide snacks! Keep any picked stones as they make good sturdy pathways or drainage for herb gardens or containers.

6. Choose ‘Dig’ or ‘No Dig’ Gardening

Traditionally, you’d need to dig up and turn over your allotment plot thoroughly before planting. However, no dig gardening is becoming a fashionable way to grow plants as well. 

If you fancy the no dig option, this is what it entails:

No Dig Gardening

  1. Lay black polythene or plastic over the plot to kill weeds, this could a take a few weeks or months depending on how overgrown things are.
  2. Cover the weed-free area with a thick layer of organic matter at least 4cm in depth.
  3. You can plant directly into this without digging over. No wonder this method is becoming increasingly popular – it’s certainly easier on the back!

If you don’t like the no-dig method, old-fashioned soil-turning is excellent exercise.

If the plot is unkempt then do a double dig – that’s two lengths of your spade into the ground. If it’s too much for you, think about buying a rotavator. You can hire them but after two hiring sessions, it’s probably cheaper to get your own.

7. Add Some Fertiliser

The majority of soils benefit from added organic matter. This can be horse or chicken manure, commercial pellets or a soil conditioning compost, the choice is yours. Fertiliser helps boost and break up the soil, so it’s worth investing time and effort into this bit.

8. Consider Installing a Water Butt

Many allotments don’t supply water, but allotment holders get around this by installing a water butt.

If you’re planning shallow-rooted crops like tomatoes, they might not survive unless you can get there regularly to water them. A water butt means you won’t need to carry gallons of liquid in your car or on the bus.

Mulch is another excellent way to keep your plants hydrated. A thick layer of bark chippings or commercial mulch keeps down weeds and locks in moisture.

If you don’t know much about mulch, check out our Ultimate Guide to Mulching – it’s definitely worth knowing about as your embark on your new allotment adventure. 

9. Plan Pathways on Your Plot

Allotment plots can be pretty big and you need to move around it easily. Before you start digging think about the plot layout, where your beds will go and how you will access them.

Raised beds look great and they are simple to make with old scaffold boards or pallets, but if you don’t fancy that you’ll still need paths around your traditional beds because walking on the ground causes soil compaction and makes life hard for roots.

Grass paths are the easiest option. You can dig the whole plot and lay grass seed or turf, or dig beds into existing turf. Trim the edges to keep them neat and you have hard-wearing natural pathways.

A weed-resistant membrane with wood chipping works well too, and don’t forget the stones you dug out from the planting beds – they can be used to build up a pathway as can patio slabs, roofing tiles, and old bricks.

10. Start Planting

Bear in mind a whole growing season may have elapsed while you’re getting the plot ready but it’s time well spent because good soil means better crops. So you’ve dug, picked out stones, weeded and laid a path – you’re ready to rock.

What you can do now depends on the time of year.

Check out the next section for what to do on your allotment based on the season.

Planting Guide: A Year on the Allotment


Spring is the busiest time for an allotment holder, but the best time in my opinion.

Seeds germinate in the wet and warm weather. This means weeds too! Wait until frosts have passed before planting because seeds rarely germinate in cold wet soils.

If you want to start growing earlier, put seeds in pots to take advantage of fully leaved plants in springtime.

A cloche or small poly-tunnel is a good investment if you want to get growing quickly as they warm the soil and protect seedlings against the elements. If you don’t have these use a sunny windowsill to bring on seeds.

  • March Onions, shallots, potatoes, lettuce, radish, leeks, beetroot
  • April It is usually warm enough for anything by now. Add peas, carrots, parsnip, cauliflower, and broccoli to the list above
  • May the above plus runner beans, french beans and spring onions.


allotment vegetables

Late spring and all of the summertime are prime growing months for seasonal veggies and flowers. Keep picking your produce as this stimulates more growth.

Watering is essential in summer as many plants such as onions and rocket will go to seed without it. Others simply won’t fatten up without liquid.

  • June – It’s the last month for sowing so put in anything you haven’t yet sown, and successions of others you’ve already planted but want more of such as lettuce, radish, and quick growing crops. Plant sweetcorn, squash, courgette and marrows now too. Get a head-start by germinating these on your windowsill first.  If it’s consistently warm the tomatoes you started in January can go outside. If you didn’t sow any buy plants for the garden centre.
  • July – Succession planting for quick-growing salads
  • August – Savoy cabbages, late spinach, and hardy lettuce can go in now for winter picking


The mad rush to get your seed in is over and now it’s time to hope the sun stays to finish ripening everything!  Put in some winter crops when you get the room.

  • September – Hardy lettuce and hardy spring onions, autumn onion sets, and spring cabbages
  • October – Broad beans can go in for an early spring crop
  • November – Lettuce under cover and broad beans can go in now – I always plant broad beans on armistice day.

As you harvest and empty the beds it time to dig them over and let the winter rain and frosts kill off any infections – unless you like the no dig method of course!


It’s time to relax and start planning the next growing season.

You may have winter cabbages, kale, parsnips and broad beans growing in the plot, so keep an eye on these and pick them when they are ready. Parsnip is best after a frost as the cold makes them sweeter – you may have some sprouts and parsnip for Christmas lunch if you plan it carefully.

You can also plant dormant fruit trees and bushes throughout winter. They won’t show signs of life until the warm weather, so be patient.

  • December – buy your seeds
  • January – Dormant fruit trees and bushes are best planted now. Tomatoes seeds can be started off  in a propagator or a sunny windowsill
  • February – If you’re growing potatoes this year, start chitting them in February. Nope, that’s not a typo – ‘chitting’ means buying seed potatoes and placing them on a windowsill so that small green shoots can grow through. You may also be able to force some rhubarb – put a pot over the clump and watch it shoot upwards looking for light.

And back to March! Let’s try again.

Regular Jobs on the Allotment

Of course, as well as planting different veg, there are a range of maintenance jobs to keep up with. These are some of the most important:


Keeping the weeds at bay is one of the biggest jobs in an allotment particularly if your neighbour has a wildlife plot or isn’t particularly neat.

Once weeds go to seed they get everywhere. You can fight back by investing in a proper hoe and get to work when it’s dry. If you hoe on wet days those chopped weeds just re-root.

Use can use membrane around fruit bushes and permanent plants, but annuals will need some elbow grease. Again, mulch is your friend as it cuts out light and smothers weeds. It’s also useful if you can’t get there regularly to water. I can’t recommend mulching enough!


Get a water butt if you can and leave out containers to fill with rain too, it’s surprising how much water your thirsty plants will drink.

Pest Control

You aren’t the only one that wants to eat those tasty crops!

No doubt you’ll get your fair share of aphids, caterpillars, birds and all manner of uninvited guests. You can use commercial sprays on insects, eggs, and larvae, but its possible to use organic methods.

Citrus peel soaked in water makes a good aphid deterrent, and caterpillars can be picked off by hand. Marigolds planted around the plot can help keep flying insects away too.

There’s plenty of information out there on organic gardening, so take a look before buying the sprays that kill our bees, butterflies, and essential pollinating insects.

Net your fruit bushes against birds but make sure you check the netting regular for trapped wildlife such as hedgehogs, slow worms, frogs and the birds themselves.


We talked about fertilising way back at the beginning. It’s a great way to keep your soil healthy and productive.

Popping a compost bin on your plot is a good way to get a free supply of compost at hand. Keep it topped up with the right amounts of brown and green waste and you won’t look back.

You can buy fish bone and blood, growmore and other good quality fertilisers at garden centres and supermarkets if you don’t want to make your own compost. I really recommend home composting though – you’ll have plenty of clippings to get rid of and bonfires are not usually allowed at allotments.

If you’d like to learn more about composting in general, we’ve written this Ultimate Guide to Composting at home. It’s definitely worth a read if you want a self-sufficient allotment.

Crop Rotation

This simply means changing where you grow your seasonal veggies each year.

Take note of where you plant and what you grow. For example, if you grow beans, next year grow something else in that space. This is because different crops have different nutrient requirements. For example, tomatoes love eating so they suck up all the nitrogen and phosphorus.

Planting them in the same spot year-on-year means the area runs out of those nutrients and leads to a lacklustre crop.

Root veggies like carrot and potatoes don’t use up much of anything. Beans and peas need a lot of phosphorus but they replenish nitrogen, so follow peas and beans with leafy or fruiting crops to take advantage of the nitrogen, and keep rotating.

I’ve listed the groups below because although beans and peas are different plants, they are in the same grouping and use the same nutrients.

Here are the plant groups you should rotate for best results:

  • Potatoes
  • Brassicas (cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, sprouts)
  • Legumes (peas and beans)
  • Root vegetables (carrots, parsnips, radish)

Allotment Rules and Regulations

allotment birdseye view

There will be a set of rules and regulations for the allotments and meetings to attend. These are important and it’s worth taking note of what is said even if you don’t go to the meeting itself.

Rules may relate to the types of animals you can keep on your allotment, or the size of structures you can build. You’ll also need to keep your plot in check – if it seems like you aren’t tending your allotment, this may cause problems.

An allotment is a social place where you have to share space with neighbours. This can cause difficulties, but can also make it a great place to spend time.

With some luck, you’ll be next to someone who keeps their plot tidy and helps with advice when you need a hand. If you are unfortunate enough to end up next to a know-it-all gardener with too much to say,  just remember that no-one gets it right every time. Half the fun of gardening is waiting to see if the seeds come up, just have a go and take no notice of unsought advice.

Is an Allotment Worth It?

allotment community

If you decide to get an allotment you will have to invest a lot of time and energy, but it is 100% worth the effort. Not only will you have the satisfaction of producing your own home-grown veggies, you get plenty of light, fresh air, and exercise. Plus, if it’s a community-minded allotment, you’ll make friends as well.

Don’t stress if your seeds don’t grow, get devoured by aphids, or a drought kills everything off. Keep at it. Growing veg is not an exact art and even the most experienced of gardeners get caught out by the weather and an influx of pests. Most importantly, having an allotment is a very enjoyable hobby.

Allotments are a living piece of British history and they show no sign of losing popularity. If you have the time and good fortune to be allocated a new allotment it’s worth its weight in gold potatoes.

Good luck!

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