How to prepare a community garden plot

Asked February 9, 2017, 1:43 PM EST

Hi! I've signed up for a community garden plot. The county will till the soil in late March, and after that, we can all access our plots to get them ready for planting. Can you recommend what to do before the planting season -- both to enrich the soil and to discourage weeds? I've read about a few ideas: 1. Plant a cover crop. If this is possible, this would be my preference. Is there any kind of cover crop to use in early April? 2. Use an organic / plant-based mulch. What would you suggest? I'm on a budget. :) a. I'd prefer to not use large bark chips, especially if those attract slugs. b. How about "pine fines" or something like that? 3. Put down landscape fabric to suppress weeds. However, according to the PBS program Growing a Greener World, it appears that landscape fabric causes water to pool up or run off. Doesn't the soil need the water, before it's time to plant? 4. Plastic. To me, this seems worse than landscape fabric. 5. Allow the weeds to grow, and remove them when it's time to plant the garden. 6. Other options? Thanks for your advice!

Montgomery County Maryland

5 Responses

You have an exciting season coming up!
The reason that they are tilling in late March is because cold weather crops can actually be planted outdoors in late March and early April.
Cover crops are most often planted in late summer to protect the ground from erosion during the winter season. There are spring planted cover crops (buckweat and Dutch white clover), but you probably are going to want to use your whole space eventually. You can use any organic matter for mulch. For walkways and areas that you are not ready to plant yet, all of your options are ok, and you can even put down several layers of newspaper and cover them with shredded mulch or leaves, pine fines, straw etc., and then plant right thru later.
Additions of aged manure, compost, Leaf Gro, are one of the best things you can do for your plot.
If you are not aware of the vegetable growing portion of our website, Grow It, Eat It, take a look. Here is a great page to get started: Best Practices:
It will have all the information you need to get a good start, and assistance all season long, with crop profiles, common pest/disease problems, blogs from other gardeners, etc.
For instance, here is the page that has charts to tell you what to plant when in our area, possible garden plans and vegetable profile pages that tell you all about the needs of each crop, including when and how to harvest:
You should also know that there are MANY helpful videos on our site here:

Good luck!


Thank you for the very prompt and detailed response! The Grow It, Eat It site looks great! You just saved me a lot of time researching. :)

Just an fyi, the Montgomery County community gardens don't allow newspaper mulch.

One follow up question, which might be answered elsewhere: I'd really like to grow a couple of heirloom tomato plants which are going to be tall. From Growing a Greener World and other sources, I understand that retail tomato cages won't hold up if the plants get heavy or it's windy. And, I won't be able to climb a ladder to pick the tomatoes at the top of a large trellis.

SO, could I use something like hardware cloth in an arch shape that the plant could grow up and over? I would anchor the ends of the arch with garden staples, stakes, or cinder blocks. I would plant the tomatoes in the center of the garden.
Yes. I realize this question is rather off-the-wall. :)

Thanks again!

I also just did a search online for trellis ideas.

How about two sections of fencing or livestock panels, fastened together at the top to form a pup tent shape? Would that be stable without requiring a lot of work?

What have you used, when growing indeterminate tomato plants in a relatively small space?


Hi! Just found this on the Growing a Greener World site:

and a video showing what appears to be rather easy:

What do you think?

There are many methods for supporting or trellising tomato plants. Consider the types and spacing of your tomato plants, expense and labor you are willing to invest, and any restrictions in your plot. Look at our Vegetable Profile on Tomatoes for information on methods and supports. There is no specific way. You can experiment and see what works for you. Here is a video on caging tomatoes on our website. The above mentioned video would work too.