A 12-Step Guide to Subversive Guerrilla Gardening

Guerilla gardeners scope out their communities, make a plan and then head out on covert operations to vandalize the cities with nature. There are a million different ways to guerilla garden, but whether you choose to do it solo or with a group, in a public space or in a neighboring junkyard, these 12 steps can help make sure your beautification efforts are a success.

  1. Take stock of neglected patches of land in your area. They might be vacant lots, sidewalk parkways, medians, highway shoulders, or public parks. Possibilities to beautify these spaces are practically endless – all it takes is some DIY spirit.
  2. Pick a space to start with and plan what you’d like to do with it, when, how and with whom. You’ll need to decide on a budget, to make sure you don’t end up biting off more than you can chew. Gardening, when not planned carefully, can get expensive. Pick an area close to home, and stay small to start. You can find other guerilla gardeners in your area at the forums on GuerillaGardening.org, or bring some friends.
  3. Find a cheap source of plants. One of the best is your own backyard if you’ve got one, or other gardeners in the area. A great place to check for free unwanted plants is Freecycle.org, where gardeners often offer up plants when they’re making changes to their own green space. You can also make friends with a worker at a nursery, who can get you plants that look less than perfect for a bargain. Even cheaper is to plant seeds rather than plants, which will bloom into beauty over time rather than providing instant gratification, but need more care in the interim.
  4. Choose your plants wisely. Native plants appropriate for the natural conditions of the area are best, since they won’t need a whole lot of water or special soil. Plus, you’ll avoid accidentally introducing invasive species into the ecosystem. GuerillaGardening.org recommends choosing hardy plants that can stand up to careless trampling by pedestrians as well as plants that make a big impact with color or texture. Evergreen shrubs, herbs and bulbs are great choices.
  5. Gather up some tools. You don’t need an arsenal of expensive equipment – at the least, though, you should have a trowel and some gloves. A large spoon can sub for a trowel when necessary. If you’re a gardening newbie, you might want to pick up a book or read a gardening primer online.
  6. Plan to get muddy – and to run if necessary. Wear pants that you don’t mind getting stained, since you’ll be kneeling in dirt and splashing a bit of mud around when you water everything. It’s also a good idea to cover your shoes in plastic bags to protect them (and take the bags off if you have to make a quick getaway) or Wellington shoes, which protect your feet and don’t look like obvious gardening gear. Dark clothing is best.
  7. Bring some kind of easy-to-carry container to haul off waste like nursery pots and weeds. A plastic storage tub, 5 gallon bucket or large reusable sack will make it easy to haul it all off to a dumpster and/or compost bin when you’re done.
  8. Carry out your ‘attack’ at a time when you won’t be bothered, and make sure you have adequate transportation. Nighttime is generally best. If you don’t have a car, a bicycle will work for small jobs if you can strap all of your plants and supplies to your back.
  9. Plan to water everything. If there isn’t a source of fresh water nearby, you’ll need to occasionally bring some in watering cans or other containers to keep the plants happy. Some ambitious guerilla gardeners even keep barrels full of water in the backseats of their cars, with a spigot and hose connected at the bottom.
  10. Check on your efforts regularly. Add compost when necessary, and pull weeds. Don’t let all of your efforts go to waste from neglect, or your guerilla gardens will turn back into ugly spots in desperate need of care.
  11. Seed bomb desolate areas if you can’t easily get to them. Seed bombs are simply balls of compost, clay and seeds that you can throw over fences or into other hard-to-reach areas for beauty in unexpected places.
  12. Spread the word about guerilla gardening in your area. Talk to other gardening enthusiasts about your work, put posters around the area where you’ve gardened, and network with others online.
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