Guerrilla Gardening

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5 month old papayas growing on wasteland

Guerrilla Gardening (growing things on disused land which you don't own) is a simple manifestation of the gift economy. It is most common in an urban environment where land speculation or other reasons mean that land is commonly left idle. Most commonly, people grow shortlived food crops such as vegetables and allow others to pick food as they need, increasing local food security and community self-sufficiency. A well designed guerrilla garden can not only put unused land to good use, it can renew the environment for people and other animals, while increasing soil fertility.


Guerrilla gardening differs from ordinary gardening since exclusive access to the land is not guaranteed. The best plants are fast yielding, low maintenance, and not sensitive to other land uses. Points to note about the land are:

  • Current condition (Soil, pollution)
  • Prospects (Flooding? Pollution? Microclimate? Other land users?)

Points to note about the crop are:

  • Growth habit (How long until fruiting/blooming? Soil type? Sun or shade? Water? Temperature?)
  • Environmental impact (How will it affect the soil and neighbouring plants/animals)
  • Social/cultural implications (How will it change people's behaviour?)

Choice of Species[edit]

General gardening principles dictate which species can be expected to grow well in a particular locality, though urban environments may have particular microclimates. For example, if they are next to machinery, they may be particularly warm or particularly polluted. In an urban environment, good soil may be limited, but there are often structures ready built for plants to climb up, so climbers are popular.

Guerrilla gardens may receive little care after planting. Since guerrilla gardeners may not have regular or legal access to the land, plants in the garden may have to survive without much after care. Annuals such as vegetables are good for cases where land may be built upon, or the future is otherwise uncertain. Perennial plants may be especially advantageous for the guerrilla garden, as they typically require little care once established, can grow productively for years, compete better with weeds, and put down deep root systems that resist drought and draw nutrients from the subsoil to the surface. Many guerrilla gardeners have a nursery (perhaps on a sunny balcony) where they can raise seedlings for later planting out.

Papaya is an excellent species for guerrilla gardeners in tropical urban areas, since

  1. Its shallow, soft roots, mean it can grow right beside walls and buildings without difficulty.msmms
  2. Its sap makes it unappealing to cows.
  3. It quickly grows an attractive fruit (often within a year).
  4. If placed in fertile soil, it does not need much attention.
Guerrilla gardened papayas near a wall to protect from wind

The main points to watch are

  1. It cannot handle standing water, so plant on higher land.
  2. It is a demanding plant, so will not do well on poor soil.
  3. It is usually dioecious (male and female), so plant several together, and remove some of the males.
  4. It cannot handle wind, so right beside a wall is good.

If you have a large, tropical area available, and are guerrilla gardening for the longer term, Mabolos are worth thinking about. The main advantages are:

  1. Fast-growing, heavy bearing tropical fruit trees
  2. Content on a wide variety of soils
  3. Minimal care needed

The main points to watch are

  1. It does not like waterlogged soil
  2. It is dioecious, so a lone tree will not fruit
  3. Takes about 6 years to bear fruit


  • Seed bombs. Seeds wrapped in mud to prevent them drying out, good for tossing over walls.
  • Seed box. A pocket size, waterproof box is invaluable.
  • Nursery. Land on the margins of roads or paths is unsuitable for direct sewing of seeds since seedlings would likely be trodden underfoot or consumed by passing livestock. The solution a safe nursery in which to growing seedlings until they are large enough to be planted out.
  • Cardboard mulch. You may wish to plant an area covered in weeds. In this case, cover the weeds with a sheet of cardboard. Cut a small hole in the sheet and insert the seedling you're planting through this hole. The cardboard will kill the weeds by blocking out light. The weeds will then decompose and fertilize your plants. The cardboard will decompose too, though it takes a little longer.