COVID-19 Guidelines & Resources for Safe Community Gardening

2021 Updates:

  • 1st Rule of Thumb: Stay tuned to the latest information from the State of Vermont with helpful answers on their FAQ’s page. We are following their guidance. Plus here are additional details from the Center for Disease Control with current guidance on small gatherings and outdoor activities. Until we hear otherwise, with the exception of vaccinated individuals, we’re advising garden groups: When in doubt, follow the guidelines below.
  • 2nd Rule of Thumb: Talk it over with your group and determine what people are comfortable with in terms of loosening Covid-related restrictions. For example, if you know who’s using the garden and who will be attending workdays, etc. and if they are vaccinated, your group may choose to basically return to “normal.” If there is more uncertainty over who’s vaccinated vs. not vaccinated and there are safety concerns you may choose to keep certain restrictions in place, like masks or social distancing, or hold off on activities like potlucks until later in the season. At VCGN we have made the choice to operate many of our hands-on garden education programs without a mask mandate. Here’s how one Vermont garden is addressing this issue for the 2021 season: The Garden at 485 Elm shared these guidelines.

Stay up-to-date on the latest resources and news regarding the COVID-19 virus by visiting VCGN’s Facebook page and/or joining our Facebook group.

Check out the following guidelines and scroll to the bottom of this page
for more resources to help you navigate this challenging time.

These guidelines are based on current information we have on the COVID-19 virus (last updated June 2, 2021) as well as creative thinking from community gardeners from across the country (many ideas collected from listservs and other sources thanks to garden coordinator, Hannah Traggis).

For updates on the COVID-19 virus and precautions visit:
Center for Disease Control,
Vermont Department of Health, 
& Considerations for Outdoor Learning Gardens & Community Gardens

Download a printable version of the guidelines to post at your garden.

In English (last updated June 2, 2021)

En Español (last updated March 24, 2020)

The Basics:

How long can the COVID-19 virus live on surfaces?

Current research suggests the COVID-19 virus can live for up to 3 days on surfaces, longer or less, depending on the actual surface material (plastics 72 hrs, stainless steel 48 hrs, cardboard 24 hrs – based on an article in New England Journal of Medicine). We don’t know exactly how long it can live, but this is a good rule to follow regarding what we can and can’t touch.

Do I need to be concerned with food safety when it comes to produce from my garden?

What are proper practices for keeping my hands and surfaces disinfected?

Soap, alcohol and bleach are the best agents to kill the virus. Soap with water is VERY effective.

  • Set up a hand washing station at the entrance/exit to the garden. Here’s how: Also, here are instructions for making a hand washing station from found materials, known in Uganda as the Tippy Tap or Tip Tap hand washer. Plus loads more outdoor hand washing station ideas.
  • When washing hands with soap and water scrub for 20 seconds (“Happy Birthday” song twice). If soap and water are not available use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer (at least 60% alcohol). However, if hands are visibly dirty, always wash with soap and water.
  • When appropriate, bring a disinfectant and thoroughly wipe down anything that you touch that someone else might also touch. If the surface is visibly dirty, wash first with soap and water. Make your own disinfectant solution by mixing: 5 tablespoons (1/3rd cup) bleach per gallon of water. Leave the solution on the surface for at least 1 minute. Use paper towels and dispose of after each use.
  • Gloves do not replace proper disinfection procedures. The outside of your glove can still transmit diseases to yourself and others.  If you wear gloves, wash after each use.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.

What’s a safe distance for interaction with others?

  • Maintain at least 6 feet between yourself and other gardeners.
  • If you cannot socially distance, bring a mask to wear when others are in the garden. The CDC provides guidelines on use and directions for how to make a mask from items you may have around the house:
  • When in doubt, STAY HOME. Do not come to the garden if you are showing symptoms, someone you’ve been in contact with is sick, if you have health conditions, are an older adult or a member of another high risk population.

How can I share these guidelines?

  • Consider how people are receiving information in these days of social isolation. Share through a variety of remote methods (i.e. email, text, call, social media, etc.)
  • Post laminated guidelines at the entrance of the garden and throughout, especially in locations where the spread of the virus is of highest concern.
  • Take precautions and do not assume anyone else has followed these guidelines.

Tools & Equipment:

  1. Inventory all areas in the garden where people commonly come into contact (i.e. spigots, hose, handles, gates, tools, garden cart, etc.)
  2. If possible, leave garden gates open during your garden’s open hours, to avoid excess contact.
  3. When in doubt, limit tool sharing.
  4. A few tool-sharing alternatives: 1) Assign tools and associated tasks to specific gardeners for the season. 2) Ask gardeners to bring and use their own tools. 3) If people aren’t able to bring or afford their own tools, consider asking your community for tool donations for individual use. Use proper disinfection procedures when accepting donations.
  5. If concerned about contact, use a disinfectant solution to thoroughly wipe down the handles of shared tools, equipment, and the hose nozzle/spigot BEFORE AND AFTER USE.
  6. If concerned about contact, consider removing compost bin lids during work days so that gardeners can directly add garden waste. If lids are needed, have a small group of volunteers maintain the compost bins while using proper disinfection techniques (as indicated above).

Scheduling Work:

  1. Consider closing the garden to outside visitors (non-gardeners) or post rules for visitors to follow.
  2. If social distancing is needed and the garden space is small, schedule community gardeners for specific garden hours to limit numbers present in the garden at any given time. In some situations it may make sense to schedule gardeners based on the location of their plot in the garden–spreading out gardeners across the garden space. Or, for group work, assign specific tasks to gardeners at a variety of times throughout the week.
  3. If disinfecting is needed, schedule a half-hour break between groups of gardeners to wipe down shared surfaces with the above-mentioned bleach solution.
  4. When engaging in group work, if concerned about contagion, continue to use the above precautions, including: stay apart by 6 feet, bring and wear your own gloves, wash hands thoroughly, and wipe down shared surfaces.  
  5. Young children must remain under supervision while visiting the garden.
  6. STAY HOME if showing any symptoms or if you’ve been in contact with someone who is sick.
  7. If concerned about contagion, encourage gardeners to STAY HOME if they are considered more vulnerable to exposure to the virus (older adults and people of any age who have serious underlying medical conditions). Support these gardeners by offering to plant or cultivate for them.

How to support fellow gardeners in these challenging times?

  1. Maintain regular and timely communication with gardeners. Keep gardeners up-to-date on guidelines. Be available to respond to questions and concerns.
  2. Share inspiration to keep gardeners hopeful and engaged–such as garden images or quotes. 
  3. Encourage gardener communication through an email list, Google Group or Facebook Group.
  4. Share remote resources for continued preparations and garden learning–such as how-to videos, free online gardening classes, and the Extension Master Gardener Hotline.
  5. Offer free resources from sources you trust–such as seeds, seedlings, tools, and compost.

More Resources in Response to COVID-19

General Community Garden Resources & Information

School & Youth-specific Resources & Information

Food Systems Resources & Information

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