M?ore than 4,000 volunteers are expected to take to gardens, parks, roadways and woods during Earth ??Day activities on Saturday. Michael Doody hopes that a few of them are still found on Sunday and Monday.

M?ore than 4,000 volunteers are expected to take to gardens, parks, roadways and woods during Earth ??Day activities on Saturday.

Michael Doody hopes that a few of them are still found on Sunday and Monday.

For Doody and other community-garden organizers, finding neighborhood volunteers to dig, weed and plant can be as difficult as turning winter soil.

“It’s hard,” said Doody, who has overseen the Kossuth Street Garden since its 2007 creation.“You knock on doors and say, ‘We got water and good soil and tools,’ and they say, ‘Good luck.’??”

The number of central Ohio community gardens has mushroomed in the past decade, and many continue to flourish. But abandoned or neglected gardens throughout the city offer vivid evidence of good intentions meeting the hard realities of gardening.

More than two dozen gardens are soliciting Earth Day volunteers to clean and prep — and, perhaps, return for more.

Evelyn Van Til, who coordinates the 4th Street Farms garden in Weinland Park, knows that Earth Day draws volunteers but that the helpers often dry up when the going gets tough.

“There are a lot of folks interested in the beginning, when you’re planting, and at the end, when you’re harvesting, but less interested in August, when you’re weeding,” she said.

Her solution: Design a garden that requires less day-to-day work.

When she and others started 4th Street in 2011, they planted fruits and herbs because they require less weeding and watering than traditional offerings such as beans and tomatoes. They also installed a 1,000-gallon rainwater tank that automatically waters the garden.

“It’s got to be sustainable,” she said. “It can’t be more than we can chew.”

Van Til knows firsthand about gardens that struggle. Her group has been asked to take over the nearby Arawak City Community Garden, which fell on hard times after a nice run.

“In the last four or five years, with leadership changes, people moving in and out of the neighborhood, people changed roles, so they approached us,” she said.

Meanwhile, Four Seasons City Farm, which used to operate about a dozen gardens on the East Side, is down to seven after struggling to find volunteers and funding.

The organization recruits volunteers wherever it can — including people who must do volunteer work to fulfill a court order — and seeks to sell enough produce to become self-sustaining, said Four Seasons board member Hank Koehler, who is helping to coordinate Earth Day activities.

Koehler hopes to harvest a few regular volunteers from Earth Day (Monday is the official day of observance).

“It’s been good to get people as a starting point for involvement whom you can retain as a consistent volunteer,” he said, estimating that about 1 in 20 volunteers ends up returning.

Broad support is essential for community gardens to succeed, said Bill Dawson, who coordinates the Growing to Green Program at Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens.

“When someone comes to me and says, ‘I want to start a garden,’ the first thing I do is look behind them,” Dawson said. “We need a core group because one person might move or change jobs.”

Gardens affiliated with groups such as churches can have an easier time sustaining volunteers.

“Churches have been my best audiences,” Dawson said. “They already have a community in place, they are looking for ways to grow that, they have land and sometimes have money, and they’re service-oriented.”

Glenwood Community Gardens, operated by Glenwood United Methodist Church on the West Side, has had so much success that it added a second plot to its garden.

“I don’t think we’ve ever struggled,” said Carl Powell, a volunteer who is coordinating the garden’s Earth Day effort.

“At times, we brought the Boy Scouts in to do work if we have a special project like building a fence or retaining wall. But for the basic weeding, we have several people at the church who take it on. It’s something they enjoy doing.”

Despite the challenges that gardens face, they have blossomed in popularity. Dawson counts more than 250 gardens throughout central Ohio, up from about a dozen when the Growing to Green Program started in 2000.

The most successful ones typically rely on outside help — from corporate sponsors such as Scotts Miracle-Gro, groups such as the Scouts and funding from United Way and other groups.

For Kossuth Street Garden’s Earth Day event, Doody is counting on a donation of dirt from Pro-Mix, material from Turner Construction and labor from Local Matters.

He is trying to spread the word in the community but isn’t optimistic.

“Volunteers are starting to come from German Village,” Doody noted. “The young people, they get it; but people in the neighborhood — it’s hard.”