Garden Advice

It’s a Jungle Out There: How to Clear an Overgrown Garden

Having to deal with a jungle of a garden can be a blessing or an outright cause for despair. How you’ll look at it will depend on how much you love gardening and how much free time you have on your hands. Of course, having or lacking the skills and tools will be also at play in how you feel about the project – see it as a blank (or green) canvas that tickles your creativity and inspiration or as a dreaded nuisance of a job.

So, this guide on how to easily clear an overgrown garden aims to help you get the right strategy on where to start, as well as understand all the important aspects that a garden clean-up process involves.

Read on if you:

  • have moved to a home with a garden that has been long neglected;
  • are a keen property investor, who is looking for garden makeover tips before selling;
  • just got a client, whose garden is in a state, beyond your general garden maintenance skills;
  • have just inherited a house with a garden like a rainforest;

How to clear a messy overgrown garden

Every garden is different, even when overgrown. Yours might be terraced, so you can’t even distinguish where the top level ends, for instance. Or it could have a few winter-flowering shrubs that are now encroached by undesired brambles. Still, there is a general course of action steps that you can follow:

  1. Determine your strategy and plan ahead
  2. Identify plants you want to keep
  3. Clear out rubbish and weeds
  4. Trim hedges
  5. Solarise the soil of flower beds
  6. Dig over planting sites
  7. Clear also the overgrown lawn
  8. Remove unwanted trees (optional)
  9. Achieve structure through edging and pathing
  10. Bring colour the quick way

1. Determine your strategy and plan ahead

Wishful thinking and motivation are all good to get started, but unless you assess properly the state of your garden and envisage roughly the end result, it’s unlikely that you’ll have an easy time sorting your yard, gone wild.

So, here’s what to consider when you are deciding how to approach the taming of your overgrown garden:

  • How bad exactly is it? After all, a bit of pruning and weeding here and there may well be what your green space needs. But suppose the garden is buried under unwanted vegetation. In that case, naturally, your set of tactics will involve discerning once thriving perennials from weeds, identifying what soil you’ve got to work with or figuring out how many hours of direct sunlight exposure the plants could potentially get.
  • The size of the garden also matters, of course, in terms of how long it will take you to clear it and whether to settle for a gradual makeover or choose a get-it-over-and-done-with approach.
  • Types of methods you will use. Tightly connected to the amount of time you’ll spend revealing what’s under the canopy of trees and bushes is the method you’ll use to remove all that undesirable greenery – manually or by applying weed control products.
  • Are you on a tight schedule? If you’re rushing to sell or rent the property, you may want to consider booking professional garden clearance with a company like Fantastic Services. But if you’ve got all the time in the world, you can get your hands dirty and try clearing your garden gradually.
  • What is your goal? Last but not least, a strategy without clear goals, as in how you picture your garden, is no real strategy. For instance, do you want to keep the old lawn or you’d rather “move” it and have a patio, instead, over that area? And so on.

Just a reminder that it’s a good idea to inspect your tool selection and see if you need to buy or borrow some extra equipment and supplies while you are still on the planning stage of the land clearing project. The basic tools you will most likely need are garden rake, shears, secateurs, spade, fork, gardening gloves and some green waste bags. 

2. Identify plants you want to keep

You may not have extensive knowledge on plants, but you should be able to discern some perennials, climbers, shrubs and bushes that can be revived if looking a bit neglected.

It’s important to do this early on, so you know how many and which plants you want to keep in your garden and which need to be removed once the clearing process starts. With that being said, here comes the next step.

3. Clear out rubbish and weeds

Remove all bits of rubbish, lying around, such as broken garden features or furniture, damaged plastic rainwater barrels, rusty and no longer usable tools, and other junk.

“When dealing with an overgrown garden, the waste bags of choice should be bigger and thicker, so they don’t rip from brambles, saves time as well. Also thick gloves should be used – welding ones for example, they protect your forearm as well.”

Radek Babicek – Gardening professional

Once you are done with that, it’s time to also remove all the weeds and dead plants that are getting in the way. This is, again, a gradual process, especially if you decide to invest time in getting rid of the weeds manually or with a fork. Applying a weed killer is also an option, but keep in mind that it will probably take weeks to work, after which the dead plants will still need to be pulled out.

Most herbicidal products will turn green weeds into unsightly yellow “flops” that still need getting rid of and possibly replacing with flowering little pretties. Such a task could easily take a good month to complete.

So, if you don’t have much time on your plate (say, you want to sell or rent the property as soon as), you’re better off removing weeds manually, with a fork or by using a flame gun. Spot weed around paved areas, water features and shrubs. Quickly go around and tidy up flower beds and rockeries. It will take you much less time than using chemicals, especially if your garden is on the small side.

If you use chemicals, make sure you don’t harm the plants you want to keep. To do that, make sure to read and follow strictly the application instructions listed on the label and try to apply the product only on the sections with weeds. 

4. Trim hedges

Overgrown hedges are a major culprit behind a garden’s messy look. Having them professionally trimmed will transform the overall state of your green space overnight and will motivate you to keep going.

“Depending on the hedge type, if you are trimming at the wrong time of year you could cause the hedge to dry. If you are dealing with Conifer hedge, then reduce it from the top, cut no more than 2/3rd of the whole thing. As for Buxus hedge – do not use a hedge trimmer, hand tools only, as leaves are fragile. Hand tools should be sharp, too. Best time for trimming is autumn, tidy up during the rest of the year. Keep an eye on the Buxus hedge, caterpillars eat the leaves, so it just looks dead, but it’s actually still alive. Use a treatment every 2 months to protect it from those caterpillars.”

Radek Babicek – Gardening professional

5. Solarise the soil of flower beds

Once you’ve removed unwanted plants and cleared paved areas, your garden will start to take shape. You should still keep on top of weeds, especially in existing flower beds and rockeries.

You should ideally apply the soil solarisation technique (heliosis) in the autumn by covering these areas with a clear plastic sheet and securing it with stones. The sun and generated heat will kill any weedlings that may still pop up, as well as weed seeds, pest insects, bacteria and fungi in the soil. You can remove the plastic at the onset of spring.

6. Dig over planting sites

Prepare vegetable patches and flower beds by digging them over and tilling the soil to improve its texture. Naturally, you’ll go ahead with planting new varieties that fit in with the time of the year.

A key point is to loosen up the soil to get it nice and fluffy – it will absorb water and nutrients easier. When digging over planting sites, consider adding some compost for extra nutrition.

7. Clear also the overgrown lawn

Most likely, your wild garden once had a neat and lush lawn area, which, now that you’ve cleared most of the green overgrowth, is beginning to show.

“Keep in mind that the lawn may not look great after the cleanup. Because it’s overgrown, there might be some bare patches after the clearance. Also, when the grass is very tall it dries up at the bottom. Use some fertilizer and water regularly after applying it. Do this every two days for the period of 1 week, preferably in the morning or afternoon.”

Radek Babicek – Gardening professional

If you think that it’s worth bringing it back to its original vigorous condition, meaning, it suits your needs and you like where it is, follow the steps below:

  1. Strim – Strim down the long grass, if applicable. Whether you need to use a strimmer, will largely depend on the time of the year it is.
  2. Rake –  Rake the clippings and any dead grass out of the fresh-emerged lawn.
  3. Scarify – You can continue scarifying the turf and get any moss and thatch buildup cleared from the area, especially if it’s not that big in size.
  4. Aerate & topdress – To boost the revival of your lawn and to relieve compaction aerate and topdress if necessary.
  5. Feed & overseed – You’ll most probably notice bald patches on the turfed area, which you can overseed, of course. Also, it’s worth applying a slow-release fertiliser, which you can either mix with the seeds or you can add to the lawn prior to overseeding it.
  6. Water – Water regularly in the evening to give the best chance for new grass shoots to root and establish.
  7. Mow – To start with, mow on a higher setting, again, to avoid stressing new grass growth and prevent weeds from overwhelming your lawn. Then, you can gradually lower the setting and keep mowing your lawn on a regular basis.

Naturally, if you determine that the old lawn is beyond repair, it’s been overtaken by far too many weeds or suffers from heavy moss buildup, you may reassess your tactics and consider laying new turf.

Or you can decide on some sort of hardscape feature over the area, be it to cover it with gravel or to install a patio.

Note that the above steps are best completed gradually, over time, so that you perform each task at the right time of the year for optimum results. Also, if you feel like using a weed killer to remove unwanted broad-leaved weeds, such as clover or dandelion from the lawn, for instance, you can mix a selective herbicide with fertiliser and apply them both at the same time with a spreader or a sprayer.

8. Remove unwanted trees (optional)

Taming an overgrown garden, sometimes, calls for removing old and dying trees. This especially applies to diseased fruit trees that no longer produce good fruit, due to failed annual pruning and overall neglect. Here’s our general advice on addressing unwanted trees in your garden:

  1. First and foremost, ensure that the tree you want to cut down and/or remove is not protected by a tree preservation order. You can double-check all relevant regulations with your local council.
  2. You can saw a medium-sized tree or fell it with an axe and borrow/hire a digger to remove the stump. For bigger trees, you better opt for tree felling service.
  3. Don’t get tempted to clear your green space from too many trees, unless necessary. After all, you could do with some shade in the hot season, as well as encourage chirping birds to bring the sounds of Nature into your home.

Last but not least, you can settle for a less invasive decision and prune a messy-looking tree that can serve as a lovely focal point in your garden. 

“When planning a removal of a tree, consider that the roots can spread below the surface of a patio or fence. So when you remove it you need to be careful how to approach the de-rooting. Alternatively, you can leave the stump, and use a stump grinder over it. Bamboo has a very specific root system, 1 meter deep and spreading wildly. Keep it in a pot to avoid the mentioned root issues.”

Radek Babicek – Gardening professional

9. Achieve structure through edging and pathing

Be clever and use contrasting colours and features to your advantage. Eyes are drawn straight away to striking borders and hues from the “polar” opposite sides of the colour palette. For instance, it’s not a bad idea if you achieve sharp definition between individual areas through edging with rocks, stones or gravel.

The easiest way to balance out fast-growing greenery is by landscaping the garden layout with an easy-to-make garden path. You can construct one in no time by literally plonking natural stone slabs directly on the ground or lawn. A garden path will encourage anyone to take a short stroll, especially if it leads to a beautiful tree, a barbeque area or a quaint bench.

10. Bring colour the quick way

If your time is limited and you wish, for whatever reason, to achieve a blooming garden overnight, get some seasonal plants that are already in flower from your local garden centre. Invest in a few terracotta pots and transplant your new varieties.

This is the quickest way to arrange an eye-catching display of pastels, different shades of green and a few bold colours until later-flowering plants and shrubs in the garden come in bloom. Container gardening is your best bet if you want to have a fast garden makeover as a result.

Clearing a messy garden can take up a lot of time and effor. Explore our garden clearance service and learn how it can help you rejuvenate your garden faster.

Some extra garden clearance tips

  • Use a weed burner. Also known as a weed blowtorch or a flame gun, the device is perfect for spot weed killing in flower beds, rockeries, over garden pavings and along borders and edges. To be sure the weeds won’t come back – fix any patio cracks. Experienced gardeners use the tool on lawns, too, if they feel confident about not damaging the surrounding grass.
  • Avoid using a strimmer to get rid of weeds. Strimming weeds not only renders short-lived results (the weeds keep coming back) but may also boost their distribution by dispersing their seeds. Of course, if you distinguish an overgrown lawn area, a strimmer will come in handy when trying to restore it.
  • Think out of the “garden-cleanup” box. You can save some time and effort, when clearing the yard, by recognising the beauty of a meadow-style garden. So, why not leave the small section in the corner with long grass and wildflowers, which will attract bees, butterflies and other beneficial insects? To enhance the natural look, you can add a pond in the corner of the garden. That way the soil will have better water retention qualities and bees and birds will have access to water during the summer heat.
  • Mulch around plants – To keep on top of weeds, mulch as you go and cover the area around trees, bushes and shrubs with gravel or shredded bark. Make sure to apply it 5-10 cm from the ground up to the stem of the plant. You will appreciate the transformation almost immediately as focal points become more defined and the contrast of dark and light colours – more prominent. Mulching is good for boosting soil water retention, too, so treat the job as a priority.
  • Divide perennials. Carefully divide perennials that have expanded and overtaken more space than you’d like. Transplant only those you wish to see in your garden. This task is best done in autumn.
  • Work in sections. If the garden is overwhelmingly large, don’t despair. Clear a small section at a time and work your way gradually. Imagine, it’s the start of the growing season and you don’t want to miss out on planting veggies or enjoying some pretty blooms in the summer. So, focus on fewer tasks rather than worry about the whole garden.
  • Put an old carpet to good use. An old carpet, made from natural fibres, will make the weed-killing task a breeze. Once unwanted plants have turned limp and yellow under the rug, it will be much easier to pull them by hand or dig them out with a fork.
  • Consider starting a compost bin. Composting what you can from a garden clean-up job is always a smart move, as long as you’ve got the space for it in your garden. The following year, you’ll be glad that you did, when you want to give a little boost to your new plants in the spring.
“Hot water can be added to the compost pile for faster dissolving of hard branches. If you have a burning bin, ashes from that one can be used as compost – not the same nutritional value but still good if you don’t want to engage in the full composting process.”

Radek Babicek – Gardening professional
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What time of the year should you tackle an overgrown garden?

When it comes to clearing an unkept garden, it is best to use the seasons to your advantage. Trying to reclaim a jungle-like garden in the summer is much harder than if you attempted the job in late autumn or early spring when, respectively, plant life slows down or has not yet emerged.

Rejuvenation pruning – when to apply it?

There are various pruning techniques that can be applied when shaping an overgrown garden. Rejuvenation pruning is especially popular if you’ve got large trees and neglected shrubs that have gone wild with messy, overgrown branches in all directions.

But as pruning does require some skills, experience and good tools, it’s not a bad idea to ask an expert to inspect your trees, hedges, shrubs and bushes and give them the trim they need.

“When pruning, it’s important to remove the inside branches, which are growing up to the crown, as they don’t benefit the tree. It’s also important to remove fallen fruit from the ground, as apples and pears left to rot can bring fungi to the tree.”

Radek Babicek – Gardening professional

As a rule of thumb, late winter/early spring is the time to get the loppers, pruning shears and secateurs into action, before new buds and shoots emerge. Rejuvenation pruning allows for long-untended plants to become more manageable.

Still, only some plant varieties can handle hard pruning (the bush is cut back in one go to about 10 inches from the ground). Those that can easily tolerate extensive rejuvenation include Lilac, Rose-of-Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus), St. John’s wort (Hypericum), Honeysuckle, Spiraea, Old Climbing Roses, Mallow, Abelia, Dogwood, Hydrangea, etc.

Other shrub species, which may fail to recover if “chopped” severely, however, should be pruned gradually over 2-3 years. This rejuvenation trimming technique involves cutting back, in the first year, one-third of the thickest and oldest branches, which can be deemed unproductive.

In the second year, you should take a good half of the rest of the old and somewhat unmaintained-looking canes. And in the following year, trim back any remaining old stems. What you’ll notice is that new, productive branches will rapidly appear and replace the ones, you’ve removed.

If uncertain about what you’re doing, however, we strongly recommend leaving the pruning job to a professional.

What can you get from a professional garden clean-up service?

Well, not everyone’s got it in them to deal with an overwhelmingly overgrown garden. You may not have the time but you’re in a rush, or just lack the skills and tools to tackle something that looks like a jungle. So, if you are in need of a fast solution and could do with some help with your garden makeover, the pros at Fantastic Services have what it takes to handle the job for you.

Our garden clearance service comes with a range of advantages, from free green waste disposal (up to 180l), reduced rates with the Fantastic Club and a carefully developed customised approach to the option to benefit from additional services, upon request.

Just check out below the results of our previous work on various garden clearance and makeover projects.

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Overgrown gardens can be a challenge for those who don’t have the time and equipment to tackle the clearance of excess vegetation and fast-growing weeds. Still, if you feel that you’re up for the job, here are some final tips to help you out in this quest:

  • Any project without a clear strategy could easily fail. Inadequate planning may stunt the garden cleanup progress in its budding stage.
  • Start working your way gradually and consider clearing individual sections of your garden if it’s rather large and has been long unmaintained.
  • Some garden makeover tasks are best done at a certain time of the year. Be patient and wait for the right season and optimal weather conditions to handle each respective job.
  • It won’t hurt to rely on professional help for tasks that you feel out of your depth completing, such as grinding the stump of a rotting tree or hard pruning your messy lilac shrub or tree.
  • And if you need fast results, feel free to contact us anytime.


Have you ever tackled a garden clearance project by yourself? Then, we’ll be glad if you share your experience and some extra tips with our less prepared readers in the comment box below!

Images source: Shutterstock/by Simon Annable and by WathanyuSowong

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