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 reclaim an overgrown garden aims to help you get a clear strategy on where to start from, as well as understand all the important aspects that a garden clean-up process involves.
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 on;
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;
And hopefully, at the end of it, you’ll have a clearer picture of the best approach, you can choose, as well as of the time that it will take to transform your wild green space.
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. Also, it’s a good idea to inspect your tool selection and see if you need to buy or borrow some extra equipment and supplies.
So, here’s what to consider, first, before you start scratching your head about how to tackle an 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 if the garden is buried under unwanted vegetation, then, 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.
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.
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.
How to get back your 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 actions that you can follow.
Restoring the garden’s former glory takes time. Check below the best way to approach clearing an overgrown garden:
Clear any rubbish – 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.
Trim hedges – Overgrown hedges are a major culprit behind a garden’s messy look. So, trimming them nicely will transform the overall state of your green space overnight and will motivate you to keep going.
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.
Remove weeds and dead plants – This is, again, a gradual process, regardless of whether you invest time in getting rid of the weeds manually, with a fork, or by applying a weed killer that takes weeks to work and where the dead plants still need pulling out. If you use chemicals, make sure you don’t harm plants you want staying.
Solarise the soil of flower beds – Once you’ve removed unwanted plants, cleared paved areas and your garden starts 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 secure it with stones. The sun and generated heat will kill any weedlings that may be still popping up, as well as weed seeds, pest insects, bacteria and fungi in the soil. You can remove the plastic at the onset of spring.
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.
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. 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 through dispersing their seeds. Of course, if you distinguish an overgrown lawn area, a strimmer will come 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?
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.
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.
Clearing a 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. 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:
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.
Rake – Rake the clippings and any dead grass out of the fresh-emerged lawn.
Scarify – You can continue using the rake to scarify the turf and get any moss and thatch buildup cleared from the area, especially if it’s not that big in size.
Aerate & topdress – To boost the revival of your lawn, relieve compaction (aerate) and topdress if necessary.
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.
Water – Water regularly in the evening to give the best chance to new grass shoots to root and establish.
Mow – To start with, mow on a higher setting, again, to avoid stressing new grass growth and prevent weeds from overwhelming your lawn.
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 a 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.
How to clear an overgrown garden of unwanted trees
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:
First and foremost, ensure that the tree you want cutting down and/or removing is not protected by a tree preservation order. You can double check all relevant regulations with your local council.
You can saw a medium-sized tree or fell it with an axe and borrow/hire a digger to remove the stump.
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.
Have you thought that a tree stump can be repurposed and become the base of a unique garden table if you fix a round flat piece of wood on top?
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.
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, 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 job to a professional.
Explore our garden maintenance service and how can it help you rejuvenate your garden.
You may be lucky and find on close inspection that your newly acquired garden is only slightly overgrown. Maybe, it’s been left unmaintained over one season only and now, it needs a bit of work and some TLC. Below, we share some quick-fix tips that will help you tidy up your green space that has not gone totally wild.
With some creativity and a few basic tools, you can give your slightly messy garden a facelift that will suffice the requirements of any potentially picky buyer or tenant.
Most herbicidal products will turn green weeds into unsightly yellow “flops” that still need getting rid of and possibly replacing with flowering little pretties. The task will take a good month, as well, as weed killers take time to work. 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.
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. 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.
Take care of the lawn
Mow the slightly overgrown lawn and trim the edges to get that neat look. Even if the grass is somewhat pale green, a bit patchy in spots and not the best looking, a tidy and well-defined turfed area will do wonders for the overall look of the garden. Pick a day to overseed it and feed it so that by the time you get to the first viewings, the lawn appears its best.
Achieve structure through edging
Again, 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.
Clear paths or build new ones
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.
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.
What a professional garden clean-up service gets you
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 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 in 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