Have you just moved into a new home? Spring is just around the corner, and many people are preparing their gardens for new plantings. But what if your new garden has been neglected for years and overgrown by unsightly weeds? Your new garden could have been overtaken by long grass, weeds, vines, and brambles, and you may not know where to start. You may feel like it is too much work to clear your overgrown garden before you can start planting again. Do not give up hope! We will discuss how to get rid of pesky plants that have taken over your garden so you can enjoy a beautiful space this spring.
What to Consider When Clearing an Overgrown Garden?
Firstly, it is best to start with a plan. As the old saying goes “failure to prepare is preparing to fail”. Having a plan will make your life easier and by breaking the task down into more manageable chunks, you will be able to track your progress as you go which will help keep you motivated.
Some of the things you will need to consider when planning your garden clearance are things like, what plants are overgrown, what potential damage will be left to paths and fences etc, and also what time of year it is.
Thinking about the type of plants that are overgrown is important and will help you decide your plan of action and what kind of tools, clothing and PPE that you might require to get the job done.
Consider any underlying damage that may have occurred or may occur during the clearance. Are the patio and the path still level? or has a large ivy weakened the structure of a wall or fence? Will the removal of certain plants cause more damage than good?
Time of Year
The time of year is an important thing to consider for a number of different reasons. Firstly, in the heat of the summer, not only will the ground need irrigating to soften it, but the sun will also play a huge part in how much you can get done due to exhaustion and potential dehydration. The time of year is also important as you may find that there is a particular type of weed that is about to go to seed and you may want to tackle it first to prevent any further spreading.
How to Clear an Overgrown Garden?
On 2 occasions I have had to clear an extremely overgrown area – the first was an extremely neglected allotment when I was much younger and that was quite a learning curve and the second was when I moved into a new property some years back. Below, I have put together a list of jobs, broken down into manageable tasks that may help you get through your garden clearance without a hitch.
You Will Need
- Petrol strimmer
- Spade or shovel
- Pruning shears
- Compost bin or pile
- Garden shredder
- Hose or watering system
- Bags for collecting garden waste
Step 1 – Plan
As we mentioned above, planning is a hugely important step in making the job seem far less arduous. When planning, it is a good idea to know what you want the end result to be.
Whether you have a specific landscape in mind or just want to clear everything to give yourself a blank canvas to work with, the baseline is to know what you want so you can plan how to get there.
Step 2 – Clear any Rubbish
When I talk about rubbish, I am not talking about unwanted plant material.
I am talking about the opposite; things like metals, plastics, and treated wood that will not break down on the compost pile. Clearing any rubbish will immediately have an effect on the way the garden looks, it will no longer look like a neglected tip, it will just look a little overgrown.
Note: Don’t forget to recycle and call in the scrap man for any metals.
Step 3 – Clear Your Patio and Path
Next, I find that it is a good idea to clear your patio and clear yourself a path.
Clearing the patio is a good idea as it will not only give you somewhere to stop, have a rest and take a drink but, it will also be your place of work and somewhere to leave your tools when you are not using them. Clearing the path also helps and gives you access to the areas of the garden that you intend to tackle first. If your garden already has a pathway that has overgrown and weeds growing between paving slabs, this is a good place to start.
I found that Pathclear (Amazon link – opens in a new tab) works a treat and lasts a good while before it will need reapplying. If, however, you are not a fan of using chemicals, you could pull the weeds by hand.
Step 4 – Mow the Lawn
This is one of the early jobs that will likely give you the biggest satisfaction, particularly if the grass has grown particularly long.
Cutting the lawn will not only have an instant effect on the landscape and make the garden look immediately tidier, but it will also allow you more access to other areas of the garden. If the grass has grown extremely long, it is unlikely that you will get your standard lawnmower to go straight over it. I think it is a good idea to have a petrol strimmer (Amazon link – opens in a new tab) that will make mincemeat of the lawn in no time at all.
Step 5 – Remove Unwanted Plants
When I think about clearing an overgrown garden, I automatically think about large ivy vines and brambles, but you could just have a large area that is full of weeds and wildflowers that you want to get rid of.
With weedy areas, it is best to get down on your hands and knees and put in the hard work, there really is no other way except for laying down a sheet of black plastic but that could take quite some time.
I prefer to do it by hand but just remember, you will want to ensure that you are pulling up as much of the plant as possible including the root system to try and prevent the pesky things from coming back.
Tackling a large area of brambles can be dangerous work so ensure that you are well-equipped to deal with them. Gloves are an absolute must and should not be overlooked along with a good pair of loppers. You will want to chop back the brambles little by little until you have cut the plant all the way back to the base and then dig out the main root ball. Brambles are known to be quite difficult to get rid of entirely so you must try and get as much of the root out as possible.
New shoots are likely to appear from any leftover roots that have been missed but these can be pulled by hand as and when they appear, and the bramble will eventually be gone for good.
Ivy is another well-known plant that can be extremely difficult to remove for good but again this can be done in much the same way as removing the bramble although if the ivy is climbing; for best results, it is done over a 2-week period. Gloves are also a must when handling Ivy, they may not have loads of thorns like the bramble, but the sap is known to cause skin irritation and anaphylaxis. When removing Ivy, snip the main stem at the base and leave the above-ground plant to wither and die back for approximately 2-weeks. If the ivy is not climbing and is just growing as a ground cover, this can be bagged up ready for composting – yes you can compost ivy!
Once you have snipped the ivy stem at the base, you will need to dig up the root ball in much the same way as you do for brambles. Remember to get as much root as possible or you will be pulling up fresh growth for years.
Step 6 – Prune Trees/ Plants You Want to Keep
You may have come across some plants that you want to keep in the garden, or you have a tree that has not had a trim in a while. Now is a great time to do this job too.
Careful pruning of your plants and trimming dead wood from trees can really help promote new growth in your new-looking garden.
Step 7 – Compost Your Plant Material
Composting should not just be limited to materials from step 6, hopefully, you will have been thinking about composting all along and keeping your garden waste in a nice heap.
Many people believe that brambles, ivy, and many weeds cannot be composted but that is not true. What is true is that many of these plants are extremely tough and will continue to grow even if a small amount of root remains so they will need to be added to your compost correctly. For ivy especially, it is good practice to shred it as fine as you can and leave it bagged up for a couple of weeks for it to start decomposing. Once this is done, the ivy can be safely added to your compost pile without a problem.
The shredder I personally use is this one (Amazon link – opens in a new tab) there is a smaller version of this if what you have to shred is a little smaller.
Well, by now, your garden should be nice and clear with a healthy amount of green material for your compost pile. Now you know how to clear an overgrown garden, will be able to crack on with the task, and then look to reinventing the landscape how you want. This could involve repairing any damage that may have occurred, relaying, or treating your lawn or even creating your new vegetable patch.
Garden Doctor Tips
“If you are going to be working in the heat of the summer, remember to drink plenty of fluids and also wear sunscreen!”
“Always use the proper equipment, which includes tools and PPE – you do not want to visit A & E!”
“Take your time and work methodically, start in one area and work your way across. This will save you time in the long run!”
“Take care and think of the environment. Recycle any rubbish and compost your plant material!”
Frequently Asked Questions
What do I do if the ground is too hard?
If you are working in the summer heat and the ground is dry and hard, give it a good soaking with a hose to make the soil more pliable.
This will make it much easier to work with the ground so you can pull up roots more efficiently.
How do I cut down a tree?
Personally, I do not recommend anyone cutting down a tree without professional training. Tree felling is an extremely dangerous activity, and I recommend that you hire a local professional.
What do I do if I come across wildlife?
If any animals have made their home in your overgrown garden, we recommend that you let the local authority know and seek their advice. For example, if you have a badger sett in your garden, it cannot be disturbed by law so you would have to go through the right channels to decide the right course of action.
Trevor Wright is not just a seasoned horticulturist; he’s the esteemed Garden Doctor. With a BSc in Horticulture and years of hands-on experience in the soil, Trevor has become a trusted mentor for all things gardening. As the founder of Garden Doctor, he’s committed to clarifying the intricacies of gardening, offering straightforward advice that’s rooted in years of practice. His writing is a garden of how-tos, savvy insights, and comprehensive guides that enable individuals to nurture and grow their garden dreams. When he’s not knee-deep in garden beds, Trevor is at his keyboard passing on his green-thumbed wisdom to budding gardeners, ensuring that the legacy of sustainable and joyful gardening blossoms far and wide.