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Overgrown Landscape Beds: How To Reclaim An Overgrown Garden

Overgrown Landscape Beds: How To Reclaim An Overgrown Garden


By: Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist

Time is a funny thing. We never seem to have enough of it on the one hand, but on the other too much of it can be a bad thing. Time can develop the most beautiful gardens or it can wreak havoc on what was once a carefully planned landscape. Overgrown plants, multiplying perennials, encroaching weeds and blurred garden edges create a cacophony of chaos which begs to be soothed. Learn the steps on how to reclaim an overgrown garden and bring back your inner peace.

How to Reclaim an Overgrown Garden

Overgrown landscape beds may just need some hard work to repair or they may need a complete face lift. Deciding which depends upon the “bones” of the garden, and how ambitious you are as a gardener. Recovering an overgrown garden requires hard work and may take many seasons to fully achieve. Some of the tips you should learn include plant identification, dividing perennials, rejuvenation pruning and controlling weeds.

Plant Identification

The first step is to identify any rogue plants that may have volunteered and any that have underperformed. Mow the lawn and do any necessary edging to help you see what areas need the most attention. Remove these, digging out all the roots to prevent re-sprouting. For large plants or dead trees, you may need to enlist the help of an arborist.

Once you have removed the plants you don’t want, it’s time to assess the remainder of the garden. Overgrown landscape beds are often easiest to look at in spring when all the plants have flushed and plant identification is easier. If the area has many components, it is best to start in one space and work your way out. This will prevent you from feeling overwhelmed.

Dividing Perennials

Perennials naturalize over time, creating more of the plants. This is a boon in some cases and a curse in others. Dig out perennials in fall after the foliage has died back and divide any that are too large, as in ornamental grasses, clumping tubers or corms. Replant the amount you wish to see in the garden. Some plants are just bad sports and should be removed altogether.

Rejuvenation Pruning

Rejuvenation pruning is a drastic method of reclaiming overgrown gardens. The larger species, such as trees and shrubs, may respond with more compact growth and a smaller shape. Not all plants can handle such intense pruning, but those that do will recover and become more manageable. The best time for rejuvenation pruning is in early spring before bud break.

If you are in doubt as to the recovery ability of a plant, undertake the process over three years. Remove one-third of the plant material over the course of those years. If you have a hardy species, you can take the canes down to 6 to 10 inches from the ground. These include:

  • Dogwood
  • Lilac
  • Honeysuckle
  • Hydrangea
  • Abelia
  • St. John’s Wort

Smaller shrubs and bushes can be trimmed back by one-third in early spring to manage size and growth.

Controlling Weeds

Weeds are a common issue in under-managed gardens. There are few substitutes to a good hand weeding but you can also try two other methods when recovering overgrown gardens.

  • One involves the use of chemicals sprayed on the unwanted plants. Glyphosate is an effective systemic herbicide. Avoid spraying in windy conditions or you might expose wanted specimens.
  • Another non-toxic method is to hoe the plants into the soil and then cover the area with black plastic. This is called solarization and will kill all but the most hardy weeds and seeds within a few weeks. In the absence of black plastic, hoe under the plants as soon as they appear and eventually the weeds lose their vigor and die. Mulch around the desired plants and over newly exposed soil to prevent re-infesting with weeds.

Over time with pruning, division and selective plant removal, your garden should be back to its former glory.

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How to transform a neglected garden

Neglected gardens can be daunting just to gaze upon, the thought of tackling the overgrown mass of weeds and grass! Not to worry, help is at hand!

There are many reasons why a garden can become neglected. Whatever the cause, if you’re faced with the daunting prospect of transforming a garden that is more reminiscent of the Amazon jungle than Kew Gardens, you may be forgiven for feeling out of your depth when confronted by weed-ridden borders, overgrown hedges and knee-length lawns. However, with patience, effort and a systematic approach, you can initiate eye-catching improvements that are sure to turn the neighbours’ heads.


Reclaiming Overgrown Garden Beds

As we moved into our new place, I felt overwhelmed on many levels. Where do you even start, when it is ALL overgrown? To put it bluntly, the owners had done no maintainance for years outside, no matter what tales they spun during the sale (which, yes, we knew). My theory says it had been 5 years or more since anything had even been trimmed back. Looking at sat views, at one time the entire land had been cleared, most likely as they started building. Since then, the lack of forest stewardship had been bad.

I had brought up a truck load of plants with us, from our old house, ones that I didn’t want to leave behind (though most of it was left behind).

The plants ranged from blueberries I had pulled out of the ground last fall, to golden raspberry plants I grew from my master plants, to herbs I grew from seeds. The plants had been sitting on the stone patio, waiting for me.

Gnarly old bushes. Some I could ID, others not so easily. The one thing I felt bad about was pulling the spring bulbs. It wasn’t easy to save them though.

The patio was overgrown, with evergreens hanging over one side. Various old bushes and extremely thorny rose bushes. Moss everywhere, from a lack of sun.

The wooden railing fence was a nightmare waiting to happen. It was rotten and just resting on the posts. This was one of the first things we removed. I didn’t want the kids, or guests, to think it was safe to lean against. And yes, that was field grass growing there.

Then the removal of 5 to 10 years worth of weeds started. They had layed down yard fabric, and put soil over it. Not mulch. Soil. So I had to pull back roots, heavily matted, first, remove rotting fabric, then more roots under. Yard fabric isn’t an evil, if used right. It wasn’t here.

Progress made. We were going to pull out the shrub and found it had roots under the patio, so much hand work was required. In the far right, the green stuff being ripped out was Salal. It’s native and does a great job of hillside stabilizing. Meaning? It has awful roots to pull out. It had grown up the retention area, and taken root into the bed.

Shrub removed, and plants going in.

Finally coming into looking good.

There is still more to do on the far side. One giant bush remains, as does much moss, and over hanging trees.

However, in the end we got in 6 blueberry bushes, and many of the herbs that were brought along. I have even picked up a few replacements, of things left behind. (For example, I had to leave behind 4 beds of garlic and 1 of shallots, so I planted 4 garlic and 6 shallot bulbs I picked up. Not enough of course, but just to have some will make this summer better!)

There is something about getting this small project done. It makes me feel better and more in control. There is so much the land needs done, but at least I can say I got something done! (And got plants in the ground so they can make roots) And more so, the front of the home looks nicer. And I won’t lie…the patio will be wonderful to sit on now come summer time.


How to Clear an Overgrown Yard in 5 Steps

Whether you’ve recently purchased a piece of property, you’re attempting to sell property, or your green thumb isn’t as green as you thought it was, there is one task that seems to loom over many: overgrown yard cleanup. It can create unnecessary stress for those involved, like where to start, what tools are needed, and what plants are actually weeds. However, with the right knowledge and tips, it doesn’t need to be stressful!

The Best Way to Clear Overgrown Yards

1. Work in stages

At first glance, spending a day or two clearing a yard that has become overgrown may seem like the best route. However, depending on the severity and work that needs to be done, this is a lot to do in a day, even two days, unless you have a team of professionals handling the job for you.

2. Have the Right Tools

An overgrown yard requires more than just a lawnmower. You’ll need heavy duty tools like a brush mower, stump grinder, chain saw, pole saw, and hedge trimmer. Never try to mow overgrown grass with a regular lawn mower as it will cause damage. If you don’t own these tools you can rent them from your local hardware store or contact a professional with the machines and expertise on how to use them safely.

3. Remove the debris

First remove junk or anything that will get in the way like lawn furniture, broken garden features, old planters, rusty lawn ornaments etc. Depending on how long the yard has gone without being maintained, the amount of debris that needs to be removed will vary. Whether the debris is litter or fallen pine cones, it will need to be removed before mowing begins, removing plants, defining areas, or putting in new plants

Start a compost pile for tree limbs, bush trimmings, grass clippings, and other organic waste and use a wheel barrow, large garbage cans or dumpster to remove other debris.

4. Decide What You’re Keeping (and not keeping)

Identify plants you want to keep, as well as weeds, dead plants, and invasive species. If you don’t have a green thumb, it may be hard to identify a weed from a plant, and you may not know which plants to keep if you want a neat, maintenance free yard. Some types of perennials, flowering vines, and shrubs take constant vigilance or they will just grow back and start to take over again. If you aren’t sure what should stay and what should go, contact an expert who can not only identify what you have, but can recommend what to keep based on the level of upkeep you desire.

It’s also important to know just how to get rid of weeds and other invasive or undesirable plants, Often just cutting down or removing roots will not do the trick and you will find these plants creeping back. Invasive brush can be some of the toughest plants to eradicate. Non selective herbicides can be used to destroy these plants, however, professional application is recommended.

5. Mow open areas

Once the debris is removed from your overgrown yard, it’s time to mow. This is when you’ll want a string trimmer or brush mower to clear weeds, tall grass, and young saplings. Be careful to avoid mowing over any perennials or small shrubs you’ve decided to keep.

6. Define edges

With the open area finally cleared, it’s time to tackle the edges. Whether it’s along a fence, stone wall or patio, even a garden, your landscape has edges that need defining and maintenance. Giving them the precision trimming they need helps to remove weeds while giving your landscape the curb appeal you desire.

7. Prune Shrubs and Trees

The last step to clearing an overgrown yard is to prune the shrubs and trees that remain. Pruning helps to create a strong plant and also makes it more attractive. Pruning away dead or diseased limbs promotes positive health and growth for the tree or shrub. When left in place, the plant sends a lot of nutrients to the limbs in an attempt to repair them. This means fewer nutrients and energy for the remainder of the plant.

8. Talk to a professional:

Clearing an overgrown backyard takes time, hard work, and knowledge to do the job safely and correctly. Our experts have been providing quality care and maintenance for the greater Capital Region for more than 28 years so you can enjoy life outdoors as much as possible. Allow us to do the work for you, so you can enjoy time with family or friends, rather than worry about yard work taking over your downtime. Contact us today to get started!


How To Weed An Overgrown Garden

The best way to weed a garden is to remove weeds when they are small, and remove them frequently--daily, if possible. Sometimes, however, you must be away from your garden for extended periods because of travel, illness, or other interruptions. Finally you are able to go back to the garden--and discover a jungle. Here's how to get your garden back.

Make it easy on yourself. Make sure the bed is moist, either from recent rainfall or from supplemental irrigation. Set aside a couple of hours so you can go at a relaxed pace, and avoid the hottest part of the day. If the location is in shade for part of the day, try to weed then. It will be easier on you and the plants.

Equip yourself properly. You'll be going after some really big weeds, and a little hand cultivator just won't cut it. Make sure you have a garden fork and a serious trowel, as well as leather gloves for the prickly weeds. Slather yourself with sunblock, wear a hat, and bring a drink.

Pace the work. Be realistic. You're probably not going to get it all done in one day, but you want it to look better than when you started, right? It is better to go after one particular weed, or one type of weed, throughout the whole bed, than it is to focus on one square foot and get every single weed.

Scan the bed. Which weeds are already past blooming, and are going to seed? Get them first. Push your garden fork straight down at the base of the weed, and pry it up. Now grab it below the crown, and see if you can get all of it.

After you've gotten all the seeders, go after the big weeds that are currently blooming. "Big" is the key concept here. You will be amazed at how much better your bed will look after all the space hogs are gone. Now go after the things trying to set up permanent residence, such as: tree and shrub seedlings (save if you want to plant them somewhere else), brambles, poison ivy, and anything else you know to be really invasive.

Now, stand back and take a look. It does look better, doesn't it? But it's not done by a long shot, right? Get a drink, stretch, and rake up and haul away everything you've yanked so far. Water any plant that had to be seriously disturbed, especially if rain isn't in the forecast.

At this point you shift from the big picture, to individual crops or plants.

Prioritize. What crop or flowers do you most want to rescue? Weed that thoroughly next, and top it off with mulch. When you've taken care of your most valued plants, mentally divide the rest of the garden into squares, and weed one square at a time. The squares should be proportional to the amount of time you have on hand, and each freshly weeded area should be mulched before weeding the next one.

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Restoring an Old Overgrown Garden - A Gardening Lesson

By Chloe Mia | Submitted On January 17, 2010

If you, like me, inherit an old overgrown garden, resist the urge to hack it down and dig it up. Instead stand back and watch the gifts your garden wants to give you through the seasons. The spring may bring bulbs you never knew were there. You can also make notes about how much sun each garden bed receives. Weed, mulch and take notes. Also, stroll around the streets in your neighborhood and see what grows well. More notes in your garden diary. Check out the climate! Is it shady? Which parts will get direct sunlight and for how long each day? Then chat with your local pant nursery to choose the ideal plants for each section. Buy ones that are rugged survivors with the gift of spreading, propagating themselves and staying lush all year round. Position plants together that have similar watering needs. This will give you a huge head start.

While you are waiting make a mulch heap of all your lawn clippings and bland vegetable peelings. Never put in onions, garlic or chillies. Avoid rotting fruit, which could attract the dreaded fruit fly! And definitely no meat! Choose a hidden sunny spot for your mulch heap, because warmth gets the break-down microbes working. Mine was under a rangy, sparse-leafed tree near the back fence. A lot of goodness will seep down and feed the roots, but keep the mulch heap away from the trunk as it could cause rot. Incidentally, you will probably soon find wonderful worms breeding at the bottom of your mulch heap. Spread them around other parts of your garden.

If you inherit a backyard of ancient trees they probably haven't been loved or pruned for years. Buy a bag of blood and bone, throw it around their roots and water it in. Old folk need special care to get their energy back!

Old citrus trees, such as orange, lime or lemon, need to be checked for fruit wasps burrowing in the trunk or old branches. Usually these are found near the forks where limbs meet. Instead of poison, I give the hole a good poke with a metal skewer, followed by a flooding of vinegar and water mixed 50:50. Next day, powder the area thoroughly with borax. When pruning citrus trees, cut recent growth that has green stems. Then trim the height so you will be able to reach the fruit next season. Ideally, citrus should be trimmed into a ball shape, so the sun can ripen all the fruit. Pruning is best done in autumn, when you will recognise recent growth because the stems are still greenish.

Weeds in a brick-paving courtyard can be a problem. Resist the urge to tackle them with a spray or pour-on weedkiller. Instead try boiling water, this does the job nicely! Just make sure you pour on enough to cook the roots. Putting some salt over them first helps too. Well these are just some of the lessons I have learned from trial and error in my back yard.