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How to Tame an Overgrown Garden

If you’ve got an overgrown garden and don’t know where to start, don’t worry! You can transform your unruly garden into a beautiful, organized space with time and effort. Learn how to tame an overgrown garden to set up the garden of your dreams.

Whether your garden got out of control or you’re moving into a new home with a yard the previous owner neglected, you can still have a beautiful garden! Even if your garden is overgrown with weeds and brambles, you can get it back under control with a few tools and a little planning.

As we go along with our step-by-step instructions, I’m going to demonstrate with pictures just one of many overgrown gardens that we have tamed since moving into our current home.

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Best Tools for Clearing an Overgrown Garden

Especially if you’re working on an overgrown yard on a new property, you might not have the right tools to get control of your garden. I recommend using the following tools to tame an unruly garden.

  • Puncture-resistant gardening gloves: If you’re dealing with thorny brambles or poison ivy, you’ll be thankful you’re wearing the sturdiest gloves.
  • Padded kneeling mat: Protect your knees with a firm mat while you dig out a root system or pull weeds.
  • Buckets or wheelbarrow for clearing rogue plants: Plan where and how to deal with your trimmings. Your home compost pile may fill up quickly from a big yard, so have a backup plan. Unless you live in a warm climate, I don’t recommend putting weeds or invasive species into your home compost. I personally love my gorilla cart.
  • Lawnmower and string trimmer: These make it easy to tackle an overgrown lawn and tidy up your garden edges. We love this trimmerIt’s 5 years old and going strong.
  • Electric hedge trimmer: This is the easiest way to deal with an overgrown shrub. Depending on what you’re dealing with, a chain saw may also be a necessity.
  • Loppers: Use these to hand-trim tree branches or vines.
  • Various hand tools: I prefer to have a variety of small handheld tools to deal with dense roots and overgrown weeds. Some great options include a hori hori knife, hand shovel, and a hand fork. My CobraHead Weeder is hands down my favorite tool for removing tough weeds.

If you don’t have these tools, ask around and you’ll likely be able to borrow them. Or, for bigger tools, you might consider renting.

How to Tame an Overgrown Garden in 12 Easy Steps

The following steps for restoring a neglected garden will help you know what you want and how to get there. It’ll take a bit of hard work, but it’s worth it!

1. Assess the Situation

The first thing to do is to take a step back and assess the situation. Look at your plants and garden beds and decide what you want to keep. Are there mature trees or perennial plants you’d love to bring back to life? Let those be the focal points of your new garden design.

Once you know what you want to keep, list exactly what needs to happen. Depending on the size of the garden or project, clearing an overgrown flower bed or two will only take a couple of hours. However, if you’re clearing a garden jungle, it can take a long time. That’s okay! Good things take time, and gardeners know that better than anyone!

If you have the means, consider consulting a professional landscaper. Especially if your yard is really overgrown or you’re new to an area, a professional can tell you which plants need to go and which to keep. They’ll also be able to offer some design guidance if you want a specific garden look. The initial cost may save you so much time and an expensive learning curve.

Overgrown corner of a yard.
Back corner when we moved in. Lots of overgrown lilacs and invasive buckthorn. Also, lots of unhealthy trees too close together.

2. Set a Budget

Even if you think you can tackle your wild garden for free, you will almost always have some expenses. Dealing with overgrown weeds is one thing; designing an entire backyard is another. 

How much money do you need to save for replacing broken tools, buying new plants, ordering mulch or garden soil, and such? The next step is to save a little each month, and refresh your garden without going overboard. For more tips on making a budget for your flower garden project, check out this post.

Pick up your copy of a garden project budget sheet in the Gingham Gardens Resources Library. Get your password by signing up with the form below.

3. Set a Schedule

Divide your garden makeover into sections and work on one area at a time. This will make it easier to track what you’ve done and what still needs to be done.

4. Ask for Help

Although it may be entirely possible to refresh your entire garden on your own, it’s a lot faster, easier, and way more fun working with someone else! Set up a work party and invite your friends, family, or neighbors. You can also arrange professional help if it’s a tremendous job. 

5. Remove Dead Plants & Trash

Clear weeds, dead trees, or debris from your messy garden. Clearing out the clutter will make it easier to see what you’re working with. Then start pruning back any undesirable plants that have grown out of control. Use a regular lawn mower and remove the grass clippings. This will help give your garden a more manageable shape and a good place to assemble supplies and materials.

Man cutting done brush in an overgrown garden.
Hubs using a chainsaw to cut down overgrown lilacs that weren’t growing well because of too much shade.

6. Get Digging

Dig deep to remove the roots if you’re dealing with weeds or other unwanted plants. Otherwise, they’ll grow back again. You can also divide perennials or tall grass to replant them in another area. 

Some invasive plants or noxious weeds must be disposed of by burning or throwing them away in black trash bags. Check your local Noxious Weed Control Board, or local gardening extension for more information on disposing of invasive species.

Overgrown garden.
We thought if the little pine tree got some more light it would survive, but it did not. Lots of wild violets, buck thorn and lots of other undesirable weeds.

7. Trim Hedges

Get the hedge trimmer and tidy up large plants like bushes, ornamental trees, and shrubs. Don’t forget to prune trees too. It’s a good idea to do this in the late winter or early spring to avoid straining the plant.

8. Replant

Once you’ve cleared out the clutter, pruned back the overgrown plants, and removed any weed growth, start replanting. Choose plants well-suited to your climate and soil type, and give them plenty of space to grow. Before you take the time to replant, be sure to check out – How to Makeover a Flower Garden for more excellent tips.

Overgrown Garden
We dug and dug, and dug some more. We put down cardboard and spread grass clippings on top to choke out weeds.

9. Create Paths

If your garden is large, consider creating a garden path or two to help break up the space and make it easier to navigate. This will also make your garden look more organized.

Beautiful shade garden with bench.
The hard work paid off!

10. Fertilize

If your garden has been neglected for a long time, you may need to supplement it with fertilizer or organic matter. Be sure to check out the growing conditions your plants require and choose a fertilizer that’s right for your area and soil type.

11. Mulch

Add a layer of mulch to your garden to suppress new weeds and retain soil moisture. It will also give your garden a neat, tidy appearance, eliminating that overgrown wild look.

Beautiful shade garden

12. Maintain

Once you’ve tamed your overgrown garden, the best way to keep it that way is with garden maintenance, like regular pruning, mowing, weeding, and watering. With care, you can prevent your garden from becoming overgrown again with relative ease.

Always take pictures of your overgrown garden project – the before, the process and the after. You’ll find that it’s so gratifying to look at the before and after pictures over and over. It also serves as motivation for your next project.

Before and after images of an overgrown garden transformation.

This is just one small corner of our yard that we have performed a major transformation on. Here are more of our garden makeover projects:

Garden Makeover on A Sloped Hill
Flower Bed Makeover – Before and After
Shade Garden Makeover
Driveway Flower Bed Redo

Although taming an overgrown garden may seem daunting, it’s manageable with a bit of time and effort. By following these tips, you can transform your unruly garden into a beautiful, organized space that you can enjoy for years. Do you have an overgrown garden, or an unsightly area in your yard that you would like to tame? Leave a comment below and tell me about it.

Happy Gardening,

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Image of an overgrown garden with text overlay 12 easy steps to tame an overgrown garden it's labor intensive, but worth it? Come see the after!

Image of an overgrown garden with text overlay - 12 easy steps to tame an overgrown garden.

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