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Check out our useful hints and tips articles to help you get the best out of your garden.

How to clear an overgrown garden in a weekend

Overgrown garden. Photograph by Graham Soult

Clearing an overgrown garden is an intimidating task. Mother Nature takes over outdoors spaces very quickly if we don't keep on top of the work.

Perhaps you've neglected the garden, moved house, or finally got an allotment - whatever the reason, here's how to clear that space in a weekend.

Enlist help

You could pay a landscaping team to clear your overgrown garden but this is an expensive business. If you have the time and you're willing to get stuck in, clearing a garden is extremely satisfying and good exercise too. You'll get more done if you have help, so beg or bribe your family and friends for assistance, even if they just bring you drinks and sandwiches.

Dress properly

Clearing back an overgrown garden has its perils so make sure you are dressed safely. Wear sturdy shoes, preferably strong boots, just in case you put a fork through your foot. Sturdy shoes will stop you falling over too. Trainers are not a good idea as they have little grip, and even on the hottest days deep overgrown grass remains damp.

You'll also need long trousers and sleeves for protection against brambles, stinging nettles and biting insects. Finally, strong gardening gloves are essential because you don't know what you'll find in the undergrowth - it could be sharp or dangerous.

Tackle the big stuff

Before you start attacking the greenery, pick up anything loose such as dumped rubbish. If this includes broken glass it's worth taking your time to make sure it's safely removed.

After rubbish removal, the first bits to tackle are large overgrown shrubs, hedges or trees so the light can stream in. This makes a safer working environment and also boosts your sprits as you'll see the difference straight away.

Cut back overgrown branches with loppers and secateurs in small sections so it's manageable. If you want to remove a whole shrub or small trees then dig around with a spade and lever it out by the roots. Don't leave a few inches of sharp stem poking out of the ground as you could injure yourself or damage your lawn mower.

Don't cut down any trees without checking. The local council can prosecute anyone that removes trees.

A garden shredder

You're probably wondering what to do with all that woody debris? The best option is to chip it using a garden shredder.

It's not possible to clear an overgrown garden effectively in a weekend without a good garden shredder. For advice on the best models, see here. The volume of green waste is overwhelming, particularly if you're clearing in spring and summer. A garden shredder can turn woody waste into mulch and bark chippings quickly and efficiently, and you won't be left with an unruly pile of waste that covers the area you've just managed to clear.

Make it easier on yourself by chipping the prunings as soon as you cut them and storing them in a wheelbarrow or large sack for use on the following day. The benefit of using a garden shredder is how it cuts back on tedious chopping-up time. There's nothing worse than being left with a big pile of branches and twigs after a day of cutting back overgrowth. You can double-shred woody waste to make a compost heap too. Hold onto some bark chippings though, because it makes excellent mulch.

Clearing the ground

Once you've cut back and shredded the large shrubs, overgrown hedges and tree branches, you'll need to strim the overgrown grassed areas. Hedgehogs, grass snakes, frogs, rats and mice all hide in the undergrowth so be careful. You should also keep an eye out for wasp nests which can be dangerous if disturbed. Give wildlife time to move on by thoroughly poking through grassy, brambled areas with your fork before using a strimmer or any electrical tools.

If the ground is hard and compacted it's a good idea to hire or borrow a rotavator. Rotavating soil is a quick and labour-free way of digging through weed-filled or compacted soil. After rotavating its worth picking out the weeds, because they will re-grow quickly, but if you don't fancy that back-breaking work and you can't persuade a child to help you out, use a weed suppressant to slow down their growth.

Weed suppressants

Once you've cleared an area of ground, don't let that hard work go to waste, as Mother Nature moves fast. Cover the ground with a weed-suppressing plastic membrane and leave it in place for several months. You could also use the bark chippings you created with the garden shredder. It takes around five inches of bark mulch to suppress weeds, so the more you chip the better.

Keep your eyes peeled

Look out not only for potential hazards like thorns and wasps but also for reusable plants.

Dig up an area of garden or fill some tubs with compost as a temporary holding area for likely candidates. If you uncover expensive shrubs and bushes you've saved yourself some money. If not, just shred them at a later date. It's worth taking the time to identify shrubs before you cut them back. Rambling roses flower on last year's growth, so by cutting them back now you won't get flowers next year. The same goes for pyracantha. Other shrubs flower in late summer so if you cut them back in spring you won't get any blooms. If this concerns you take some time to identify the plants.

Here's a reminder of the tools you'll need:

  • Suitable clothing
  • A garden shredder
  • Secateurs
  • Shears
  • A fork and a spade
  • Gloves
  • Garden sacks / waste tubs
  • Lots of tea.

And potentially:

  • A strimmer
  • Rotavator
  • Weed-suppressing fabric.

One step at a time...

Clearing a garden is slow work, so don't rush, and take regular breaks to assess what you've achieved. If you cut back hedges and overgrown plants on day one and then approach the ground on day two you'll have the best chance of clearing it back within a weekend.

Clearing an overgrown garden is hard labour but ultimately satisfying when your garden is clear, looking presentable and, most importantly, is once again a usable open space.

Photo credit: braetschit at Pixabay

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