Weeds. Dead plants. Debris. Rocks.
It’s easy to find yourself overwhelmed when you find yourself staring at a garden filled with all kinds of things that are…well, not that useful.
If you just purchased a plot of land and find that Mother Nature has wreaked havoc on it, or if you let your own chunk of paradise sit a bit too long untended, don’t worry. There are plenty of ways you can rejuvenate and restore your neglected garden to its former vitality, and it doesn’t have to be backbreaking work either.
When you want to rejuvenate and restore a neglected garden, it starts with a few simple baby steps – and there are plenty of reasons to consider revitalizing your garden.
Why You Should Consider Restoring Your Garden
Restoring a neglected garden can be quite a hefty task, but it’s worth the effort. Not only can a garden that’s grown out of control be challenging to manage (and to regain control of) but the weeds can interfere with your soil health and even walkways to your home.
Plus, overgrown gardens often contain harmful, poisonous plants (like poison ivy) and can even harbor pests. Even if you have a perfectly beautiful garden adjacent to the overgrown one and don’t really need the extra space, getting rid of overgrown, out-of-control areas can help improve the health of your existing garden space, too.
How to Rejuvenate and Restore a Neglected Garden
1. Take Baby Steps
Your first step to restore and rejuvenate your neglected garden is to take baby steps. Don’t expect to get the whole thing done in a day. Not only will you find this too overwhelming, but you’ll likely have difficulty tackling all of these tasks at once. Some are best done sequentially instead of all together.
In some cases, it might even benefit you to wait a full year to begin working on tidying up your neglected garden space. This will allow you to see what the “natural” garden looks like in all seasons. You will be able to get an idea of where the sun hits certain plants and which plants are in shadier areas. What might not look like much now could blossom into beautiful foliage come spring.
2. Make a List
While you’re deciding what you want to do, take the time to make a list about what you like and dislike about the current garden space. Try to be positive here – there’s something beautiful in every wild place, even if looking at the weeds is absolutely killing you.
Write down everything you see that needs to be changed, and everything that can be kept the same. Decide which plants (if any) you want to keep and which ones definitely need to go.
3. Identify All Plants Before Beginning
If you don’t follow any other advice on this list, make sure you at least heed this one important tip – make sure you know what everything is before you start handling it.
Overgrown gardens are favorite habitats for poisonous plants like poison ivy and poison hemlock. Many plants have look-alikes, too, so invest in a good plant identification book and take your time when clearing the garden.
4. Add Organic Matter
Test your soil to see what kind of nutrients it might be deficient in. Resist the urge to add fertilizer or organic matter right off the bat because you might find that your soil actually isn’t lacking in any kind of nutrients.
In fact, weeds often take hold in overly fertile soil – so adding more organic matter won’t necessarily help you out!
5. Cut Back Weeds and Shrubs
Your next step is to start clearing the house. You need to get rid of any weeds or shrubs that you don’t intend to keep. In most cases, these can be pulled or chopped and tossed directly into the compost. Other times, you may have to dispose of them in an alternative way (which I’ll discuss momentarily).
Remember, too, that you don’t have to leave plants that you don’t like just because they aren’t “technically” considered weeds. A weed is just a plant that you don’t want in your given garden space. If you think it could serve a better purpose elsewhere, you may be able to transplant it. For great ideas, see our post explaining how to use weeds.
While you cut back any overgrown weeds and shrubs you see, you might want to wait on any trees. These can be tough to remove without a chainsaw and they take an incredibly long time to grow, as you know. Rather than cutting all of the trees in the garden right away, consider whether any might be more beneficial left right where they currently are.
After all, you may be able to use them as shade providers to some cold-loving plants.
Otherwise, all plants should be cut back to the soil line. Use a heavy-duty pair of shears to do this.
6. Mark the Location of Rocks
If you’re going to be adding new plants to the garden – which you likely are – you will want to mark the location of any rocks. Large rocks were probably plowed around at one point in time, so you can plow around them, too. However, any rocks that you can feasibly move should be moved.
A good way to tell the size of a rock is to hit it with a crowbar. If it makes a high-pitched noise, it probably needs to be dug out and is an exceptionally large rock. If it makes a duller noise, you might be able to pull it out with your hands.
Better yet, if you can work your way around building your garden within or around the rocks you found there, then do it! See these rock garden ideas on how to go about it.
7. Consider Rejuvenation Pruning and Trimming
If you don’t want to cut down or pull out all of the plants in the garden, you may want to just give it a heavy pruning. This will free up more space in the garden and will also make your plants healthier, as it will encourage fresh growth.
Now is also the time to mow the grass, trim any unruly growth, and reseed any bare patches of grass, if you intend to plant grass cover in your garden area.
8. Get Weeds Under Control
There are tons of ways you can get weeds under control, from laying down a heavy layer of mulch to engaging in some good old fashioned weed pulling.
You can also use herbicides to get rid of weeds – although you need to be careful with these, as they can lower soil fertility – or organic methods like solarization. Solarization involves placing large rolls of plastic (usually thin and clear plastic) over the soil.
The plastic will use the heat of the sun to raise soil temperatures. This not only eliminates weeds but can also kill pests living in the soil, too.
9. Select a Theme
Your next step is to decide what you want your garden to look like. You handled the garden of the past, so now it’s time to create the garden of your future.
It’s easy to get carried away with all of the options and to simply settle for planting hundreds of different types of plants in your garden. This can easily get overwhelming, however, both for the garden and for you.
Instead, stick to a theme. Do you want an Asian-inspired garden with beautiful waterfalls and other natural elements? We discuss several options in how to create a water garden. Or are you more in the mood for a classic vegetable garden or French garden? Whatever your choice is, pick a theme and stick to it – and only plant species that fit well within that theme. This can help prevent your garden from overwhelming you in the future.
10. Be Cautious in Disposing of Dangerous Plants
Watch out for hidden dangers that lurk in your garden. This is why you will want to wear gloves when you are working to restore and rejuvenate your garden space – you never know what you will come into contact with!
While some plants are only toxic when ingested, there are others that can cause a painful rash upon contact. Some to avoid include:
- Poison ivy
- Wood nettle
- Poison sumac
- Stinging nettle
- Poison oak
- Giant hogweed
If you come into contact with a poisonous plant, don’t try to compost or burn it. Instead, toss it in a heavy plastic bag, tie it securely, and place it in the trash or haul it to a disposal facility. This will prevent any kind of contamination.
11. Consider a Cover Crop to Restore a Neglected Garden
If you have some time to spare between when you are overhauling the old garden and when you are planting the new, you may want to consider planting a cover crop.
Cover crops, also known as manure crops, are plants that you can grow wherever you want your garden to be. Many can be used for forage, but even if you choose not to do this, they can help add necessary fertility.
Rye is one popular green manure crop, while others that can help build your soil include cowpeas, alfalfa, oats, mustard, timothy, and winter peas. Some are meant to be planted in the fall while others are planted in the spring. They not only help fertilize the soil but can also help reduce weed competition, too.
12. Plant in Rotation to Restore Fertility
Each year, plan out where you want your garden to be. Change up where you plant each family of crops (like brassicas and cole crops) each year so that you won’t have to worry about deteriorating the fertility of your soil. This can also prevent pests from wreaking havoc on your garden, too.
Keeping Your Garden Maintained In the Future
The easiest way to rejuvenate and restore a neglected garden is, of course, not to let it get out of hand in the first place! Keep all of your gardening equipment (like your lawnmower, pruning shears, spade, and gardening gloves) somewhere they are easily accessed. That way, it will be easier to engage in garden maintenance tasks later on.
Stay on top of any growth that is getting out of hand. Not only can it make your garden look messy, but it can cause plants to become overcrowded and sick. You won’t be able to get rid of every single weed in your garden, but staying on top of your gardening chores can eliminate the need for major overhaul projects like this in the future!