How to tame a wild-looking garden

Tame an untidy garden and make it pretty in just a few days' work

Tangled, dry vines. Wild-looking seedlings sprouting up everywhere. Grass and plants mixed up. Branches overflowing, spilling into passageways, spilling into other plants’ private space. Plants looking sad and garden looking overgrown. That sounds like a sad sight. So much potential wasted.

Perhaps you’ve visited your grandmother’s neglected garden. Perhaps you’ve stumbled across your own little Secret Garden. Whatever be the case, it can be fixed – in just a few days.

(Note: This article is for working on an overgrown garden to make it aesthetically pleasing. For tips on how to tend to a sick or tired looking garden, head to my article here. Some tips may overlap in the two articles, but for entirely different reasons.)

Weed or thin out plants

If a space has been neglected for a while, it is almost certain that weeds will have popped up. Remove these – either by pulling them up, digging them out, or simply by cutting them down. In addition, the desired plants will also have borne ‘children’, or dropped seeds, which means your garden may be overpopulated with desirable plants. You’ll need to thin these out. Pull them up by the roots, keeping the healthiest looking plants.

Cut off lower branches, old leaves

The lower branches on most plants can be removed, as these are the oldest, and are often dying. You will find, if you notice, that the lower branches have the most yellow leaves too. Remove those. This will clear up the space a few inches above the ground. Collect the branches and leaves you’ve removed, and after discarding the unhealthy ones, you’ll be left with material you can use as mulch, or in your compost heap.

Make efficient use of space

This point needs to be noted before you proceed to the next two, as both trimming and relocating need to be done keeping space in mind. Back up from the garden a bit and take a good look at it. See where the sun falls, where the walls are, how tall they are. See what kind of plants you have growing where. Now, make plans for the garden to make use of vertical and horizontal space efficiently, as well as sunny and shady areas. Now, trim and relocate the plants keeping this plan in mind.


Now comes the fun part. Trimming gives me fierce satisfaction, because it entails cutting things up and causing constructive destruction (oxymoron!). Grab a pair of scissors, knife or secateurs – as per your requirements – and first of all remove tangled or overlapping branches. Make sure your plants all keep to themselves, and don’t stray into others’ territory. Remove unhealthy or leggy branches, and branches that obstruct paths. Also pinch off the tips of stems where you haven’t done any pruning, to encourage new growth.

Make sure you don’t trim more than 1/3 of the total plant size, and after 1-2 months, come back to check whether healthy new growth has formed. Remove unhealthy growth (scraggly branches, small leaves), if any. Trim again after 2-3 months.

Move or remove plants

Now that you’ve got the area looking lighter, you need to do the fine tuning. Move or relocate plants from areas where they shouldn’t be, to areas where they should. This can be done if plants are in the middle of pathways, too close to boundaries, or intruding in beds where other plants are established. You can then use these plants to fill up empty spots, start a new bed, put them in their own bed, or give them away to friends.

Plant cover crops

This one’s tied in with the point above. If, after weeding and thinning out, you’re left with empty patches of land where you don’t have anything to put, you can use rescues from around your own garden. Failing that, you should plant some cover crops. This is to keep the soil covered so it looks good, and also to prevent erosion. Fast-growing or sprawling plants can be planted, or you can grow leguminous plants (beans, peas etc.) which will enrich the soil.


Remove spent flowers from plants. This’ll keep the plants looking clean, and prevent the flowers from rotting on the plant. If the garden is large, or there are a lot of flowers, focus on deadheading in the areas that are the most visible.

Bonus tip: If the soil looks sad and tired, it’d be a good idea to apply mulch using the leaves you’ve removed in the process of tidying up. However, mulch won’t make your garden look much tidier, so applying fertilizer may be a better idea. This would require you to obtain some fertilizer, but the growth will be worth it. For a list of free organic fertilizers, visit my article here.

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