Most homeowners at some point have faced the worrisome hassle of a messy overgrown yard. Maybe you were working a lot or on vacation or life just happened and now things are out of control. The dandelions are blooming, the grass is tall, and that old stack of leftover lumber is still around. What to do?
Well, I’m familiar with this feeling of angsty despair. Not only because I have a garden that occasionally transforms into a tangle of weeds and junk (see photo above) but because I help people whose yards have become that as well. Sometimes homeowners toss up their hands and hire professional help (like me). But if your budget doesn’t permit that, you can at least get a hold on the mess if you focus on three things.
Focus on the Most Traveled Spaces
When I meet with clients, they’re often overwhelmed by every part of their yard. They may have weeds along the front walkway, giant overgrown shrubs by the garage, a compacted lawn with bare spots, and so on. So the first question I ask is, “Where do you enter the house most often?” If the answer’s the front walkway, then we start there. If the answer is along this border that connects the driveway to the house, then we start there. In other words, we tackle the space they see the most in their daily lives.
You don’t have to clean up the junk by the garage if you don’t see it often. But those weeds by the front walkway you go past every morning and evening? You need to neutralize those as soon as possible. If you do, you’ll notice how you don’t feel instantly depressed when you come home from work every day. It’s a lot of bang for the buck.
Remove the Biggest Eyesore
The next thing to neutralize is whatever eyesore gives you the most worry. If, while washing dishes, you often glance out the window and see a dirty pile of lumber scraps, concrete pieces, and broken clay pots, you automatically feel crappy. And the reminder is constant because you’re probably at your sink, at least for a few minutes, every day. So take an hour, put on your gloves, get help if you can, and load up that stuff to take away. Sometimes you can even call a low-cost junk-hauling service if it won’t fit in your car. But removing that eye sore is the quickest way for your heart rate to lower and to feel much more at ease.
I also realize sometimes those eyesores are the result of an unfinished project. Maybe you wanted to build raised beds for a vegetable garden but you ran out of steam. Maybe you were going to install wall stones for terracing, or dig out a patio space and fill it in with gravel. But for whatever reason the project stopped and now you have to see it every day. If that’s the case, then stack it all nicely and get a brown or black, not blue, tarp and cover it as neatly as possible. Or move the materials to an area where you can’t see them every day. This will increase your happiness ten-fold.
Address the One Feature Used Most
This aligns with that unfinished project. If you haven’t finished a flagstone patio but your family likes to eat outside every warm day of the year, it’s worth your time, money, and peace of mind to finish that project. Same for a kids’ playset or a homemade fire pit. Even if the project’s big and difficult, it’s worth tackling. Afterward, each time you step into that space, you’ll feel great for not only following through but making your mental health a priority. A completed space is a healing space.
But what if, from that relaxing patio, all you see are weeds and/or overgrown shrubs? Then you prioritize. Branches that knock you in the face need to be pruned. Weeds that are blooming currently or are about to need pulling. I don’t weed often during the rainy days of March in Seattle but when I do, I focus on shotweed like a laser. Because shotweed throws off hundreds of seeds per plant, I’m preventing an explosion of weeds in summer. Similarly, when dandelions bloom, I walk around and pluck off their flowers to keep the population down until I can dig them out later. Each dandelion plant can produce up to 2000 seeds so if you don’t have time to weed, at least pluck their pretty little heads off. Mowing sometimes works but not always as their stems are rubbery and can slip past a mower’s blades.
Final Bit of Advice
The last thing I recommend is not to despair. Plants grow because they’re happy, even annoying ones like prickly thistles or blackberry brambles. Nature happens whether we want it to or not. So try to change your perspective and let go of your impulse to control. If you have dandelions, well, at least the bees have a temporary food source. If your shrubs are overgrown, at least birds can build safe nests inside. Forgive yourself for wanting to make your yard prettier but not having the energy to finish it all. A messy overgrown yard is really just a thriving natural space. Enjoy it for what it is until you can tidy up and appreciate a more finished beautiful garden.