Reclaiming An Overgrown Yard

February 28, 2016 | By | Comments (20)
Overgrown yard

Before. Photo: Steve Bender

My stepson, Tom, and his fiancee, Ashley, just bought their first house. They were excited, but also intimidated by the overwhelming tasks that awaited. For 10 years, the little old lady who sold the house hadn’t cleaned inside (she had pets in there — hazmat suits required) nor trimmed anything outside. What plants should Tom and Ashley remove? What should they leave? Fortunately, they called the right people — Mr. and Mrs. Grumpy.

We brought with us the big guns — pruning saw, pole saw, heavy-duty loppers, pruning shears, string trimmer, blower, yard rake, and hedge trimmer. When we saw exactly what awaited, I wished we had added a chainsaw and Bobcat.

The Daunting Task 
From what I was told, the previous owner had once enjoyed an “English cottage style” garden with lots of roses, bulbs, perennials, and flowering vines, trees, and shrubs. Indeed, I could spot little daffodils, bearded iris, and spider lilies poking up. All that stuff takes constant vigilance lest it take over. She was not able to do this. Thus, garbage can plants like Chinese privet, Japanese honeysuckle, nandina, smilax, and winged elm had seeded themselves in and grown into monsters blocking the front entrance. An unpruned crepe myrtle was rubbing up against wood siding. And a Carolina jessamine vine trained over the garage door was doing what vines do naturally — swallowing everything in sight. (The back yard was much worse.) So this is what we did one Saturday morning.

Overgrown yard.

After. Photo: Steve Bender

Job #1. Prune the crepe myrtle. Fortunately, Tom and Ashley had called on the most qualified Grump in the world to do this. The tree still needs a little work, but basically what I did was remove any branches touching the house or growing toward it (there must always be free air movement between the house and plants); remove all dead branches; remove all rubbing and crossing branches; and cut out all branches growing inwards towards the center of the tree, instead of growing up and out.

Job #2. Cut down the ugly privet and nandina hiding the front walk. This gave me great joy. All trunks were treated with herbicide to prevent regrowth. We decided to spare the ‘Coral Bells’ azalea and pair of yuccas under the downstairs window that our pruning had revealed.

Job #3. Cut out the Carolina jessamine over the garage door that brushed every car that came out or went in. Eventually the vine will be cut to the ground and trained on a new trellis so that it doesn’t touch wood or get in the way.

Job #4. Remove all the detritus that had accumulated during 10 years of neglect. This included about a ton of pine straw, dozens of pots with dead plants in them, and plastic flats of plants that were never planted. We also unearthed the body of Jimmy Hoffa and notified the authorities.

The Job That Remains
Mrs. Grumpy and I were proud of the change we were able to effect during the course of a morning and a six-pack of beer. Obviously, though, much still needs to be done. Those rotten RR ties have to go. So do the window boxes and shutters (new siding will take care of that). And don’t even get me started on the bizarre garage door.

What will we add? Well, some sort of low stone or brick retaining wall in place of the RR ties. Low-growing, slow-growing evergreens in place of the privet. And a couple of low, mounding shrubs and ground cover in front of the bare brick wall.

Stay tuned for when Mr. & Mrs. Grumpy tackle the back yard. That’s gonna require an entire chilled keg!




  1. Anne Blazek

    The best thing to do is get rid of the vines on the side of the house. They will grow up underneath your siding and pop it out. I know from experience it happened to my parents

    March 2, 2016 at 7:56 pm
  2. Steve

    You forgot your axe and shovel?

    March 1, 2016 at 9:08 am
  3. Kathleen

    They’re blessed to have family like you to lend a hand.

    February 29, 2016 at 1:20 pm
  4. Allyson Marxsen

    I’d love to see pictures after you put the new plants in!

    February 29, 2016 at 8:57 am
  5. Brynn

    I really hope “pets inside” doesn’t equal “cat/dog piss” for them; you can’t get that out without literally ripping out/replacing whatever’s damaged.
    And yeah, ditto on what do you use on privet to keep it from coming back? We have it, and regular Roundup does nothing, nor does the poison ivy Roundup (I cut it back to a few inches high, strip the bark, and paint the whole nub, but it still regrows). It spreads like crazy. I hate it, more than I hate the wisteria and honeysuckle that the previous owners let overgrow the wooded areas.

    February 29, 2016 at 8:23 am
  6. Elly Jones

    Living on a hill is always a problem with parking, so I would like to see railroad ties removed and parking spaces provided. This also allows not having to back out into street. A larger porch entrance would be nice.

    February 28, 2016 at 5:41 pm
  7. Tammy Pierce

    The before photo makes the house look like it is screaming for help.

    February 28, 2016 at 5:02 pm
  8. Barb Philips

    If they didn’t have the two of you, would they have been wise to buy a home so poorly taken care of. Hate to see what they face on the inside!

    February 28, 2016 at 4:42 pm
  9. Diana

    This is his prior post listing some of the negatives of nandina.

    February 28, 2016 at 3:53 pm
  10. Stephanie Trommer

    I like the flower boxes. Adds charm to any home

    February 28, 2016 at 2:59 pm
  11. Phyllis Cook

    I like Nandina. Grumpy and Mrs. you are welcome to come help me plant an acre yard that was empty when we moved in. The house was 7 years old w/o a plant in site!

    February 28, 2016 at 2:49 pm
  12. Libby Long

    What do you use on the Privet stumps to prevent regrowth? I have a terrible time with Privet at my house. How about Green Briar vines? Can I use the same herbicide?

    February 28, 2016 at 2:46 pm
  13. Peyton

    My kind of yard work or house chores. Always start with a 6-pack of beer. I do have a rule my wife makes me follow. I can’t start on the beer until I am at least half done. Unfortunately, she decides what is half.

    February 28, 2016 at 2:46 pm
  14. Kathy

    I am in the same process with our overgrown and neglected yard by previous owners. Looks like it is going to take about three loads to prune, rip out and get rid of everything. Whew!

    February 28, 2016 at 2:34 pm
  15. Vicki Brawley

    I can not wait to hear and see all that you do to this yard. I am on the fence about nandina so I look forward to your reply about why you think it is a garbage can plant. As for the window boxes, i think they are a pain in the neck to take care of consistently. Great article!

    February 28, 2016 at 2:23 pm
  16. vickib501 (@vickib501)

    I love Nandina bushes! The red berries are so beautiful and I always used them in holiday arrangements. My mother had a Nandina bush in front of our house growing up – it is where she picked her switches to punish us with!

    February 28, 2016 at 1:21 pm
  17. Doreen

    I hope the Window Boxes will be filled with colorful plantings.

    February 28, 2016 at 12:55 pm
  18. Gloria Shirley

    What’s wrong with nandina?

    February 28, 2016 at 11:51 am
  19. joAnn

    Gee I wish I had you come and fix my backyard. Looks good can’t wait to see backyard

    February 28, 2016 at 11:25 am
  20. Susan Gailes

    They are so lucky to have your help and expertise!

    February 28, 2016 at 10:27 am

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s