Clearing Up a Long Neglected Yard

I took over my sister's house and I don't know where to start or how to do it. The backyard is privately fenced in and has not been touched in about 3yrs. It has grown up with weeds and grass twice as high as the fence. I'm a little scared of what is living in it.


I have 3 children that would love to have a backyard to play in at some point. What would be the best way to take this jungle on? I can't even open the fence gate to take 1 step into it. She also left 3 big garbage cans full of trash, not with bags, just trash and food. By the looks of it they may have been here full for a long long time. There are bugs of all kinds crawling out of them. What should I do to get them out of here? I'm in such a mess, literally. Can someone help me?

Addendum: I should probably let it be known that the garbage man is a private company and will not take anything, but bags. I do not have a truck so I'm not sure how to get them out of here? I don't want to keep them by any means.

By sumdawn

June 23, 20110 found this helpful

The best thing to do is just dig in and get started. What works for one person, might not work for another. If you have a pick up just load the garbage cans up and take them to the dump or else put them out where the garbage gets picked up. Maybe put large garbage bags over the cans to keep the bugs from getting on you. As for the overgrown yard, before you can actually cut it with a lawn mower, you might have to find a scythe to cut the tall stuff down and then after that keep it trimmed with a lawn mower. I would think if there was snakes and critters in there you would have seen some of that stuff up by the house occasionally. Where I live if the yards get too long you get a notice from the city to get it taken care of or they hire somebody to do it for you, and bill you big time. You could also call different lawn services and have them come and give you an estimate on how much it would cost to have them do the yard the first time, providing you could afford to hire it done. Also maybe your church youth group would be willing to do something like that for a little pay to put in their treasury.

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June 23, 20110 found this helpful

You say you cannot open the gate. Can you get into the back yard through the house? Ideally a door, but even a window if you have to? Will you be doing this by yourself, or will you have another grown up to help you?

I'm surprised you (or your sister) haven't been fined. If you have the money, I agree that you might want to see about paying someone to cut everything down. After that you can continue to clean and maintain it. If you cannot afford it, a weed eater will help cut some of it down. But if it has been three years, I bet there are some young trees/saplings in the yard. A set of loppers will cut those down, and you can dig them up later. Even though we're in the heat of summer, you should probably wear jeans and long sleeves while cutting it all down. And wear some good shoes, too (no sandals!). This will help protect you from bugs, and anything like poison ivy. If you find poison ivy, you'll want to treat your clothing carefully. I know you have to wash them in hot water to help remove the oil. Do a little reading up on the internet for more information.

If you don't want to keep those nasty trash cans, I wonder if your city/town will haul them away for you. For a fee, we can schedule special trash pick up with our sanitation department. Normally this would be if you have something like mattresses, fencing material, and maybe appliances (although I'm not sure about that part). If it is as disgusting as you say, you might want to just slap on some gloves and drag them to the curb. You can buy another trash can.

Good luck to you. This sounds like a really big job. My parents are selling the house I grew up in (they close in a few days). They tell me it was a mess when they moved in, and I've seen pictures of the yard. But now it is gorgeous. It can be done, but it'll take time and hard work. I hope you and your kids enjoy it once it is cleaned up!

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June 23, 20110 found this helpful

I agree with Mrs. Story, I would start with a weed whacker. If you use one with a gas motor, it should create enough of a noise and a disturbance, to shoo away any critters as you advance. If something is growing that is too big to get cut off by the string, just keep going and come back later with the lopping shears. In addition to wearing jeans and long sleeves, don't forget ear protection and protective eye gear! If you can, get some poison ivy blocking lotion to apply to any exposed skin before you start, because you will end up "wearing" some of the juicier plants as you use the weed whacker. To begin with, just cut everything down, unless it is very obvious that it is something you may want to keep, like a rose bush. Find out what your municipality's policy is on "yard waste", you might do well to ask someone with a pick up truck to help you haul the yard waste to the recycling center. If that is not possible right now, pile the clippings and such in the farthest corner of the yard. They will lose volume, and you can get rid of them little by little.

You're probably just going to have to bite the bullet and drag the trash cans to the curb. If you can afford new cans, you can just try to get the hauler to take the cans, too. If, however the cans are in good shape, let them empty them, then hose them out. You can scrub them with soapy, bleach water, then leave them in the sun to dry.

It sounds like a bear of a job; but one you can do. And you will be teaching your children some valuable lessons as you do! Best of luck!

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June 24, 20110 found this helpful

1. Wear long sleeve shirt, long jeans, and a hat to protect your hair.

2. Buy yourself a really sturdy pair of leather work gloves.

3. Purchase a pair of lopers/pruners that can handle up to 2 inch branches

4. Purchase a garden fork, one you can get some leverage on, to lift out roots.

5. Rent or buy a weedwhacker

Begin at the gate. Start early in the mornings when it is still cool, work 2 hours, then clean up and rest. Don't try to do work like this in the heat of the day - restart in the evenings if you feel up to it. Do a patch everyday, I have cleaned out some nasty areas this way and I'm a petite girl. Trust me, creatures will run away from you as you work, especially if you take your time.

Good Luck!

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June 28, 20110 found this helpful

I feel your pain. I have been overwhelmed for years. I took charge 3 years ago of small sections and the satisfaction of success is contagious and encouraging. Here are my suggestions based on my life.

1. Start simple. I would start at your yard with the advice above to just plan to gain clean up and control. Maybe one small "beauty project" that is easy and cheap. Start simple and with high success i.e. sandbox for kids(pallets) or pea gravel around hose faucet with a couple of stepping stones-put down newspaper or plastic bags then the box or sand. Kills weeds and prevents mud. I have 3 raised veg beds from old lumber (Square Foot Gardening book). Look around for what can be reused. Wood Pallets are great for projects and many times free. Check out Recycle building supply places in your area (Habitat for Humanity has one here).

2. Weed Whacker is a must! (High School or College kid with Whacker is even better). I pay $8 and hour and put them in the area with very clear directions as to what to cut and where to pile the cuttings. Put 4 pallets together with wire in a "box" in the corner for a compost collector. Have the teen throw the clipping in there. You can add your food scraps. If you have critters or are in the city you may want a closed system. I got mine at the Metro recycle center here in Portland. (A little research and planning can save you big $$ in disposal and waste cost. ) I would expect to have the teen able to clear in one day of whacking, raking and piling.

3. Trash cans full of stuff: Cheap solution=you or hired help separate and compost, Recycle all you can. Some recycle places will take all plastics(including the cans, old toys, chairs etc) most will take the regular stuff of glass, metal etc. My garbage hauler has a drop off spot for everything if you will bring it in for free. ( aluminum, plastics, cardboard). They are a private hauler and only do curb recycle once a month) I got rid of everything from our yard and garage by the recycle and building reuse places without any fees. 15 years worth! If this is all too gross, have the kid bag it all and pay to dispose of by hauler, at least it is gone and you can move on. : )

3. Bark Dust, pea gravel and sand are your friends. Cheap and look good. Use as accents around garden, a special bed you are working on, water sources, paths.

4. Collect plants from friends and be creative. That bush they want gone can be trimmed down put in a corner. Some of my best landscape has come from people separating the day lilies or even mystery plants. I try and stay simple, native plants and perennials if possible-easy and successful. Fill in color with annuals. I did two beds last year that are slim (2-3 feet wide and 10 feet long) with all natives, perennials and gifted plants that were very cheap or free. This year they all came back beautifully! A little bark dust and it is very pretty. This year I am adding a few evergreens for something in the winter.

5. My kids played on cut weeds for their whole lives. I never worried about the dead grass from the plastic pools and slip and slides, sand out of the box or a little misplaced pea gravel. I threw out a few grass seeds once in awhile to add to the fill in factor. They are all grown now and remember fun, not fussy. We were the house of choice to play when they were younger as we had 7 and "kid" friendly environment. After 15 years, of living here, my husband dug up the backyard and put patio with pavers, flower beds and we even have sprinklers for the real grass! We sit on patio now and have quick mowing, but I still miss the slip and slide. I guess I will have to wait for grandkids.

Chop up the process. Enjoy the journey and memories with your kids helping you. Take pictures as you go. Have fun!

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June 28, 20110 found this helpful

If you're in the USA, check out this website It's lets you get in touch with a local military base in your area and look for someone who needs a little extra money for doing all types of things from yard work to painting and handyman, along with household help. Both the military and their spouses use this posting site to do/get work. Hope it helps ! Makes for a win/win situation.

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July 3, 20110 found this helpful

As Several have suggested, a weedeater and lopping shears are going to be your best friend for a while! Start at the gate or door and start cutting you an opening and some paths through the mess then expand the area every day until the mess is gone. As for recycling you can just recycle the sticks and limbs in a corner of the yard. There is even a type of green garden culture that uses woody material with a layer of topsoil on top as a base for raised flower and vegetable beds called hugelkultur. The rotting wood adds to the soil and actually helps to hold water for your plants

Once you have the weeds down go back with your lopping shears and cut the bigger stuff down and trim up the bushes. The critters are a lot more afraid of you than you are of them and except for wasps, etc are more than happy to get out of your way. As for the garbage you are just going to have to put on your big girl panties and a pair of gloves and stuff it in garbage bags.

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July 3, 20110 found this helpful

Another thought on the garbage, get you an empty garbage can with a heavy duty bag liner and pour 1/2 into the bag then tie it up and put a fresh bag in and repeat until you have it all bagged for pick up. That way you don't even have to touch it.

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