Tackling an overgrown garden

We show you how to tidy an overgrown garden in our step-by-step guide.

A shady overgrown garden with long grass, fallen leaves and dense shrubs and trees

Step 1: Get an overview and make a plan

Walk around your overgrown garden with a critical eye to complete a detailed review of what you have on your hands, asking what plants are growing where, what you want to keep, and what you would like to change as you revamp the overgrown garden.

Review the whole garden; use a stick to examine the ground

Stinging nettles and abundant wild growth should be pushed to the side with a stick, revealing any trip hazards, boulders or wire mesh at ground level. Mark these clearly with sticks or stakes. Check if any trees and shrubs need to be pruned or thinned, keeping an eye out for rotten or dead branches. Consider what really needs to be removed; in many cases, pruning is enough to create the space and look you want and to enable better light penetration for shrubs and flowerbeds. Identify any plants and shrubs that you wish to relocate.

Someone wearing gloves pushing wooden stakes into the grassy earth around a large rock

Get it in hand with a garden plan

For larger overgrown spaces, we recommend you draw out a proper plan for how you wish to plant the garden. Your drawing should be to scale and include all buildings, areas, paths and shrubs. You should also indicate which areas are shaded through the day – this will help you find the right spot for each plant in your garden.

Step 2: Assemble your tools

You will need the following equipment to clear your overgrown garden:

  • Tools: clearing saw or brushcutter, garden pruner or chainsaw, garden shredder, secateurs, pruning shears, hedge trimmer, hand saw for overhead work, spade, fork, rake, lawnmower if needed. (Please note that the GHE 140 shredder pictured is not available in Great Britain.)
  • Other equipment: wheelbarrow, garden waste sacks, basket, long piece of tear-proof rope.
  • Protective clothing: Gloves, safety glasses/visor, ear protection, safety boots.
A hedge trimmer, garden shredder, wheelbarrow and other tools and equipment laid out on a lawn

Step 3: Clear rubbish, weeds and wild overgrowth

A woman kneeling down to work in an overgrown garden

Tidying up the garden

Start by tidying the garden and removing any rubbish. Carry a basket, bin bag or wheelbarrow as you walk through your overgrown garden space, collecting any rubbish such as plastic plant pots, broken terracotta pieces or discarded plant stakes.

A woman using a brush cutter on overgrown grass with trees and shrubs in the background

Mowing in an overgrown garden

Mow the lawn using a brushcutter or lawn mower. Once that’s done, it will be much easier to see where further work is needed. This is also when your marker sticks pay off; take care as you mow and trim around them, and then rake up cuttings.

STIHL tip: If you are using a clearing saw or brushcutter to clear overgrowth, work systematically in rows, clearing a path from one side to the other.


A woman wearing gloves, ear protection and glasses feeding branches into a garden shredder

Weed clearance and removing stalks and stumps

Now it is time to remove the weeds, which should really start to make a difference in your overgrown garden. Weed by hand where possible, though you may want to use a power tool first to cut tall weeds to a manageable height. Non-woody overgrowth is best handled using a clearing saw or brushcutter fitted with a blade. Crop everything to around 15 centimetres tall, cutting down in stages if necessary. Use the shredder to chop up the plant waste.

Next, pull any remaining stalks out of the soil. If a stalk is difficult to remove, loosen the soil around it using a fork. If that doesn’t work, use a spade to dig out the stalk, making sure you also pull up the root ball; otherwise, the weed will quickly reappear.

Step 4: Get shrubs into shape

The progress you’ve made in your overgrown garden should be very clear to see. The next step is to cut trees and shrubs into shape, pruning and thinning them.

A woman using a hedge trimmer on an overgrown bush

Trimming trees and hedges

Dig up any old tree stumps with a spade. Small shrubs that you don’t want are easy to remove completely – cut them off close to the soil, then pull out the roots. Looking at the trees and shrubs you do want to keep, remove any broken branches by cutting them close to the trunk or main stem. 

Next, examine and prune larger plants. Many plants send out suckers from their roots, causing new offspring plants to pop up elsewhere and eventually become mature and independent. This is great for woodland propagation but rarely ideal in a garden. Plants prone to suckering include brambles, lilac, robinia, poplar and ornamental cherry trees. It is usually better to dig suckers up than cut them back.

For hedges, a hedge trimmer is a great way to prune efficiently. You can find detailed information on trimming hedges here. Lastly, put all your trimmings through the garden shredder.

A woman thinning out bushes

Delimbing trees

If you have trees that create too much shade, have excessively dense foliage or have branches crossing over one another, you can use a cordless pole pruner to thin out the crowns. Always remove whole branches right down to the trunk or originating branch rather than just cutting all branches to a uniform length. This helps avoid too much thin, shooting “brush growth” appearing at the cuts the following year. Rotten, old or diseased twigs and branches should be removed immediately. You will recognise these by their wrinkled bark – they are often also darker than other branches and covered in moss or algae. Finally, use a chainsaw to trim all of the branches.

STIHL tip: There are legal considerations that must be taken into account when trimming trees and hedges: in the UK, the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981 states that you may not cut a hedge or tree if doing so will damage or disturb a nest. Always makes sure you check for active nests before trimming any hedges, particularly in the bird nesting season (typically between March and August).

A woman taming brambles with a pole and some rope

Trimming and tapering bushes

Multi-stemmed bushes such as redcurrant or amelanchier are characterised by having many individual shoots that grow from the earth. You can trim these or taper the shape of the whole plant by cutting excess growth 10 cm above the soil.

STIHL tip: A pole and some rope can help you when clearing overhanging brambles and other bushes: stick the pole into the soil, bend the brambles to the side and secure everything with the rope. The area around the brambles will then become clearer so you can more easily get to the base of the plant. 

Step 5: Create new beds and areas

Now you can dig over the areas you have cleared in your formerly overgrown garden. Apply mulch to any open, bare soil while deciding what to plant; otherwise, weeds will quickly return.
A woman using a spade to mark and define the edge of a lawn

Edges and borders add structure

Determine where the edges, borders and flower beds will be. Clearly defined areas make the difference between an overgrown garden and a tidy one. Mark out the edges of the lawn and cut along them with a spade.

STIHL tip: If you like a bit of wildness and don’t want your garden to be too orderly, there is a little trick you can try. Spread a thick layer of mulch around specific shrubs and bushes; this will keep them weed-free and well-defined, while you can leave other areas to grow rampant if you wish.

Replanting and relocating shrubs and flower beds

Now you can sort out the remaining shrubs. Divide any that have become too large or bushy by digging them up and splitting the root ball into multiple sections. Plant one part back in the original location and move the other parts to new places as per your garden plan. Close up any gaps in the planted areas and add new plants as desired. 

Enjoy your new garden

You did it! You managed to whip that overgrown garden into shape! Now it’s time to bask in the glow of your achievements as you enjoy your new outdoor space!

An orderly garden with a trimmed lawn, shrubs and trees

One last tip:
Remember that your garden needs regular maintenance – mowing the lawn, weeding, and annual pruning of shrubs and bushes. Otherwise, your garden will become overgrown again as time passes.

Summary: tackling an overgrown garden

  • An overgrown garden is a challenging project, but with a well-structured approach, you can whip it into shape.
  • Before clearing the garden, you should draw up a plan. Then you’ll know what you want to change and how you need to do it, and you can plan out your work steps in advance.
  • The most important steps are clearing rubbish, mowing the lawn and trimming back any excess growth, pruning trees and bushes, digging up unwanted plants and planting new ones.
  • Regular maintenance will help make sure that the garden does not become overgrown again.