So you're neither a gardener nor a "yard person. " But you have an overgrown yard that's calling out for attention. What do you do? Follow our Yard 101...

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So you’re neither a gardener nor a “yard person.” But you have an overgrown yard that’s calling out for attention.

What do you do?

Follow our Yard 101 primer and turn your jungle into a space you actually want to spend time in.

Getting started

If you just moved in, wait a year and watch the garden. Take pictures so you can see where and how plants grow in different seasons. Pay attention to where it’s sunny and shady. Cass Turnbull, founder of the Seattle-based PlantAmnesty, suggests copying pictures and drawing on them.

Figure out how you’re going to use the yard. Where are natural walkways? Watch where kids or dogs go. Do you need to block a view from the neighbor’s window? This will help you better plan fixtures such as patios, paths and large trees. Then configure planting beds and grass areas.

Quick fixes: Weed! Remove grass from plant beds. Put down mulch. Expand planting beds so trees and plants don’t overreach the edges. Edge the grass. Trim out dead wood from large shrubs and trees. Mix in compost to improve soil. Add focal points such as garden art or a birdbath.

Consider hiring a garden renovator or consultant. For an hourly fee, they can identify plants (names, growing conditions, ultimate size, whether common or valuable), mark which ones should be moved or removed, and check out soil.

Homeowners with large trees and shrubs might need an arborist.

Those who want a garden plan can work with a landscape designer or renovator. Expect to pay $50 to $150 an hour.

Set a realistic budget, both for cost and time. “Most people do not have a clue what a landscape budget should be,” said Linelle Russ, a Lake Washington Technical College horticultural instructor and owner of a garden-consulting business. “And they tend to be overly optimistic as to how much time they’ll spend in the garden.”

Break large projects into pieces and prioritize. Many people start with the front yard because it’s the most visible.


Hard pruning won’t fix an overgrown garden. “A lot of people’s first reaction is to just whack it all back,” Turnbull said. “That’s not going to make it better; it only makes it worse. Plants are going to reach a certain size whether you prune them or not.”

Agrees Lisa Pfeiffer of Pfeiffer Landscaping in Seattle: “You can’t keep a 30-foot tree only 20 feet. It’s a heck of a lot of extra work, it looks ridiculous and it’s just not healthy.”

Transplant (dig up and move) healthy plants that are too crowded, overly large or in the wrong place (Example: a plant that needs sun now shaded by a tree).

“About 80 percent of shrubs can be moved,” Turnbull said. “It’s a matter of your back and budget.” Fall or late winter/early spring are best for transplanting.

Signs of overcrowding: Branches cross or rub, new growth is one-sided, plants are squeezed against buildings.

Divide old plants. Perennials that don’t bloom need to be dug up, divided and replanted. See if friends or neighbors want extras.

Let things go. Remove ill or diseased plants, ones that won’t transplant well (most conifers) or don’t offer more than one season of interest.

Looking good

Got an old-fashioned Seattle garden with tons of rhodies, azaleas and a couple camellias? Update the look by adding year-round interest.

Pfeiffer brings in perennials and ornamental grasses with variegation, interesting texture or dramatic foliage, as well as deciduous plants for fall color.

An evergreen groundcover “adds another layer of color and foliage and helps with weeds,” she adds.

Clarify the lines between garden layers. Overgrown shrubs overtake trees and drown out plantings beneath them.

Possible solutions: Trim off the lower limbs of the tree to better delineate the difference between it and shrubs. If the shrub has a nice shape, prune its lower branches to make it into a small tree.

Move some shrubs out.

Add short plants . “If everything is 8 to 15 feet tall, the garden seems overgrown,” Turnbull said. Enlarge the beds and put in plants under 5 feet tall.

Avoid straight, narrow beds along the house and fence. Shoot for a 50-50 ratio of garden beds and grass.

Seattle gardener Fran Mason and her husband overhauled a double city lot with two “tiny” foundation beds and more than 5,000 square feet of “tired, weedy lawn.”

Mason rented a manual sod-stripper and removed large patches of grass. After smothering the new beds with delivered compost, she added small trees, shrubs and perennials.