It didn’t take long after my husband and I moved into our two-bedroom bungalow in Denver to become overwhelmed by the scope of work our new home needed. Of course, when you buy a fixer-upper, you’re well aware of the weeks or months of DIY work on your horizon. We were prepared for the hands-on work needed on the interiors. But the ever-encroaching challenges of the outdoor space caught us off guard.
We bought our home in the fall, but by blooming springtime, it was a clear mess: No one had touched the yard in ages—and neither of us knew the first thing about gardening.
We put off tackling the backyard for a year, and by the time we were ready to bust out the pruning shears, what had once been a medium inconvenience had become a full-blown sprouting catastrophe. Our enemies: three types of invasive trees, including the misnamed tree of heaven, a lawn that was mostly weeds, and the devil’s favorite plant, Virginia creeper.
Three years later, we managed to wrangle most of the fiasco into something wonderful. How did we do it? Read on for how to get started—and kill those weeds for good.
Bust out your favorite meditation app, and press play before pulling out a single bush.
“Take a deep breath, and know that reclaiming your backyard from weeds is doable but will not happen overnight,” says Amy Enfield, a consumer horticulturist with ScottsMiracle-Gro.
“Tackle one area of the yard at a time,” Enfield advises. “Start with reclaiming the back patio or clearing out the landscape beds.”
There are two strategies here: Do the hardest, most stressful thing first—or pick something small and easy so you quickly feel accomplished. There’s no wrong choice. Just start somewhere.
Make good use of weedkiller
Tugging out your weeds isn’t enough. To kill them for good, you’ll want to hit the weeds with a one-two punch: Spray them with weedkiller before pulling them. (And then spray the area again.)
That’s because perennial weeds, which come back year after year, have deep, complex root systems.
“If you don’t remove the entire root system, the weeds can regrow from the remaining pieces,” says Joe Tomasiello, the general manager of Florida lawn care company Deans Services.
An herbicide ensures your “weeds are killed all the way down to the roots,” Tomasiello says.
There’s much debate about the safety of commercial weed sprays, so you could make your own with ingredients you have at home versus buying one from the store. Whichever approach you prefer, now’s the time to go scorched-earth on your, well, earth.
Dispose of your weeds quickly
Tempted to leave all the pulled weeds in a pile on your lawn? We get it. But leaving a pile of weeds just perpetuates the problem.
“Disposing of weeds incorrectly can actually lead to the spread of those seeds, leaving you exactly where you started,” says Tomasiello.
If you sprayed them with herbicide, your weeds are 100% dead. But if you pulled them by hand, the plants are “still alive and can spread,” he says.
Destroy your weeds by burning them or placing them in a black garbage bag and leaving it in the sun for at least two weeks.
Check with your city for disposal options—or try the dump
Unfortunately, many dumpster companies restrict what materials you can toss in their bins, and they often nix items like trees, excessive bushes, or dirt. Or perhaps you just don’t want to drop $460 on a dumpster. Fair enough!
You’re in luck: Many cities offer yard waste curbside collection or drop-off locations, Enfield says. (Keep in mind you may need to buy special yard waste bags for your weeds and branches.)
Figuring out your city’s schedule can save you a small bundle of cash. And if you don’t find information online, go ahead and call: Not all programs are advertised.
No luck? All’s not lost—especially if you have access to a truck.
“If you are looking to dispose of large tree branches and other larger waste, talk to your local dump,” says Tomasiello. “Most city dumps allow large waste to be disposed of for free or a small fee.”
You can also research disposal companies. While restrictions may make your search more difficult, you can usually find a business happy to take your junk in exchange for cash.
Keep on top of yard maintenance
You’ve cleared out your weed pile. Congratulations! But if you don’t take proactive steps now, you’ll be back at square one in a year’s time.
“Once you’ve reclaimed your backyard from weeds, it’s important to stay on top of the situation,” says Enfield. “A small weed problem can quickly become a large weed problem if not controlled early.”
While you can use your leftover herbicide to keep on top of new growth, you can also use good old-fashioned manual labor. Dedicating an hour or two each weekend to weed removal will keep your yard in good condition. And as the years go by, and fewer weeds are dropping seeds on your lawn, you’ll find you spend less time tugging—and more time loafing.
Grow something new
One of the best ways to keep weeds away is by planting new growth. What you choose depends on your aesthetic goals.
If you’re a traditionalist, a nice, lush, grassy yard “will choke out any weeds that attempt to sprout,” says Tomasiello.
Make sure to pick the perfect grass for your area, aerate your dirt, and fertilize regularly. Confused by how to grow a lawn? (Don’t worry—we were, too.) Your local garden center will offer good tips.
You can also elect to xeriscape your lawn and use mulch or rocks to keep the rest of the dirt weed-free. This eco-friendly option requires using local plants to create a natural landscape that uses less water—thus helping the environment (and your curb appeal).
Don’t let an overgrown lawn overwhelm you. By taking a deep breath and tackling your problems one by one, you’ll soon have your space wrangled.