Q: How do you know you've neglected your yard for way too long?

A: When the weeds are taller than you are.

The last seven months at the new house have been largely devoted to getting the house back up and running following the whole house catastrophe last winter. We've been spending roughly 85% of our time ripping out the old copper plumbing, demolishing the old baseboard radiators, and coordinating the insurance and contractor process. The remaining 15% has consisted of trying to distract myself and stay positive by working on design plans for the house, combined with the renovation of the living room. I think it's fair to say that this has been 100% of effort we absolutely didn't expect during our first year of ownership.

We're accustomed to city living in so many ways, but one of the most noticeable is our lack of experience with gardening. To go from a 15' wide bricked courtyard with a few plants to over an acre of lawn, hedges, gardens, and more has been a huge change. 

But while we want the yard to be beautiful, our time and attention has been focused on interior projects. We hired a lawn service to keep the yard cut (and hopefully the snakes out!), but aside from the occasional weeding, trimming, and watering, we haven't done much else.

As branches began to grow from the neighboring lot into and over our driveway, whipping the windshield of our car every time we came and went, we could no longer turn around in front of the picket fence due to the low hanging branches of a tree, and the flower beds looked like a mass of weed spaghetti, it sunk in. We were going to have to take a break from our inside projects to do something about this mess.

Lucky for us, my parents are not only good gardeners and have a beautiful yard, but they're also willing to drive in and help us with our mounting to do list. I made a 9-1-1 call to them begging for help, and they agreed to come in for a long weekend to help us tame this beast (while also visiting and enjoying a little porch time).

I'm sure they were taken aback upon their arrival, seeing the strange weed and iris mounds lining the driveway, not to mention all of the other overgrowth.

But they were good sports about it all, and we quickly dove into two solid days of weed whipping, tree and hedge trimming, and weed pulling. You can hardly see my Dad in the photo below, as he mounted his attack against the driveway branches.

Meanwhile my Mom started cutting back the weird driveway mounds and pulling weeds from the side of the house.

I helped my Dad trim back some of the tall branches, and followed behind him gathering up all of the cuttings. I also attacked the weeds in the front courtyard area, and cut back the overgrown boxwoods. While I don't have great photos of the weekend as we were really focused on getting it done and I was too dirty or sweaty to have my phone in hand, I did take a few photos once things were cleaned back up. Here's a look at the driveway after we were finished. What an improvement, and now cars can get in and out without issue.

And here's a look at the side garden and brick walkway, looking nice and neat thanks to my Mom's perseverance.

When she started, the walkway was a weedy mess. Thanks to hand pulling and an application of an all natural weed spray I mixed up (1 gallon white vinegar, 1 cup salt, and a squirt of Dawn dish detergent), the house was once again looking like it was cared for.

My gardening efforts also resulted in a much better space out front. The beds were once again mostly free of weeds and grass, and the boxwoods no longer had crazy sprouts shooting out in all directions. 

The weekend wasn't just about gardening though. After several weeks of effort, we finally found someone to haul away our remaining construction debris as well as the large pile of concrete that was unearthed when the trenches were dug for the geothermal system. Having all of that cleared away is a huge relief!

And finally, one of the last things I tackled was the removal of the carpet treads from the stairwell. While they served a great purpose in protecting the wood, we're going to have the stairs and floors refinished soon so they needed to come off. 

They came off without too much of a fight, being held in place by two-sided adhesive tape, rather than staples or glue. I can't tell you how relieved we were about this little detail.

The adhesive did pull off some of the wood, but nothing that the floor refinishing shouldn't be able to correct. 

I'm excited to have the floors refinished and have a beautiful "Christmas staircase", one of the features that sold me on the house in the first place. We'll replace it with a seagrass runner at some point in the future once a lot of the messy plaster work is completed in the hallways.

I'm so grateful for the extra help, as I know it would have taken the two of us several weeks to get all of this accomplished while also getting all of our other tasks done. Having the house a bit more clean and orderly has helped me to refocus on the renovations at hand and our short term plan, as well as get much more comfortable in asking for and accepting help. As for Alex? Well, he could still use a little practice in that area, but even he agreed that we couldn't have done it alone.

Do you have any tips for keeping a big yard trimmed and weed-free? Any suggestions for low maintenance bushes or flowers? We have a lot to learn for sure, and would love any advice on gardening dos and don'ts.

Comments 16


9/18/2015 at 12:57 PM

Mulch, and lots of it. Yard service for mowing the grass, edging, and weed whacking borders, fences, etc. Spray something on brick patios/walkways to keep weeds from between the bricks. Once every five or so years, hire arborists to come in and do an evaluation and major pruning of the larger trees on the property. Naturalize as much of the acre as you can so you don't have to maintain it so neatly.


Great advice. Thanks, Ann! Do you know of any effective pet-safe/all natural weed spray for the bricks? My concoction was only semi-effective. It lasted a month or so, but weeks come back pretty quickly.

9/18/2015 at 1:23 PM

Hi! I've been following your blog for about a year and cheering you on as you put your house back together (my house happened to flood a couple of weeks before yours). The repairs are such a mess and take forever, but at least it's an effective way of getting a house updated, haha!

Gardening is one of my hobbies. My #1 suggestion is to read Doug Tallamy's Bringing Nature Home. It changed the way I think about gardening and made it much more fun--it's not just about picking whatever plants look pretty, it's also about how the plants support the local environment and wildlife. http://www.bringingnaturehome.net/


Thanks, Ash! I appreciate the gardening advice, and hope all is going well with your repairs too.Alt smile

9/18/2015 at 2:49 PM

Skip all the cutesy edging materials like pavers, small fencing, that black rubber/plastic edge. Use a spade to create a natural divide, and you can run the mower right over the edge, and not have to come back and trim with a weed-wacker. Saves sooooo much time.


Great tip! Thanks so much, Mia!

9/18/2015 at 4:54 PM

We've been trying to plant only native species in our Capitol Hill yard, which has really helped with reducing the maintenance needed (not eliminated it, but vastly reduced it). We found the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service booklet: "Native Plants for Wildlife Habitat and Conservation Landscaping-Chesapeake Bay Watershed" very very useful. You can find it online, but we refer to it so much, we went out and bought a hard copy from the Audubon Naturalist Society bookshop up in Bethesda. I'm sure it's sold elsewhere.

If you end up going the native plant route (which I highly recommend), there's a great native plant nursery, Nature by Design, just off of Route 1 in Alexandria.


Wonderful! I'll have to check it out. Thanks!

9/19/2015 at 11:12 AM

I feel your pain.
Keep the yard mostly grass so you can just mow and not have to weed too much.
Plant trees. It's much easier to maintain a shady garden than a sunny one.
Plant perennials close together in any beds.
Don't plant ivy.
If you don't already have a pole saw, get one.
A book I like is "The Four Season Landscape" by Susan Roth.


Thanks so much, Rebecca!

9/21/2015 at 5:28 PM

Definitely seconded the "no ivY" tip, or any ground cover near the house; you'd be surprised what critters (mice, rats) lurk in there!

9/22/2015 at 10:34 PM

Check out the Garden Professors on FB and online for science-based gardening advice (and to help you weed out those quack cures that are commonly found everywhere today). They also have a website.

While I want get into a native plant fight, in many settings, natives are not the right plant and the best piece of advice that I can give is to put the right plants in the right places.

Personally, with that space, I would have apples, pawpaws, persimmons, blackcurrants, redcurrants, raspberries, medlars, and a quince in a small orchard area.

9/22/2015 at 10:34 PM

Check out the Garden Professors on FB and online for science-based gardening advice (and to help you weed out those quack cures that are commonly found everywhere today). They also have a website.

While I want get into a native plant fight, in many settings, natives are not the right plant and the best piece of advice that I can give is to put the right plants in the right places.

Personally, with that space, I would have apples, pawpaws, persimmons, blackcurrants, redcurrants, raspberries, medlars, and a quince in a small orchard area.

4/1/2016 at 3:51 PM

Please rethink the salt. Over time salt builds up and doesn't just stop weeds but gets in the soil and hurts your other plants. History is full of people salting fields to harm their enemys. I know it's very fashionable right now on Pinterest but lots plant can't handle salt. The
people who garden near the ocean have learn this. Please don't permanently poison your soil.

Beth Wilt
5/19/2016 at 10:02 PM
Ha! We've let our weeds go that long before, too!
Margaret Schleicher Bjorklund
5/19/2016 at 10:02 PM
Keep going, you have such good bones on your property, I am sure it will be a fantastic spot inside and out.
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