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Roots have taken over neglected garden - would love advice

Hi there, so I am an absolute novice gardener who wants to try and almost completely redo a smallish front garden that has been neglected for a fairly long time.  3 main questions for now. 

1.  A hedge was very overgrown and arched over one side of the garden.  Having researched it may be a cottoneaster (unsure).  I have cut it way back, exposing an extra metre of ground.  The ground is packed solid with roots (I'm assuming possibly from the hedge).  Unsure if I can do anything with this or do I give up on doing anything with it and cover it in mulch? 
2. There is a bush which again has dense roots up to the surface.  I am happy to keep the bush but there is a weed that looks like grass all around it.  I can't seem to get it out due to the mass of roots. 
3. I have dug out a lot of large weeds and some shrubs with them (partly because I had to and partly because I would like to choose my own).  There are still lots and lots of broken up roots everywhere.  Do I need to keep going through this until I eventually get rid of them or can I plant in areas where possible and cover the rest with mulch? 

I apologise if these questions sound ridiculous - I'm aware I have a lot to learn.  This feels a very overwhelming project.  I tried to attached several photos but seems I can only attach one?  This is the hedge.


  • Hello. Firstly, your hedging plant is cotoneaster, as you thought.

    I'm wondering if the soil in the garden is fairly shallow and that is the main cause of the surface rooting you describe. It sounds as though it is an issue across the whole of the space. The other thought is whether roots are encroaching from neighbouring plants. Have you been able to establish if there is a decent depth of soil or do you find that every time you put your spade in it just hits masses of roots?

    With regard the grass surrounding the shrub that has visible, fibrous roots, I think your best bet is to try and eradicate the grass by excluding the light and mulching. If you try and pull up as much grass as you can - or at least shorten it - you could then soak newspaper or cardboard and put it down as a layer before placing a mulch on top. The paper/card will exclude the light and the mulch will hide that layer in addition to improving the soil.

    If you're in South Bucks I'd happily swing by and take a look to help you out.

  • Hi, thanks so much for this reply.  Yes - I think the roots are from various bushes and across the whole area and my husband thinks you may be right re. the shallow depth.  I will try and check how deep the soil is tomorrow (off work!).  I'm assuming this is something I will also need to consider when I look at what I would like to plant?   I will reply properly later today but just wanted to say thanks for your reply - very helpful.  
  • Hi @rookie79 we are kind of in the same boat! I am trying to redo my garden and there is so much bad grass, weeds, random plants! I don't know about you but sometimes it's a bit overwhelming and there are sooo many questions that crop up! 
    Another user suggested to me about the layer of cardboard and mulching, like Rachel above did, and so far I've found it be a really great way of working (it's called the no dog method, there is lots of info online). At first I was just clearing the weeds and they kept growing back after a few days  but with this method you can actually clear the space and feel like you are accomplishing something! I am just doing a m2 or 2 at a time. 
    Good luck, sounds like a fun project! 😊
  • nick615nick615 Posts: 1,500
    Just a suggestion if you, rookie79  , want quantity as well as quality, a roll of Builder's membrane (another name for fairly heavy black plastic) will stifle the weeds over a larger area.  If, to provide a simultaneous measure of compost, you apply the mulch material underneath the membrane, it'll need to be anchored down with stones or suchlike but this time of year will provide a useful start point from which to attack the weeds in readiness for next Feb/Mar when you need the plot clear for planting.  Treated carefully, the membrane can be saved for possible further use.
  • So I have been back out there today and it seems certain areas of the garden where I have removed weeds from are about 1 foot deep.  I hit something that sounded like it may be pipe.....the other thing I wanted to ask about is that we have what I think is possibly lady's mantle everywhere, over large areas and then peeping up in amongst rockery that we have.  I'm trying to remove it all. Not sure if anyone has any tips about this particular plant? 
  • If I were in your situation I think I would opt for the drastic approach, using black membrane as nick615 suggests. If it's a front garden, it's not clear to me that you necessarily want a hedge and rockery there anyway. I'd beware of damaging any pipes but a small skip and some wholesale removal of the plants, topsoil and rockery, followed by some new topsoil that you buy in, may be the most radical solution. Whether one person can do this depends obviously on you personally, but in similar situations in the past I've asked friends and family to help. You will not only spend many hours trying to remove the invasive plants and their roots, but by next year they will regrow from seed or root fragments. Though I appreciate this may not be the answer you were hoping for...
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