We have bought a property in Melbourne requiring a complete overhaul of the front and rear garden. Every plant/tree/bulb is unwanted and hazardous to the future garden planned. Ivy Agapanthus Privet Bamboo (the spreading kind) Pepper trees Tabacco trees Jasmine A couple of other spindley creeping plants spotted all over the front lawn. One with a hint of red in the leaves A large leafed tropical looking plant with very long thick roots General weeds

We have about 12 months before the building reno is complete and the new garden could be planted. This gives us time to hopfully get the soil ready and cleared. With little knowledge of how to complete this task, l'm putting it out there to anyone with advice or know-how as to how we should approach it.

Is chemicals/herbicide the right choice? Is an excavator needed? Do you manually sift the soil? Do you need to remove/replace the topsoil? Is there a better time of year to start this? Do you need to turn the soil more than once to make sure it has all be removed?

I'm sure there is more to do than this, but these are the questions which spring to mind

(Pics to follow) enter image description here

4 Answers 4


First recommendation is to draw a plan of the area with broad measurements marked, compass points, building locations and so on. You may already have a base plan as a result of the real estate transaction. Make sure survey markers are highly visible and respected.

Then invite the local utility people in to mark where their sewer, water, electricity and gas lines are buried and at what depth. Put this info on the plan.

Make friends with the neighbours on all sides and inform them of your plans. There may be vegetation you share in common on, under or over the lot lines which will be affected by any major operations. Particular attention to trees close to the lot lines. All should be aware of local bylaws/ordinances and regulations regarding vegetation.

Now to the core of the question - here are three possible approaches:

  • Choose a contractor from your local professional landscaper association list and get a quote for removal as @Escoce has suggested. Rely on their expertise to decide how deep to excavate. They will have the right equipment.
  • If budget is limited then a piecemeal approach is much cheaper but requires good knowledge and time. Make a list of the plants currently in the garden and arrange them in order of perniciousness. Start with the one at the top and remove all signs of that plant. Then move to the next, working your way through the list. It's the divide and conquer approach but may take several years to complete.
  • A compromise is to cut everything at ground level, remove all top growth indiscriminately, and mow persistently for several months. Some of the vegetation will immediately give up and some will refuse to yield. Treat stumps with a stump remover as required and spot treat other patches if necessary. This reduces the area that needs to be deeply disturbed. With chemicals, spot treatment is always better than a wide shotgun approach.

You don't say whether you are using professionals to design and plant the garden; if you are, they usually clear the area prior to doing the work anyway. However, if you are wanting to do all that yourself, the usual advice when taking over a new property is to wait a year before radically clearing the gardens, although anything large or out of control you know you won't want can be reduced or removed. There are a couple of reasons for this: 1. to see what comes up - some plants will be below the soil and may not appear until the right time of year (bulbs for instance) and there may be some you'd like to retain, even if you move them elsewhere; 2. it gives you time while actually living in the property to work out how the light falls, where the sun reaches and where it doesn't, what kind of view you'd like through different windows, which areas remain damp or get waterlogged or very dry, and so on.

If you want to clear it immediately, I'd suggest you call a company to do it - in the UK, tree surgeons usually have a team that will come in and do this work, including boring out tree/shrub stumps and major roots down to a certain depth, usually around 18 inches deep. Bamboo is difficult to eradicate, so the area where that grows needs to be dug over well and any root material completely removed. Whether a contractor's team will do that efficiently I'm not too sure - in my experience, bamboo is persistent and may reappear in other places nearby, and some bits of root are inevitably missed during a single operation, so vigilance and remedial action is usually required for the next couple of years.

If you decide to try to do it all yourself, you will likely need a chainsaw to cut down large woody plants and trees; take advice about how to use one safely, or find someone who is skilled in using one, particularly when it comes to cutting down trees. It's always better to bore out trunks and large roots after cutting down, and you should be able to hire a borer for that purpose, though they're not particularly easy to use. In regard to whether you choose to use machinery (cultivator, rotavator) to turn the soil over/dig, it depends what is growing - some plants (especially weeds) regenerate from tiny bits of root material, and machinery tends to chop up roots and spread them far and wide, meaning lots more of the offending plant the following year. If you dig by hand using a garden fork, remove all root material as you go.

In terms of the soil, you don't need to replace it, in fact, retaining the top soil is very important, and in particular, any subsoil excavated for hard landscaping should not be placed elsewhere on the surface of the garden. Subsoil should remain below the topsoil level, because it's the topsoil that is the fertile layer (usually about a spade's depth deep). The only time soil should be removed is if it's contaminated, and since your soil is already growing plants, it clearly isn't. Soil amendment prior to planting though is another matter - for areas where you want to grow anything, adding as much humus rich material as possible to the soil is a good idea, so things like well composted manure, leaf mould, spent mushroom compost, in other words, any organic materials which have been composted. This will improve soil conditions and increase soil fertility. If the soil is very heavy clay, you may need to emend with horticultural grit as well as lots of organic materials.

Screening out dormant bulbs which are currently below surface level can be difficult to achieve; most bulbs produce offsets which are tiny, and it's very easy to miss those when attempting to clear a garden, even with screening/sieving the soil - another reason to wait and see what's growing where, because once they produce green growth above ground, you can more easily dig them out.

In terms of planting, the optimum time for most plants to go in is autumn, assuming it's cool and damp; where you are (assuming you mean Melbourne Australia) your spring must now be underway. Otherwise, planting can be done any time if the plants are container grown, but they must be kept well watered, especially during hot dry periods. Working the soil can be done at any time so long as it is not waterlogged nor frozen, although heavy clay soils can be difficult to cultivate if it is very dry.

In respect of chemicals, the use of those should be avoided where possible, though there may be a need for some judicious use of specific weedkillers where persistent regrowth is an ongoing problem.

  • Thank you so much for all your advice. Yes, it is Melbourne Australia. We are hoping to get professional landscapers involved in the design process as it is a sloping block, but given how much cash is going into the building renovations we are feeling that the more we can do ourselves in the garden the better at this stage. This of course only works is we can achieve the level of results needed. Already we have had two large fir trees removed and their stumps grinded by professionals. Oct 10, 2019 at 22:56
  • If it is steeply sloping, take care - with a steep gradient, if you rip everything out and leave it for a while, you will get soil erosion, that is, the soil will wash down to the bottom of the slope. On steep slopes, roots keep soil in place, especially roots of large plants.
    – Bamboo
    Oct 11, 2019 at 8:49

I think you’ll want to excavate and sift the soil to remove bulbs and unwanted root material that may try to resprout. Bamboo especially is very tough and can break concrete under the right conditions.

  • Thank you. The plant with a hint of red which is popping up all over the garden is the one in the picture. If there is a way of uploading more than one image I could show you other examples Oct 22, 2019 at 12:02

The bamboo will die from glyphosate (lowest concentration) after a few applications, might take a year. Could have a monstera plant, not a problem. agapanthus chop just below gound level.

ivy not difficult, large plants can be cut low and stump quickly dabbed with glyphosate.

Look up Tradescantia, if you have this, thats a lot of manual work as it regrows from both root and stem sections. Bet you are out Balwyn way.

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