Yard Clean Up Guide

yard clean up guide

A yard clean up is sometimes all that is needed to invigorate the appearance of your backyard, and to give it a fresher look.

In the worse cases, neglected yards can create a jungle of foliage and garden junk that poses a nightmare scenario to get rid of.

You take one look at an overgrown yard and leave it for another week or month.

It gets constantly put back until you reach the point that you know you just have to clear it.

Whether you do the work yourself or hire the pros, a backyard clean-up can be the start of an exciting rejuvenation of your backyard.

Yard cleaning services can run quite expensive, and you may find yourself paying up to $70 an hour to get someone else do the work. However, you can enjoy a useful cash saving by doing the cleanup yourself!

If you want to keep your yard clean up cost to a minimum, then this guide will show you how to use your own time to best effect. It’s about general yard cleaning and not specifically about gardening.

Yard Care - Identify Tasks and Make a Plan

In a gardening context, a yard clean up is advisable in the Fall in readiness for the winter months, and then again in the Spring to prepare for the summer.

Broadly speaking though, and for the purpose of a cosmetic cleanup, you could tidy your yard at any time of the year, at least in part. Springtime is probably the best time for most people though, as the yard generally needs to be spruced up anyway, after the accumulated dirt and grime from winter.

It's advisable to commence work when the weather begins to warm, and when lawns and flower beds are not sodden. Then spend a solid weekend on finishing or getting most of the job done.

Your first step should be to plan out all the work that needs to be done, then to work through it all systematically. A case of yard tidying first, and then yard cleaning.

Be Prepared - Have the Right Backyard Tools

Backyard chores are not much different from any other tasks, inasmuch as when you have the right tools at your disposal, jobs are a lot easier and quicker to complete.

Many of the tools we mention may already be in your toolkit. Others will pay for themselves in the long run if you need to buy them.

Yard Cleaning Tools

Depending on the state of your yard, you’ll need some or all of the following equipment and materials for an effective yard clean up:

  • Heavy duty yard broom
  • Handheld scrubbing brush
  • Multi-use scraper
  • Pole sander
  • Sanding sheets
  • Water hose or  power washer
  • Bucket
  • Utility gloves                 

Pressure Washers:

A power washer is a tremendously useful piece of kit. It's not essential if you are prepared to do the cleaning manually, but it saves a heck of a lot of time, gives a good result - and the work is not so tiring!

You can see examples of pressure washers HERE!

Protective Clothing

For personal protection you should wear sensible clothing. It is easy to get scratched when cutting back undergrowth and repairing fences, and squashed toes and fingers when moving heavy items like stone slabs and garden benches. 

Utility gloves, and boots (preferably with steel toecaps) are advisable if you have a lot of heavy items to move, and if you plan any power sawing or washing, wear safety glasses. If you intend power washing, rubber boots are a must as well or you'll likely get soaked!

Basic Tasks

Junk Removal

The first major task to get out of the way is the removal of any items that don't belong in the backyard. These will  include any yard gadgets and furniture that are broken or worn out.

Remove any junk items you’ve stored in the yard, or heavy debris you want to get rid of such as an old shed, garden benches and so on. These will need to be taken to an appropriate disposal point. Before disposing of items though, ask yourself whether any of it could be re-purposed in the yard for your makeover.

If you cannot get waste items to a dump yourself, or if no such facility is available in your area, you may need to pay for yard waste removal services.

Dog Poop Yard Clean Up

If you have a dog who messes in your backyard, or neighborhood cats routinely use your yard as a pet toilet, then clearing the poop should be done daily. If left too long before removal animal poop attracts flies, and any bacteria or parasites in the poop may transfer to the soil and lay eggs. This is not nice, and it raises health risks, particularly for any children who may play in the backyard!

If your yard has become overgrown, then some pet poop might not be that easily removed regularly, and will need to be dealt with en masse when you do your yard cleanup.

Use disposable rubber gloves to pick up the poop with some paper towel, and put into a plastic bag. Alternatively, use a long handled poop scooper. Keep the poop waste bags separate from other garden waste.

Greenscape Clearing

Tidying the living elements in your yard can remove a lot of mess.

  • If you intend to remove any small trees or shrubs, cut the branches back, dig out the root ball and fill the hole with topsoil. Root removal can be time-consuming so be prepared.
  • Remove any obvious overgrowth and weeds.
  • Rake over any garden beds, and 'sweep' the lawn to remove old leaves and twigs. 
  • Bag old leaves, tree and plant debris, and dispose of.

Hardscape Cleaning

All the hard landscape materials that have been built into your yard will benefit from being cleaned. Wood, stone and concreted areas and structures need routine maintenance, to keep them functioning efficiently and looking good. These will include:

  • Walls, fences and trellises.
  • Paths, patios and concreted areas.
  • Decking.
  • Sheds, benches, deck boxes and patio furniture.

If you want to make these tasks easy, the best way is to use a power washer. Always check the manufacturers instructions before use, paying special attention to the recommended pressure settings and the spray distances from the surface to be cleaned. Keep the water spray moving and not concentrated on one spot, as that could damage the surface being cleaned.

They are not best choice for block paving or tiles, as the water jet can remove sand or mortar from between the joints. Otherwise they are an excellent tool for cleaning yards and driveways for many different tasks.

Remember to use safety goggles, rubber gloves and a dust mask especially when you are spraying any chemicals.

Perimeter Cleaning - Walls, Fences & Trellises

How to Clean Exterior Stone Walls?

The best tool for cleaning outdoor walls is a pressure washer. You'll get the job done quicker, easier and more effectively than manual cleaning methods, and you shouldn't need to use any chemicals, except for very stubborn staining. But test a small area before proceeding.

The high pressure jet of water will clean all the accumulated dirt and grime from your walls in an eco-friendly way. An alternative to buying a pressure washer is to rent one.

A hose with a pressure head fitted is an alternative. Use a heavy duty brush to dislodge any loose grime from the wall - you'll need to scrub the stone surfaces with a long-handled stiff bristle brush to clear stubborn marks - and then hose off afterwards.

Make a note of any areas of the wall that need repairing, and rectify after the wall has dried out.

How to Clean Exterior Brick Walls?

Brickwork can become dull in appearance over time due to the elements. You can brighten your perimeter walls and give them a great makeover by removing any surface grime, moss, algae or mold by giving them a good wash.

You can use either a power washer or a garden hose fitted with a high pressure nozzle as an easy DIY project. Depending on how stained the brickwork has become you may need to use a brick cleaning solution. I'm not keen on using chemicals if possible, but sometimes they are necessary.

If you intend to use brick cleaner chemicals, you should wet all the brickwork thoroughly first. Bricks are an absorbant material and will need to be completely saturated with water before any cleaner is applied. This is so that the cleaner stays on the surface rather than be absorbed into the brickwork. It is the brick surface you are cleaning, not the inner material, so get all of it soaking wet.

If you are using a hose, then scrub the cleaner into the brickwork using a stiff-haired brush, (not a wire-brush) before hosing off. Work from the top down, cleaning a section at a time.

If you are using a power washer, the water pressure might be sufficient to do the job without resorting to chemical cleaners.

How To Restore a Wooden Fence?

You can get an old fence back into top condition quite easily, and trellisses too. You'll need to clean the fence before staining or painting.

If the fence structure is still sturdy - fence posts haven’t rotted away and the fence doesn’t wobble - then it’s a simple case of cleaning, sanding and finishing off with paint or stain and sealer. The same applies for trellisses.

Use a power washer to clean all the fence. Wash all areas slowly and methodically using medium water pressure. Remove any moss, mold or residual paint as relevant.

When the wood has dried, sand any areas that have a rough finish with 80 grit sandpaper, and finish of with a finer grade paper (for areas to be painted). Repair any damage and fill holes with putty if you intend to paint, or with sandable wood filler if you are going to stain.

Finish off by painting the fence or apply a stain followed by a varnish/sealant coat.

Cleaning Paths, Patios and Concrete

Paths, patios and walkways can become discolored in the course of a year, have weeds growing in gaps, and develop algae and moss that becomes slippery after rain. They can look scruffy and worn.

Regular brushing of these surfaces will remove surface dirt, slow weed growth and moss formation, but you may still need to clear weeds from gaps manually, and to clear algae off the surface.

It's best to clear all weeds from the border areas as soon as you spot them so they don't have a chance to take hold. Either remove them by hand preferably with their roots intact and sweep away any surface dirt, or use a proprietary weed killer. You can buy special cleaners that will kill path weeds and also deter future weed growth.

A pressure washer is the best way to remove surface algae from slabs and to remove surface discoloration. An alternative method is brushing with soapy water (dish soap) and a heavy duty broom to clear the dirt, then hosing off with water.

Backyard clean up of paving stones

Block paving needs weeds and grass removing  manually, prior to a hosing down. Alternatively, use a pressure washer to clear it out and clean.

How to clean concrete paths and patio without pressure washer?

Concrete can become quite discolored over time, with oil, rust patches and other stains spoiling the overall appearance. However, you can smarten your pathways and patio areas in an easy two way process of cleaning then sealing the concrete.

You don't need a power washer to achieve a good finish, and you shouldn't use one regularly on concrete as it can degrade the surface. It's ok to pressure-wash initially if you have very bad stains to remove, but don't use one for future routine clean-ups.

This is what you'll need to clean concrete without a pressure washer:

  • Appropriate cleaner solution.
  • Low pressure garden sprayer.
  • Long handled stiff yard brush - not a wire brush.
  • Hose and water supply.

There is a wide range of concrete cleaners from mild to aggressive  and you will need to choose the most appropriate for the type of stains you have to remove.

You'll be using chemicals so make allowance for any overspray. Hose down adjacent plants or grass with water first (it will help dilute any chemical that gets there) and mask anything else that you don't want the cleaner to come into contact with, such as wood, glass, plastic etc,  with clear plastic sheet.

Then ...

  • Sweep surface dirt from the concrete.
  • Using the garden sprayer, apply the cleaner evenly over the area to be cleaned.
  • Agitate the cleaner into the surface with a long handled stiff yard brush.
  • Wait the recommended time for the cleaner to work.
  • Rinse off with water, generously hosing over the whole area.

If the initial wash doesn't remove all stains, you may need to do another cleaning. If stains persist after that, you may have to use a stronger cleaner, or as already mentioned, use a power washer.

When the concrete has dried out - which should be about 24 hours - you can seal it. Sealing concrete is important for two reasons. It will prevent more dirt being absorbed into the concrete whenever it gets wet, which will require more surface cleaning at a later stage, and it will also improve the longevity of the surface.

There are four main types of concrete sealer: acrylics, epoxies, penetrating and polyurethanes. You will need to do some research to decide which is best for your situation and a match for your skill level, if this is to be a DIY project

As an example, the materials and tools you'll need to apply a penetrating sealer are:

  • Sealer - read fully the manufacturer's instructions.
  • Paint tray and roller.
  • Long handle extension for the roller - saves stooping!
  • Rubber gloves.

You should start sealing only when the concrete is completely dry and when there is no chance of any rainfall.  You'll need a period of dry weather long enough to apply the sealant, and to cover the drying off period, which can take up to 3 days.

Use the paint roller to apply the sealer and work a section at a time to ensure full coverage. Don't walk on the sealed concrete until it is completely dry.

pressure washing hard surfaces

Outdoor floor cleaning with high pressure water jet

Deck Cleaning

How to clean a deck before staining?  and ...

How to clean a deck without a power washer?

Surface preparation on old and weathered decking is essential before applying stain, if you are to achieve a long lasting finish. You'll want the deck to have a uniform appearance, and this will only be achieved if all dirt is removed so that the stain penetrates the wood evenly. 

Before staining you need to ensure the deck surface is clean. You will need to remove all dirt, algae and mildew on the surface, as well as any ground-in dirt. Applying stain to unclean surfaces may result in the finish not adhering properly, with resultant peeling.

Choose a warm day for the task, but not too hot, as you don’t want the deck cleaner that you use to evaporate too quickly. Before you start cleaning, remove all furniture, pots or equipment from the deck so it is completely clear, and you have no obstructions.

Check for any damage to the deck and repair it. Replace any broken deck nails or screws, and use a pole sander to smooth any rough surface areas. You'll find this a lot less tiring than getting down on your hands and knees to sand.

Sweep the deck with a hard-bristled broom to clear all surface debris, and bag it for disposal. You may need to remove muck that is lodged in the gaps between the deck boards with a crevice cleaning tool. If so, sweep a second time after the scraping out.

When the deck is clear of surface debris hose it down with cold water first Then you can apply a deck cleaner solution with a garden sprayer. As with any use of chemicals, be wary of over-spray. Cover nearby plants and shrubs with thin plastic sheeting for protection whilst applying the cleaner, and hose plants down with water afterwards.

Wash your broom to avoid returning dirt to the deck, and brush the chemical  cleaner into the entire deck. You may need to agitate the surface area where algae is present or where discoloration is particularly bad, ensuring that no cleaning solution pools anywhere.  Follow the manufacturer's instructions for how long to wait for the cleaner to work, then rinse it all off with a garden hose. 

Cleaning Yard Structures

Most structures in the yard - like sheds, benches, and deck boxes -  will need cleaning at some point. Even patio furniture left outdoors and under covers needs a good wash to get rid of the residual dust and grime of winter.

Get off to a good start by cleaning everything with a pressure washer, or garden hose plus a scrub brush and elbow grease!

Ongoing, you can keep structures clean by a giving them a light hosing down or a wipe over with a damp cloth. The important thing with any cleaning, is to get it right at the start and then future maintenance is a lot more straightforward.

Moss, algae, mold and mildew can be cleaned off using:

  • Bucket of warm water
  • Long handled scrub brush
  • Hand scrub brush
  • Concentrated cleaner
  • Garden hose fitted with a high pressure nozzle (or a power washer)

Mix the cleaner in a bucket of warm water and, using a long handled scrub brush, work the surface areas one section at a time, working top to bottom.

If you intend using detergents or cleaning chemicals, go for the biodegradable kind as they are more eco-friendly.

Yard Clean Up Checklist

  • Make sure you have all the tools you need to complete the tasks.
  • Plan all the work you need to do.
  • Wear appropriate protective clothing.
  • Remove anything that doesn't belong in the yard. Either junk it or store elsewhere.
  • Clean up any pet poop still in the yard.
  • For any trees or shrubs you intend to remove, prune back branches, dig out roots.
  • Rake up any leaves or plant debris from flower beds and grassed areas.
  • Remove overgrowth and weeds.
  • Sweep up surface debris from paths, decking, patio and concreted areas.
  • Bag all debris for disposal.
  • Clean all walls of mold or algae, and repair as necessary.
  • Repair, clean and re-stain if required, any fences and trellisses.
  • Clean stone or slab pathways and patio areas.
  • Clean decking, re-stain or varnish.
  • Clean the exterior of any storage structures in the yard.

Keep to a Routine

Once you've finished your initial yard clean up, and the area is tidy, the key is to keep it that way. 

It doesn't take much effort to keep the backyard clean a tidy, and if you keep on top of it all the time you'll avoid having to do another full blown yard clean up several times a year.

Set yourself a simple routine to check through the yard, and to remedy any untidiness as soon as you can.

When you develop a regular yard clean routine, you'll prevent mess building in the future, and feel a lot more relaxed about your special space.

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