Tree/Shrub Removal and Gardens

Two years after buying our first house, we finally have the inside painted and decorated the way we want - now it is time to tackle the outside.

Along the whole front of the house there is an existing garden consisting mainly of evergreen bushes, approx 4ft. high, and two evergreen trees approx. 14ft. high. The garden is surrounded by those wood beam enclosures.

I want to replace the garden with some colourful perennials. How difficult will it be to pull the bushes, including the roots. Same with the trees?

We also have a mostly dead birch tree in the front yard that I would like to remove. The trunk is probably about 3 inches in diameter. How deep would the roots go?

Also, I would like to remove the wood beam border around the existing garden and replace it with stone. What would the difficulty of that be?

Elbow grease scale of 1-5, a 3.

Go to the hardware store and pick up a box of copper nails. Cut the trees down to grond level, all of them. drive 4 or 5 copper nails into the main trunk, at ground level. That will prevent the tree from re-growing, and will aid in the process of rotting the roots. And it is much less back-breakng than pulling the roots.

How big is the area? I’d recommend probably five cubic yards of loam, spread over the garden. with a nice border. Also when you put the loam down, put newspaper down before the loam is dumped on the cleared ground. That will prevent you from getting weeds, and is less caustic than plastic.

As for the border. That may be difficult to pull those wood stakes out. just dig around it soas to make it easier to get them out. But if the garden has been there for a while before you bought it, I would highly recommend the loam. it will put a fresh tinge on your new garden. Good luck.

My advice – and I think the elbow grease scale is more like a 4.5, but I’m tiny, so YMMV – on the shrubs: chop down as much foilage and trunk as you can. Then dig out around the roots as deeply as you can get to, then use good pruners to chop the roots as far below the surface of the ground as you can. In most cases, the remaining roots will simply rot underground, add nutrients to your soil and be deep enough so as not to interfere with new perennial root growth.

Trees: basically the same advice, only I’d personally hire a professional and have them grind the stumps down, then chip the whole tree and use the chips as your mulch. I’m just not a big fan of bringing trees down on my head.

How deep do the tree roots go? There’s no tellin’, but if you’re going to do this yourself, you want to concentrate on getting the main taproot out (the big thick one probably in the center of the root ball mass) as much as you can.

i have one piece of advice ifyou plan on cuting the trees yourself…make sure tht you make the cut below waist level. I wa cuttng a tree in my backyard with the cut level above my head. the tree was twisted so i couldn’t really determine which way it would fall, but i went fo it anyway. fortunately, it didn’t hit me, but it came close and i would estimate that the weight of impact was about 500 lbs.- those things are much heavier than they look!

You say the birch trunk is 3" in diameter. Assuming the evergreen trunks aren’t a whole lot bigger, after you’ve cut the shrubbery and trees down to ground level, you need a mattock. For digging and chopping roots, it beats the hell out of a shovel. Yes, you have to swing it, and yes, it can be backbreaking work, but its the best tool I know of to get stuff out of the ground you don’t want there.

Go to the rental center and rent a mini excavator. Depending on your area it might cost $150 or so for a day. You can be the big guy in the neighborhood with power equipment.

You can dig out the tree and shrb roots, pull out the border and be done with it. After you return the excavator, rent a mini front end loader and use it to distribute the 10 yards of top soil you had dumped in the driveway.

If you work it right you’ll have the neighbors paying you to let them watch.

Make sure you know where any underground sewer pipes/water pipes/electrical wiring is located, or you could turn this into a very expensive and potentially dangerous undertaking (NPI).

This is something I’ve done ALOT of. Can be done with nothing more than a round-tip shovel, an axe, a bow saw, and a nice pair of loppers. A nice long pry bar - 6-8’ long - is really useful. Especially for pulling those beams.

The shovel, loppers, bow saw, and axe are all relatively inexpensive items that will last all your live and that you will use off and on as long as you own a house. So you might as well get them all now if you don’t have them already. Won’t be a wasted purchase.

The pry bar is somewhat of a luxury, but it is the kind of thing that if you have it you will find all kinds of uses for them.

I’m not a big mattock fan. Mainly just not my personal tool of choice. But would be of help on those beams. I have actually found 2 mattocks in the garbage. Those and thatch rakes seem to get tossed frequently.

I recommend a pair of loppers with thick wood handles - metal ones will bend. Also, get a set with a compound gear so that you can tighten them, then open the handles to take a further bite at it without releasing the jaws. Not sure how to describe this, but you’ll know if when you see it.

Here’s a hint re: shovels/axes. Buy Craftsman. Do they have Sears in Can? Lifetime guarantee. If you pull enough stumps, you’ll crack the handle. Nice to just walk in and get a free replacement without any questions. I’m not sure if I’m on my 3d or 4th.

Definitely get the utilities marked defore digging.

Its hard work, but not back breaking. As far as wood goes, these are all really soft. If digging a flower bed or splitting wood is within your capability, this will be too. Just consider it a good workout. If pressed, you could do all of them in one day. But it would be a tough day and I assume you would be feeling it afterwards. But you could do it a little at a time over 2-3 days no problem.

And having it done professionally would probably cost a couple hundred $.

Your shrubs are probably yews or junipers. 3 footers are teeny ones. Lop off all of the above ground branches leaving a stump maybe 6" above ground. Just start digging around the main trunk. When you hit a root, either hit it with the shovel or use your loppers. As you get about a foot down, put your shovel blade or pry bar under the main root and rock it to locate the remaining lateral roots. There will generally be only 1 or 2 going down. You will save a lot of time and effort if you take the time to locate and snip them, instead of going at it blindly with brute force. You will end up with an amazingly small stup to disbpse of. Neither yews nor junipers will sprout from the roots. But if you want to be anal, you can unnecessarily paint the cut root ends with Roundup.

For the trees, lop off the branches first. You don’t say what kind of evergreens they are, I’ll assume spruce or pine. Again, really soft wood. You can probably take every branch off a 14’ spruce with loppers alone. You’ll be left with a straight tapering trunk only a few inches in diameter. Using your bow saw, take it down to within 6-12" of the ground. You could do it in 2 pieces. The top 8 ’ will only weigh 10# or so. Heck, you might be able to take the top part off with your loppers. Then, dig the stump the same as the shrubs. Again, spruce/pine will not shoot off of roots.

Another alternative is to just dig a hole/basin around the trunk/stump, and then go at it with the axe. You can shred that stump/roots really easily, and leave the chips right in the hole. Fill up the hole with soil amendments, and just let it rot beneath the surface. This will work as long as you do not intend to plant a sizeable shrub in the identical location.

The birch will/should have a sizeable root structure. Tho 3" is pretty small/young. And if it has never been healthy, it may not have developed huge roots. Again, you do not have to remove all of the roots. Simply get them down far enough below the surface that you can landscape over them. I would cut the tree down to 6", then dig the basin around the stump, and with my axe chop out the trunk/stump to approx 12" below ground.

For disposal, you might want to rent a chipper. And then spread the mulch.

The beams are doable - probably have spikes going down 18-24". Toughest thing is getting a purchase under them to then rock/pry them out. These son-of-a-guns are gonna be heavy. Are they rotten? Just not your preference?

Oh yeah - before planting, take the opportunity to amend your soil. I’m a big mushroom compost fan.

Darn, I’m ready for this snow to melt!

Oh yeah - be careful not to muck around in your gardens too much too early. If the soil is still wet/frozen, you can compact it, screwing up the soil structure.

You are exactly right about that! I should have mentioned it. Might be a good idea even if doing the job by hand. I cut the electric line to a neighbors yard light while doing some rototilling for him.

don’t dig, don’t chop.
The easy way is to just wrap a chain around the bush at ground level and pull it out with your truck,car,suv,whatever. Usually they come right out, if you think it might be really rooted in soak the root ball first. If you can’t get a vehicle in close enough use a come along…one of those ratcheting cable pullers…
I bet you got a neighbor with a 4wheel drive that would beg to do it for you.

Just because nobody else has mentioned it: You asked how deep the roots of the trees will go down. The answer is ‘not very far’.

Tree roots generally only go down a few feet (the reason being that there’s less water and oxygen the further you go down in the soil). However, they do spread out a long way - the usual rule of thumb is that the root zone of a tree will be twice the diameter of the canopy.

It is impossible and fruitless to try and remove all of the roots. As others have mentioned, you’re better off just chopping them off close to the stump and, if you want to get carried away, poisoning them. But don’t use any residual poisons (eg diesel) because it may affect anything you plant there later.

True, but not much fun. When I was working as a landscaper, I always used herman_and_bill’s method. Trim the shrubs back until you get to a point where you can wrap a chain around the trunk and hit the gas.

Don’t do it if your yard is wet, though. You’ll never get the grass to grow back in those ruts.

Sometimes people post a picture on the web of the yard & that would be a nice thing to do. I do landscape work too & a picture is worth far more than 1,000 words in this case :slight_smile:

Also, did you consider that you might need a permit from the city to do it? We need one here.