Q&A: Shrub Removal

Question: We’ve moved into a new property and our first step in creating a garden is to remove some existing large shrubs. What’s the best way to go about this?

Answer: Since you mention you will be putting in a garden, we’ll assume that you don’t want to use chemicals and that you want to remove the shrubs’ roots.

You’ll need a sturdy shovel, loppers and perhaps a saw if any of the branches are too thick for the loppers. First use the loppers and saw to cut away as many branches as possible to give you clear access to the shrub’s trunk and base. Do not saw the entire trunk away; leave a good-size stump and some portion of the lowest branches to use as handles when you reach the lifting-out stage.

Then start digging about two feet from the trunk, working around the whole trunk. Dig down about one foot the whole way around, setting the soil aside. If you encounter thick roots that make it difficult to dig, go ahead and cut them with the loppers. You will be able to cut through fibrous roots with the shovel blade. Keep digging around in a circle, coming closer to the trunk until you expose the bulk of the root mass, then use the shovel to keep clearing the dirt from the roots.

At this point you may begin try to rock the shrub a bit to loosen it, but don’t be surprised if it doesn’t budge. Your next step is to keep digging and working at exposing the largest roots. When you see one, use the loppers to cut the root ball/stump free of it. Work around the stump, cutting the largest roots and breaking any smaller ones, and eventually the stump will start to loosen. When you get to a point where you can rock the stump partially up from the hole, have a partner hold it tipped so you can cut any roots underneath it. Once all major roots have been severed you should be able to wedge the shovel under it and lever it out while a partner pulls on the stump. Then remove any remaining roots from the hole and fill it back in with the soil you set aside.

You may find advice to tie the shrub to the bumper of an automobile and haul it out that way, but we advise against it unless you have a sturdy truck with a trailer hitch and proven ability to haul heavy items.

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