step one, remove trees?

metaforicalJune 21, 2012

I am finally going to have a garden! The house I am purchasing has a back yard in sad need of landscaping. The lawn is gone, though there are sprinklers. There's an apple tree and that is a firepit in the circular brick structure. I hardly know where to begin and will be scouring this forum religiously as I sort it out. But for now, how do I get those trees out of my flower bed? I imagine they were planted for some sort of shade? The yard faces west. But they don't work for shade and are about 15 to 20 feet tall and just stupid ugly. How do I get them out of there? Is it dangerous to remove trees of that height? Will it rip the wall apart? Any ideas? Thanks.

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Fori is not pleased

If you have to ask, best to hire someone. It shouldn't be too much money but it would be a heckuvalotta work and important to make them fall the right way. :)

But you might miss them. I'd be tempted to live with them a few weeks and see if they serve a purpose I hadn't recognized. Unlikely, the way they're set up, but possible.

It looks like a good yard. Congratulations!

    Bookmark   June 21, 2012 at 11:17AM
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karinl(BC Z8)

Cut off all the branches first, and then start cutting sections off the trunk, top to bottom. I do my projects of this magnitude a little bit at a time within the constraints of what my yard waste bin can handle until next pick-up day. Even if you do it all at once though, I imagine this is a few days work. In this location, a slow pace will leave you with some unsightly stages for a while!

Whether you do it yourself depends on several things besides the pace at which you can work, including, how much you would have to invest in tools or disposal costs vs. the cost of having it done.

What is across the wall - what if you drop trunk sections over there?

They may also have been installed for privacy - do they block sightlines from/to something? I sort of agree with Fori - also the shade they give may be better than nothing for this summer. Maybe wait till fall?

Karin L

    Bookmark   June 21, 2012 at 12:18PM
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mad_gallica(zone 5 - eastern New York)

What the trees are doing is drawing the eye upwards, so you look *over* the wall instead of *at* it. If you remove them, the backyard will look smaller and more closed in.

    Bookmark   June 21, 2012 at 12:59PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

Good point MG. There can, and probably should be, new and better shade trees that are attractive to look at. They might not have to be in the raised bed, assuming that stays.

Karin L

    Bookmark   June 21, 2012 at 1:09PM
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deviant-deziner(Oh zone)

step one - have a comprehensive plan.

live in the house and yard for a while so that you learn the wind / sun / privacy / noise / wildlife / ...... experiences - then you can make informed decisions and work on the overall master plan for your home and garden.

    Bookmark   June 21, 2012 at 2:53PM
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metaforical , If you can get extra hands to help you, and there is sufficient clearance to fell the trees at an angle to the yard, you could cut them at the base with a 10" folding pruning saw (such as made by Corona). You'd cut a "V" notch first, halfway through, on the side of the trunk as the direction of fall. Then you'd make a straight-through cut, coming from the back side. To do that you'd need to attach a stout rope to the upper portion of the tree so someone could guide the fall while someone else did the cutting. Then the trees could be dismembered on the ground. Have some comprehension of physics before getting involved with the project, though.

If you're going to put only permanent landscape plants (as opposed to annuals) of some kind back into the planter, it would be a lot easier if you leave the tree stumps in place and plant around them. I don't know how Cypress (if that's what they are) are about sprouting new growth from the cut trunks, but if they are prone to that, paint the cut stumps with UNDILUTED herbicide (not "ready-mix") such as glysophate (Roundup)or 2,4-D.

I disagree with the claim that removing the trees will make your yard seem more "closed in." I think it will have the opposite effect.

    Bookmark   June 22, 2012 at 8:53AM
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Hmm, new house, new gardener. I agree with the others who say to live with the healthy trees for a while and then make a more informed decision. There may be benefits that you haven't yet realized - like breaking the sun/wind/noise/light in different seasons or wildlife home.

And, unless you have access to someone else's tools and trucks, the know-how to use them, the strength to haul away the always surprising amount of debris and enough insurance to cover the damages when things go wrong....I would leave multiple tree removal
in tight spaces to the professionals. Much less expense and trouble in the end :)

    Bookmark   June 22, 2012 at 11:48AM
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Im with the others. Leave the trees for one year so you can examine the usefullness or unusefullness of them throughout the seasons. If at the end of a year you believe they should come down, hire a professional. The close proximity to the house and the wall would seriously concern me. If you are really guttsy and it is too costly to hire a pro, then rent a scissor lift or scaffolding and start cutting them down from the top first. Cut in small sections with a chainsaw, like every couple of feet until you get to the bottom. If the trunks begin to sprout after cutting them down, drill holes in the trunk and pour straight salt into them. Keep doing this until they are good and dead.

    Bookmark   June 22, 2012 at 1:46PM
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Totally agree with Deviant that sit tight for awhile as you let your ideas and needs come out. Utilizing the sun & shade to your advantage is extremely important. We've lived with our yard for 2 summers and are finally ready to finish the backyard (just waiting HOA approval). It's frustrating to have to live with it,but it's well worth it. Each property has it's own unique quirks to accommodate. It's a learning process.

Once you have your entire design in place. I would plant around the trees as much as possible but sticking to your plan. Most plants are small and insignificant in comparison to those more established trees. The trees shouldn't have much effect on shade so your new plants should have no problem growing. As the new plants take on some size, I like Karin's suggestion of removal. Seems pretty safe.

I do want to say, we had what seemed like a misplaced Maple tree. Our of frustration, I eliminated it out of the design process. Only then I realized how I could easily incorporate it into a great design! I was very happy to be able to keep the one tree that was planted in the yard.

Having done some reading on firepits recently, you may have some issues with it as is. The depth can be deceptive so I'm not sure if it's within a safe distance from your deck. Perhaps that is why it has been filled with flowers - perhaps could the PO gotten the deck on fire. Also the height seems a bit high. If the placement is within a safe distance from the house, you might consider removing a few layers of brick. The way it is now, seeing the fire might be very difficult. This is something you can tweak in the meantime as you let your ideas formulate.

Your new yard has a LOT of potential!!!

    Bookmark   June 22, 2012 at 4:10PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

There are many design decisions that homeowners have to make where it is a good idea to develop a comprehensive plan before taking action.

Removing trees that you consider to be "stupid ugly" is not one of them, in my opinion. Homeowners work their way toward the long term solution for their yards in far different ways than designers do, and the extent to which that is a luxury that is rarely appreciated.

Designers have to be accountable to their clients for their decisions, and they have to be working to a comprehensive plan to ensure they are not doing things twice or working toward incompatible goals. In contrast, homeowners do not have to be accountable to anyone for what they do, and so they can do it in any order, at any pace, and they can do it twice if they like.

You hate the trees - you can take them down without having any clue what you will do next. The only reason I advised you to consider them carefully first was that sometimes you don't see the problem that the previous owner was trying to fix with those trees until you take them down. The challenge for a new owner is understanding the property. Fixing the problems once you understand them is easier. Even though you don't like this solution and aren't going to keep it, living with it can tell you what life was like without them. Little things - maybe the sun is blinding when you try to eat dinner on the deck and the trees block it just so.

One reason I take down trees in pieces is that my disposal method requires them to be cut up anyway, and for me this is easier to do when they are standing than after they are on the ground (my aching back...). It can certainly be done both ways, and of course if you cut the trunk (either in chunks or all in one) with branches still attached, the branches will cushion the "thunk" to some degree. Also, I should clarify that I never use a chainsaw or any power tools for pruning - my advice is all given with manual tools in mind. The lower part of the trunk might give you a bit of a long session and an awkward cut, but most of the cuts you are looking at will be easily within the capacity of manual tools - specifically, a pole pruner with a saw, and some big loppers.

Karin L

    Bookmark   June 22, 2012 at 5:14PM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

I suspect those Italian Cypress trees were planted there as a narrow hedge type of screen, with the thinking being that they would give some privacy from neighbors without shading out the entire yard. From the photo, it would appear that other neighbors behind you have similar plantings. Personally, I am not a big fan of this tree outside of creating a classic Italian or Spanish style garden, as they connote "funeral home landscape" to me when planted like a hedge. There are certainly other narrow growing and more graceful looking alternatives, such as the clumping Mexican Weeping bamboo or the beautifuuly fragrant and showy summer floweing evergreen Hymenosporum flavum/Sweetshade tree.

There are certainly valid reasons for the professional advice to live with the property a full year before making major removals, but perhaps you are certain they ought to go now. Removing trees of this size is potentially a DIY project, but weigh that against getting bids for their removal and haul away. If you have to ask how to do it,
you definitely need to research your options/methods before tackling this. Taking these down with a chain saw and removing the stumps with a stump grinder would be quite a bit faster than hand tools.

You might find it useful to get a local landscape desigmer to consult with you prior to starting, to get a broader view of the possibilities.

    Bookmark   June 24, 2012 at 12:12AM
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catkim(San Diego 10/24)

My two cents -- this may not be an all-or-nothing decision. After you live with them awhile and daydream your garden as you wish it to be, you may find that one mature tree makes a valuable statement that four or more overwhelmed. Or not. Personally I love a good chainsaw, but in that restricted space I would hire a pro, if removal is your final answer.

    Bookmark   June 24, 2012 at 1:22AM
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They ARE stupid ugly.
I would normally agree with the advice above to stay in the house for a while and observe...BUT
in this case: hire a pro to remove them as soon as you get the keys!

Do it now, before inertia sets in and you find yourself staring at them in a few years and hating them even more!

    Bookmark   June 28, 2012 at 6:45PM
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