Saturday, March 27, 2010

Tips for removing unwanted shrubs and vines

Rampant plants in the landscape are a fact of life for homeowners. The former owner may have planted English ivy as a ground cover that currently covers the nearest tree or one side of the house. An older shrub sits in the perfectly wrong spot for the installation of a new deck or patio. Whatever your reasons for removing unwanted shrubs and vines, these plants have graduated from ornamental beauties to nuisances in the landscape.

Using chemical treatments to remove unwanted landscape plants isn't always the best option. While manufacturers and horticulturists say these products are safe, many homeowners prefer to skip topical herbicides in favor of manual removal of plants. Limiting the use of chemical treatments on your property makes a safe environment for your family, pets and local wildlife. Better yet, you'll be saving the local watershed from unwanted chemicals.

Vine Removal

The best intentions to create a beautiful ground cover area under a tree can result in the rampant growth of vines that become invasive. Vines require the landscaper to tackle two problems: growth on the ground and growth upward over a tree or structure. You'll need pruning shears, pruning loppers, gloves, yard waste bags, flat sections of cardboard and bags of mulch sufficient to cover the area.

Clip vines at eye level from trees and buildings. This releases the vine from the parent plant supplying nutrients and essentially chokes the plant. You can either leave the vines to die on the tree/house or pull them off. Beware that some vines tuck roots under the lip of siding sections and can cause damage.

Tackle the ground cover areas next by clipping and removing as much foliage as possible 2 to 4 inches from the ground. Pace yourself and be thorough to limit breakthrough growth of unwanted vines. Pay particular attention to areas where vines move from ground to tree/structure. Remember that many vines throw out tiny roots every 3 to 4 inches to nurture the plant. Dispose of any cut sections of vine in yard waste bags for removal from your property.

Cover the area with a solid sheet of cardboard, making sure to overlap each section by 4 inches. Pile on a 4-inch layer of mulch and leave this in place. The cardboard will degrade over time and will be completely hidden by the mulch layer. Remember that anything under the cardboard will be killed. Don't ignore the area after all this hard word. Revisit the site weekly to pull straggler vines and recover with additional mulch if needed.


Unwanted shrubs present more a removal challenge due to the bulkiness of these plants. Older shrubs have thicker trunks and established root systems that will defy your efforts at removal. Take a look at the shrub from all angles and clear space to work from all directions. Find a sturdy, strong friend to spell you at times if necessary.

You'll need a shovel, pruning loppers and a pruning saw (or chain saw for larger trunks). Schedule this removal before the plant flowers for the season. Do not cut the shrub off at the ground level. You'll need longer branches to grasp for leverage when pulling the shrub from the hole. Trim off excessive growth to allow working space by leaving 4 to 6 feet to allow a manageable amount of shrub to grab for pulling.

Begin digging about 2 feet from the center trunk of the shrub. Dig down 12 inches, remove the soil and set it out of the way. Work your way around the entire perimeter, loosening and removing soil. Gradually move inward with this method until you expose the roots. Take a look at the tangle of roots and free these areas from the compacted soil using the shovel. Tough, long runner roots can be cut with pruning loppers or a maul. Remember that the blades on your pruning loppers will become dull from exposure to the dirt.

Start rocking the shrub to loosen it from the soil. Don’t be surprised if you must tip the shrub and must slide a shovel under it while you examine the lower roots. Cut and dig until the shrub breaks free from the soil. Slide the shrub to the side and start removing roots from the area until you've collected as many as possible. Refill the soil into the empty hole and smooth over to level.

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