Want to Redesign Your Garden? Here's How to Remove Deeply-Rooted Bushes and Small Trees

If you're completely rethinking your yard, you'll need to take an out with the old, in with the new approach.

Is your landscape looking a little tired and weather-worn? Or maybe you're simply ready for a new look. Whatever your reason is for wanting to redesign your garden, the first step should be deciding what to do with your current plants before adding in the new. If you want to get rid of existing shrubs and small trees as part of your garden remodel, proper removal is a must.

These plants often have deep root systems that, if left behind, can wreak havoc on your landscape and disrupt your new greenery. Removing long-standing varieties to pave the way for new growth can feel overwhelming, but with the right tools and guidance, you'll be able to tackle this job.

beautiful backyard flower garden
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How to Remove Bushes and Small Trees

There are many reasons why someone would want to remove a tree or shrub from their landscape. "The most common reason is because of a pest or disease infestation," says Patrick Joyce, nursery manager at Longwood Gardens. "This is necessary to not only maintain aesthetics, but to prevent spreading to other plants."

Additionally, you may want to remove this type of greenery if the plants have outgrown the area they were planted in. "They can block sunlight, therefore interfering with other plants in the landscape," says Joyce. Removing them not only improves the look of your landscape, but also improves the growing environment for other plants around them.

1. Verify Local Regulations

Before starting the removal process, start by verifying local regulations and securing any necessary permits. "It is often required to contact your state before you dig so they can mark any utilities on your property to prevent you from inadvertently damaging them during the excavation process," says Joyce.

2. Prepare the Area

Once you've checked local regulations, start by cleaning the area around the tree of any obstacles or debris that could get in the way during the removal process. "Make sure you have enough space to work safely, and put on protective clothing and gear, including gloves and eye protection," says Joyce.

3. Assess the Bush or Tree

To make the process as smooth and safe as possible, take time inspecting the tree or bush you want to remove. Determine which direction it's leaning in and identify any potential hazards, like power lines or nearby structures. "Plan a clear path for the tree to fall and ensure that it will not cause any damage when it drops," says Joyce.

4. De-Branch the Plant

Next, use a pruning saw to cut off the branches of the tree, leaving only the main trunk. "Work your way up the tree, cutting off the larger branches as you go," says Joyce.

5. Cut the Trunk

Once the branches are removed, you can begin working on the trunk. "Cut a notch into the side of the tree in the direction that you want it to fall—about one-third of the way through the trunk," says Joyce. Then, cut the opposite side of the tree or shrub until it begins to lean and fall in the direction of the notch.

6. Remove the Stump

After the tree or bush has fallen, use a chainsaw to cut the trunk into smaller pieces that can be easily disposed of. "Then, using a shovel or pickaxe, dig around the stump to expose the roots," says Joyce. Cut the roots with a pruning saw and remove them from the ground.

pulling bush roots out of the ground
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How to Remove Deep Roots

Roots that are deeply rooted and difficult to remove may require extra attention to get them out of the ground. "Removing deep roots from small trees and shrubs can cause damage to the surrounding soil and other plants," says Joyce. "Therefore, it is best to approach the task carefully and with caution, and to avoid damaging any nearby plants or structures."

1. Expose the Root

Start by digging around the roots by using a shovel then use a hand trowel or pruning saw to carefully expose the roots by removing any dirt or debris around them.

2. Cut the Root

Next, cut the root using a pair of pruning shears. You should aim to cut the roots as close to the base of the tree or shrub as possible.

3. Remove the Root

Using a pry bar or garden fork, lift the roots out of the ground. "If the root is too deep or difficult to remove, you may need to use a small excavator or stump grinder," says Joyce.

4. Backfill the Hole

Once the roots are removed, backfill the hole to prevent potential hazards and promote healthy soil conditions. Remove any debris from the hole, then fill it with a mix of soil and compost, making sure to pack it down firmly. "After filling the hole, water the soil thoroughly to help settle it and provide moisture for any future plantings," says Joyce.

Common Root Removal Problems

Removing roots correctly and completely is important to prevent potential issues in your yard. "During removal, it is important to dig down outside the original root ball to identify any roots that may growing out away from the plant," says Joyce. "You can follow that root and expose it, pulling it out as you go." Not removing all of the roots can have a negative effect on your soil and future growth.

Nutrient Depletion

Decaying roots can become a food source for organisms that live in the soil, which can attract pests and deplete the soil of nutrients other plants need to grow. "This can result in poor soil quality and difficulty growing new plants in the same area," says Joyce.


Leaving large roots behind can obstruct any future digging or construction in the area, which can cause problems if you need to install new landscaping features or underground utilities. Additionally, those roots can potentially grow into new plants, which may make it difficult if you were planning to grow additional plants in the same area.

Soil Compaction

Soil compaction is another pitfall of not removing roots correctly. "When roots decay, they can leave behind voids in the soil that can cause it to become compacted over time," Joyce says. "This can make it difficult for new plants to establish their roots and can result in poor drainage."

When to Call a Professional

Removing brushes and small trees can be challenging, and if you're not comfortable completing the task on your own you may want to call a professional. "Most things can be achieved on your own, but when a tree is larger than an inch and a half in diameter, it will be very difficult to remove" says Blythe Yost, a landscape architect and the CEO of Tilly. Additionally, if you're not comfortable operating power tools, like a chainsaw, or you're not sure how to remove roots, you should consider calling professional arborist to do the job.

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