Gardening Ideas: Restoring a Neglected Garden – Removing Trees


removing trees

Gardening Ideas – Removing Trees from the Neglected Garden

Not everyone is confronted with a neglected garden or with creating order from a total wilderness. Often a newcomer has no greater task than to reshape the garden according to their own personal preference.

If possible, keep trees and shrubs, for to replace mature growth is expensive of time and you may actually have something better than you realise. Wait a season. Better, if possible, to plan your garden around any existing large tree. Many plants will grow quite happily in the shade of most trees.


Removing Trees

If you are faced with the task of removing trees from your neglected garden, and you feel you must cut the tree down, you can either leave a stump for use as a table top or seat or remove it entirely. To dig out a large stump is very hard work indeed. Better cut it down as near soil level as possible and then bore a series of holes in it. These should be at least an inch in diameter and two inches or so deep. Fill these with a solution of brushwood killer and sodium chlorate crystals. This solution will kill the roots. After a few months you can build a bonfire over the stump and get rid of it that way, or you can just wait for it to rot away.

Taking down and removing an established tree can be an arduous task but it is neither a difficult nor a dangerous one. With a light saw, take off the top and the major branches, climbing up with the assistance of a ladder. Remove these from the base of the tree so you have space to move and work. If you are left with a tall naked stem, remove the main trunk in portions, about 2 or 3 feet long, for convenience.

When you are finally left with a trunk not more than 6ft tall, you can begin excavating at the roots. Dig around the base of the tree, beginning at a spot not less than two feet or more than about six feet, depending on the size of the tree. Dig away the soil between the roots, placing it carefully aside in some place where it can eventually be used to refill the hole which will be left.

As you work, the major roots will be exposed. Chop these through in two places, next to the trunk and next to the perimeter, so you will have space to continue your digging. As these roots are removed, you will gradually find that the trunk begins to move and can be rocked. The tall trunk now fulfills its purpose : to act as a lever. If this is tall, you will find that you can rock it on the remaining roots and after several attempts you will find that the final roots will either be exposed or will be broken through by this rocking and eventually the trunk will fall. Saw this up and cart it away. Fill up the excavated hole left with the soil that was originally removed. This may settle after a few weeks and require levelling again with extra soil.

If you have trees which are not particularly decorative in themselves, but which you don’t want to dig out, use them to support climbers grown naturally on them. For example, all kinds of clematis will grow up an apple tree. Honeysuckles, roses, flame flowers are just a few more. I have a red honeysuckle growing up and over a snowball tree, Viburnum sterile. When the white blossom has finished, the red honeysuckle takes over. Honeysuckles are very useful, but they like to be given a yearly mulch with leafmould, just as they would have if they were growing naturally in a wood. The Russian vine with foamy white flowers contrasts wonderfully with the colouring Virginian creeper in autumn. Try these two together over an old apple tree.

Few things sadden me more or make me more angry than the wanton mutilation of trees. Of course, trees that are far too large in a neglected garden must be thinned, overhanging, barren and dead branches need removing but there is a right and wrong way. Simply, forgetting all about horticulture, you really cannot go far wrong if your ultimate aim is to leave the tree still a thing of beauty after treatment. Branches that need removing, need taking right back close to the main trunk or limb. There should be no stump.

If you can afford it, I recommend that you engage the services of a tree surgeon, estimates are given before work is undertaken. If you balance the money you would have spent on trees with money spent on saving mature specimens, you will find that there is not much disparity.

Branches sawn right through from top to bottom will, as the saw reaches the end, fall off leaving a nasty snag. Often the fall pulls away bark from the main branch or trunk. Damaged bark leaves a tree susceptible to fungus attack and so must be avoided at all costs. Before beginning from the top of the branch, saw underneath making the cut upwards. Do this as close as possible to the main stem. Sawing is hard work. If you have no power tool it is worth trying to borrow or hire equipment. Having a large garden I need a Hayter autoscythe. This is easily converted to power several pieces of equipment including saws. Work is then speedy and very efficient.

Some conifers, but not all – found in a neglected garden – which have grown too large can be cut back and retrained to take their characteristic shape. These are those whose branches grow upwards. The centre of the tree can be taken out to below the required height and the top branches can then be tied to follow the natural shape.

Cypress-like conifers often become damaged by snow settling in their centres, and this pulls them out of shape but you can restore the shape by tying them like bundles, making several ties from tip to base. The trees look a little odd at first but they do improve. If they are trees which have to be clipped, wire ties may be used and left.

Shrubs which have got out of hand in old and neglected gardens are, like an old hedge, best treated a little at a time if you need to reduce their area. It’s worth going over the whole plant, removing crooked and spindly growths; allowing the strong vigorous parts to remain; but to reduce the size. It is best to take away one portion right to ground level and then, should it still be necessary, to remove another part the following year.

Lilac trees which have become a thicket of suckers often present a headache. There is nothing you can do about this if the growth is too rampant, except dig up the lilac and the suckers with it. But if only a few suckers are seen, they should be traced back under the soil to the roots and cut off cleanly there with a sharp knife. It may be necessary to do this every few years.

If you decide to keep and to try to renew apples and pear trees, be prepared to prune over several years and do not attempt it in one go. Almost certainly there will be dead wood. As pruning is best done in winter when there are no leaves on the tree, it will be wise to mark the dead wood with paint in summer. As the first job, try to thin out the tangle of growth. The centre of the tree needs to be airy. Curving, low hanging branches, if not required for their picturesque effect, are best shortened to an upright stem. Crossing stems should be removed. Those which hang so low that the lawn mower (human!) is in peril should be removed entirely. Generally speaking, try to prune so that no branch is less than a yard above the one below it and none are nearer to each other than two feet.

Be warned ! If you have a tree which is a tangle of barren branches in your neglected garden, this is quite likely to be the result of bad pruning in which someone has cut back the young growth annually with no plan and no purpose other than believing that this was what pruning really is and that it had to be done. If you are not sure how to cope, call in the expert. Every county has a horticultural advisory officer who will advise gardeners, free of all charge.

Plum trees, being grafted, are inclined to produce suckers from their stocks. Obviously, these should not be allowed to grow. Instead they must be removed right down to the root from which they grow. This operation entails some digging.


Read more gardening ideas for neglected gardens


16. October 2010 by Dave Pinkney
Categories: Garden Landscapes, Gardening Ideas, Neglected Gardens | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on Gardening Ideas: Restoring a Neglected Garden – Removing Trees

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