Tuesday, June 18, 2013


I mentioned in the last post that in the 16 months that we've owned 231 we've tackled a number of projects. The front yard tree removal project was not the hardest or the longest, but it was definitely the most visible. Over the long weekend that we removed over 20 trees from our property we earned what we have come to call "suburb street cred". The project happened in late February and looking back at the pictures almost 4 months later I understand why we received so many comments from friends and neighbors.

Here's the before:

It was necessary to address the huge Fruitless Mulberry that sits front and center in the yard. These trees should be pollarded (cut the tree branches back to the trunk so the tree can produce new shoots) every two or three years, but the past owners had neglected this. I got an estimate on having the tree work done for us and the landscaper said that it had been at least a decade since it had been cut back, which is unhealthy for the tree and scary for the house.

The other thing in the front yard that had to be addressed was the Privet hedge that ran along the sidewalk. This hedge was probably the most distinguishable characteristic about 231 to the neighborhood. When meeting new neighbors, conversations would go like this: 

"We just moved in down the street"
"How exciting, which house"
"231, it's about half way down"
"Oh! The pink house with the huge hedge?"
"Yup. That's the one."
"My kids love that hedge, they hide in it every time we walk by and jump out to try and scare us."

It was sad but true. We got the house painted last August (bye, bye, brown siding and mauvey pink stucco), but with all the overgrown foliage some folks in the neighborhood hadn't even noticed. The hedge was that big. We considered taking it out completely but decided to trim it down to belt high and way back so it no longer took up the entire sidewalk. The neighborhood kids were bummed, but parents were thrilled they no longer had to act surprised when their kids jumped out at them and yelled boo. Every. Single. Day.

Once we made the decision to take on the project, it's scope began to creep. We both hated the bottle brush that made us sneeze and dropped those red plumes all over the yard. There was a blue spruce that was totally wrong for the climate zone that needed to be dealt with. The juniper by the garage made it tough to get in and out of the side yard with the garbage cans. And a few of the camphor branches were coming close to the power lines. As I pointed things out to the guy from TreeMasters he must have been hearing that coin dropping noise in his head, and gave me an estimate for almost four thousand dollars to do the removal. I'm sure it was a fair estimate, but with the amount of work we have to do to this house there is no way we could afford it.

Then, Ryan and his brother hatched a plan. Enter this bad boy

It's no secret that the Mize boys love any opportunity to use heavy equipment. They grew up Scouting and spent summers at camp working on the grounds, so they had learned early how to run a chainsaw and drive a tractor. Also, Ryan's brother had taken on a tree project of his own the previous summer, falling a number of large Redwood Trees on his property, so they felt like between the two of them, they could accomplish the project on their own.

I have to say I was nervous when the rented boom lift arrived, but before I knew it they were making short work of the Mulberry.

Here are a few things we learned in the process for anyone looking to DIY tree removal.

1. Do some research on the type of tree/shrub you'll be working on. In our case, we had been told by a pro that we could take the privet down to nothing and it would come back. With the Mulberry we should have stopped around this point. Unfortunately we didn't.

After a tree has been pollarded, come Spring it will start to send out new shoots with leaves that continue to grow into branches as the season progresses. What we failed to think about was that the tree would only send shoots from areas that hadn't been recently cut. Places with fresh cuts sap over (hopefully without becoming diseased) and the tree begins to work to grow around those fresh cuts, healing itself over a period of years. New shoots come out in the areas around the cut spots and the tree continues to live and grow. We know that now.

At the time we thought the closer we got to the trunk the better and when we finished with the Mulberry it looked like this.

The boys got a little chain saw crazy in the moment and took it way down, which means there are less places for the tree to produce new roots, and it has to work a lot harder to heal a few large fresh cuts than it would many small ones. In the weeks following the project neighbors started to take bets on whether the tree would live or die, and didn't hesitate to share their opinions with us. We were nervous because we both hoped the tree would live. Luckily, almost 4 months later, things are looking like the Mulberry is going to make it.

2. Get a bigger dumpster than you think you are going to need. The one we rented held 20 yards, which we thought would be more than enough. It was full before we even got to the hedge. Getting in and jumping up and down helped compact the airy branches, and so did waiting a couple days for things to settle before adding more to the top of the pile, but in retrospect we should have gone up a size.

Taking down the Blue Spruce

3. When trimming a hedge into a new size and shape, start by removing the outer leaf layer with a hedge trimmer. It will help you see what you are dealing with inside the hedge, and will make things go more quickly with the chain saw. Our hedge was about 20 feet long, so we had to be careful to stay consistent with the height as we cut. It's also good to trim the branches six inches to a foot smaller than you want the actual footprint of the hedge to be on each side. As the leaves grow in it will get bigger. 

Also, know that it's going to be ugly for a while. Ours looked like a bunch of sticks for a couple months before Mother Nature did her thing and it started sprouting leaves. Today it is still far from where we'd like it to be at maturity.

Privet Hedge, before and after.

4. They really will let you rent anything. The boom lift cost us $275 for the day, and since we rented it on a Friday night and Cal West was closed on Sunday, we were able to have it for the whole weekend. Once we finished the project we probably could have made our money back by selling rides on it to folks in the neighborhood, but we gave them away for free. We're cool like that.

Our next door neighbors taking their turn on the lift.
All in all, the project went smoothly. It took one full day to do the cutting, and another half a day to get the debris into the dumpster. We made the decision that while we had the chainsaw warmed up we would tackle the overgrown Privet in the backyard during the same weekend, which complicated things. But, if we had stopped in the front, I would say the project was a success. And the suburb street cred is priceless.

Here are a couple after shots from the weekend. We cleaned things up and put down some gorilla hair mulch, and we think it immediately changed the curb appeal for the better.

Let's take another look at that before shot:

And here's another after shot, taken today. You can tell that the hedge and the tree are filling out nicely.

The yard still has a long way to go. We have plans to eventually pull out the hedge, replace the cracked driveway and overhaul the landscaping. But for now it looks a whole heck of a lot better, and it didn't cost us an arm and a let to get there.


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