Shrub Removal

How to remove dead
bushes and roots

Hi Morgan,

Thank you for sharing your question.

Here is what you asked:

"How do I remove all of these dead burnt azealeas without renting any sort of tractor. I want it cut back to the 3 pines?"

Shrub removal - I've been asked this question often. People buy a new house and they want to make some changes, or they simply no longer like a particular shrub. There are dozens of different reasons for wanting to tear out a shrub and plant something new. Just a small reminder that this page is about the removal of dead bushes, which is totally different to removal for transplanting. So how do we go about it? Most people would call a gardener and ask for professional help, others, who want to save money might decide to do it themselves - I must warn you - DIY can sometimes end up costing more than calling a gardener. Here's why: 

Although you may have the greatest neighbor, who happens to have all the gardening tools you could ever dream of, and he will offer not only that you borrow the tools, but that he will come over and help... Still, if you don't know how to operate these tools, and running mechanical tools without experience is not only dangerous for you, it's also dangerous for the tools (!!) you're taking a chance that you'll end up damaging the tools, as well as your relationship with your neighbor.

So what can you do? Keep it simple. Play in the dirt and prune - here's what I'm talking about: 

Shrub removal - cutting back for replanting

So, where to start? That's easy, safety first! Here's what you need:
1 pair of loppers. If the bush is totally dead and has no green branches on it, use Anvil loppers.
1 pair of working glass
1 pair of work gloves
A long shirt.

Think about it as if your about to cut down a tree with a huge canopy. If you just cut down the main trunk, the whole thing will fall down to the ground. It's exactly the same idea here - the mess you see in front of you is actually lots of branches, like spaghetti, that are hiding the mother stems. All of these branches are growing out of just a few mother stems, and those are the stems you want to get to. 
Your mission is to get inside the center of the shrub, find the main stems and cut them back as close as you can to the ground. Once that's done, you've won the battle. You don't have to cut all the branches around the bush, you don't have to trim the entire shrub to the ground. All you have to do is disconnect the shrub from it's base.

Start by cutting a path towards the center of the bush, and cut the main stems. Next just drag chunks of the dead branches chunk aside (you might want to get that friendly neighbor to help with this part) and you were done. 

Important - this shrub removal method suites most bushes, but before you start working please make sure that the size of whatever you're about to cut can be easily dragged away. Though yes, you can always cut the cuttings into smaller more manageable pieces.

Also, if you have plans to save the roots for future planting, it would be wise to leave one stem with 10-15 inches above the ground, so you have something to hold onto as you're pulling it out later.

How to remove the roots
from the ground

I have no idea what your plans are once you have removed the shrub, but if you're about to plant a new lawn, here's what you should do: Before you start, know that you won't be able to remove all of the roots, and there is really no need to do so. Some of the roots will simply run too deep, but then, they also have no effect what-so-ever on the grass roots, which only go 3 or so inches deep.

  • Start by watering the soil. 15-20 minutes twice a day, at approx. the same time. First cycle 07:00 am, second cycle 07:00 pm. If you're using sprinklers or a hose make sure to cover the entire area with the same amount of water. 
  • After 3 days the soil will be soft and easy to work with.
  • Rake the entire area - aim to make it as flat as you can. 
  • As you rake through I recommend you add a compost or a slow-release fertilizer - it's good to mix it in with the soil at this stage, and will help later. 
  • After you finish raking the ground get sharp bypass pruners and cut all the roots you can - at ground level. Most of the roots will be soft, so don't use anvil pruners or loppers. 
  • Rake through again to collect all root cuttings.
  • Rake one last time, this time to create fine slopes from the highest point to lowest . This is important but not a must.
  • Cut again and remove the small roots that have popped up above ground level. 
  • Grass time - lay it down and take care of it :-)))

Hope that helped, and if you wish to learn how to deal with other shrub removal and root cutting challenges, you are more then welcome to visit the following page

Good luck with it!


Providing general guidelines on 'how to prune' any kind of plant is important, but there are plants, and there is YOUR plant. So despite there being loads of information on this site, I also provide specific and personalized support. If something wasn't clear, or you're not sure of your plant's name, simply send me a picture with your question. Use the form below and I'll get back to you. In the mean time, see what others are asking.