Removing the Yews

If I were to give you a brief update about what’s been going on around Shandy Hall for the past couple of months, I could accurately summarize it as: outside!  Yard!  Gardening things!

For instance: mulching and landscaping around the back deck, adventures with bareroot plants from Costco, the requisite summer tomatoes and basil, viburnums along the back fence line, (successfully!) dividing a feral mess of irises, and a systematic campaign of exterminating the pokeweed which the previous owner let run rampant for years and years.  Oh, and removing the Bradford pears planted directly beneath a conjunction of low-hanging power lines in our backyard.  Enthusiasm has conquered a certain lack of experience and knowledge.

After renting for so long, it’s thrilling to be able to change the landscape according to my whims and personal tastes.  ($15 Knockout roses at Costco?  Why not!)

Our most high-impact project, however, was cutting down the yews in front of our house, which had been there since it was built 60+ years ago.  They were too big for the space.  It was time.

Here’s the before (and a non-apology for using cell phone photos throughout).  The yews had been flat-topped for so long that they looked thin and puny from the street, but also stretched forward laterally a good 3′.  I’m amazed that they hadn’t gotten crushed by snow buildup.

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The first step was borrowing a chainsaw and chopping down everything except for 10-12″ long stumps.  The resulting mess looked impressively scruffy.

The second step was digging out the core of the root ball for each yew — four (very recently) live ones, and three dead ones.  I’d read a lot of anecdata online indicating that this wouldn’t be too tough of a job for a couple of reasonably healthy adults with no history of preexisting back problems.  (You’ll also find plenty of jocular “chain the stump up to the bumper of your pickup, then floor it!” advice, but we wanted to try the shovel method first.  Especially since one of the bushes was growing within 6″ of our water meter and a couple of partially-buried electrical cables of still-uncertain provenance.)  This took three tools: a shovel, a semi-ridiculous digging bar, and loppers.  Dig dig dig, use the digging bar to chip underneath the root structure as you go, and use the loppers to sever large roots as you go along.  Before I began, I pictured the stumps getting leveraged from the ground like a toppling tree, but in reality the roots keep them tightly in place more like a system of high-tension wires.  The loppers were invaluable.

I pried out the dead and rotting stumps, which was easy.  Pete did the live ones, which were… heavy.  But, shockingly, neither of us suffered any residual back or muscle pain.  It ended up being a totally do-able DIY project.

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Logistical note: besides a scraggly mass of vinca, those yews were the only thing surrounding the foundation.  I imagine that it’d be much more tedious trying to remove an overgrown shrub while trying to preserve the surrounding landscaping.

The third step was the most fun one: PLANT ALL THE THINGS.  (Preceded by step 2.5: TRANSPORT ALL THE THINGS in your surprisingly roomy compact hatchback.)  (It also helps when one of your local nurseries has free popcorn, a large selection of outdoor play equipment, and golf carts for you to rattle merrily around the tree nursery on.)

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(That’s our painter touching up the shutters.)

It’s all pretty standard suburban stuff for our part-sun / part-shade area: some boxwoods, spirea, deutzia, hostas, a rhododendron around the north-facing side of the house, and a coral bark Japanese maple which we have dutifully planted the proper distance away from the house for its full height (which will probably only be realized in, like, 20 years).  Oh, and a dozen bags of mulch.  When the Home Depot lady gives you flack over the number of bags of mulch that you’re buying for your front foundation plantings, do not budge.  You need a lot of mulch.

You might want to reconsider re-routing your gutters away from your newly-revealed dirt, however.

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One thought on “Removing the Yews

  1. “Shandy Hall”…lookin’ GOOD! And so green! No drought there. As for your backs, no worries. The “home owner” work never ends..the backs only get stronger! That’s what’s to love about it. Ha!

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