After living in a small apartment in San Francisco for 10 years, my husband and I bought our first home on 20 acres of land in the Sierra foothills. We had a vague idea on how to maintain our new property, and a huge learning curve to overcome. Worst, the land we bought was rather neglected. It needed a lot of landscaping, so that it would be easier to maintain in the further.
One of the first check marks on our landscaping to-do-list was to clear the land of un-wanted trees, shrubs and plants. We had to do this for several reasons:
- To maintain a “defensible space” against wildfires. This term means to keep landscaping clean and clear of brush, overgrown trees and debris. Check your local fire department to see how much defensible space you should have around your home. For instance, we are supposed to have 30 feet of clear space.
- Our home insurance requires us to keep up maintenance (for reason #1 above).
- We wanted to create a beautiful landscape that was practical to maintain and aesthetically pleasing.
One of the areas we decided to work on first was a large field on the side of our house. We wanted to clear the area of a few pine trees and many manzanita bushes. We envisioned turning it into a large meadow where children could play, dogs could romp, and guests could be entertained. We later installed a fire pit!
There are two basic ways to clear out land of un-wanted plants like manzanita bushes.
Option One: manually.
The cons of doing it this way are:
- It is NOT easy! It’s a lot of back breaking work. I only suggest doing this if the bushes are no larger than 3 feet, and trees are no taller than 20 feet.
- It takes up a lot of time.
The pros of manual labor are:
- It is much cheaper than hiring someone.
- It is very gratifying knowing you did the work all by yourselves.
- You can carefully remove the roots and keep the plants from growing back.
- You can hand pick which plants to remove and which ones to keep.
- You can keep the grass or ground cover you already have.
- It maybe your only choice if the land it not level enough for option #2.
What you will need and how to use it:
- Garden or work gloves: save your hands from the blisters, thorns, and spider bites.
- Rake: Clear the ground around the shrubs for dead leaves. This makes it easier to shovel the roots out of the ground.
- Clippers: Clip the branches of the bushes near the base first. This makes it easier to shovel the roots out the ground. It also starts to breakdown the bushes for disposal later.
- Shovel: We recommend a shovel with a pointed tip to dig deeply into the dirt and remove the roots.
- Wood Saw: It is great for removing smaller trees, and dead branches.
- Chainsaw: Good for cutting down larger trees and branches. If you want a quality chain saw, make sure to get one rate 300 hours or more. Chain saw can be very dangerous to operate. Make sure to receive proper instruction on how to operate a chain saw if you are unfamiliar with it. Do not attempt to cut down trees larger than your capabilities.
- Hand-tamper: This is a good time to try and level the ground as much as possible, especially when you are filling up the holes you just dug out.
- Wheel Borrow: to cart of your victories over the land. We really love our Gorilla Cart!
- A place and plan for you dead debris. We placed all of our dead branches and roots close to our wood shed in a large pile to be burned later.
Pro Tip: It is best to remove plants after a rain, when the ground is moist. Definitely do not plan on doing this back breaking work in the summer when the ground is dry and hard as a rock. (Oh, and it’s 100 degrees outside.)
Option Two: Machinery
Hire someone with a machinery to rip all plant life from the ground. You can only do this if the ground is level enough for the equipment to operate. I recommend doing this if the shrubs are larger than 4 feet and trees are taller than 25 feet.
The cons of hiring someone with machinery are:
- EVERYTHING will be ripped out. Generally speaking, you cannot pick and choose the plants you want to keep.
- You will need to replace your ground cover and other plants in the vicinity.
- It is much more expensive. I recommend getting at least 3 bids to see which one is the best bang for your buck.
The pros of using machinery are:
- You save your own back.
- The work can be done in a day or two, instead of a week or two or even several months. To clear out a large field my husband and I worked a couple hours a day, a few times a week over a SIX-MONTH period during the winter and spring. That’s a lot time!
- You may be able to get the ground leveled and smoothed out by machinery at the same time.
- If you hire someone to remove the shrubs from the ground, they might also dispose of them for you. Ask if this is an option when receiving bids.
All you need for option #2 is:
- quite a bit of money
- and bit of time to organize someone else’s labor.
My husband and I choose Option #1. There were a lot of lavender plants we wanted to keep mixed in with the manzanita shrubs we wanted to remove. Also, we had just bought the house and we were short on cash flow. Check out our progress in these amazing before and after photos.
Do you have further suggestion on how to clear land? Any tools you love using? Please pass this article along to your follow property owners.
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