Cutting Trees & Cleaning the Backyard
Before I get started on this DIY I want to state that I love trees. My family and I are very nature oriented. We love taking the kids to the park, we love having our own fruit trees and we love having our herb garden. That being said, when we bought our home the backyard was virtually an impenetrable jungle.
The growth and density of the vegetation made it practically impossible to walk. In fact, besides the main wood gazebo in the backyard, there was only a small foot-worn path leading from one gate entrance to the other. Everything else was solid vegetation. The front yard wasn’t much better either. Sure you had the driveway and there are no trees in the swales, but everything else was covered. While this scenario might sound idyllic to some, when you have children that need to run and play it simply won’t do. So with that, we started a massive tree cutting campaign with the goal of leaving only select trees.
My view on trees residing on my personal property is simple, their existence must give me some sort of benefit. I want my trees to either give me fruit, give me shade, or give me visual pleasure based on their beauty. If you can’t do any of those three, then you fail as a tree and you’ll be removed. After analyzing the trees in the house we were going to have to remove the bulk of them.
Before we got started doing anything our first step was to hire a Land Surveyor so they could give us an assessment of what we had on the property and whether there were any restrictions on removing them. In South Florida, you are not allowed to remove certain species, such as Oak and Strangler Figs. This applies if they meet a certain size and circumference. Luckily, the trees we wished to keep coincided with the list that we were not allowed to remove. By the way, technically you can remove them but you have to file for a permit and give an appropriate reason. This usually is accompanied with replanting new versions of that species. As stated though, this wasn’t an issue. So what were we keeping? A very large Oak and Palm in the front yard; plus a large Banyan, Sycamore and a Royal Poinciana in the backyard.
With the keeper list established we could focus on what we were removing. The bulk of it ended up being small diameter palm trees. They were quite tall, some over 50 feet in height, but given that their trunks were thin they were easy to manipulate. There was also a number of ficusses that we brought down and the rest was general brush.
Our process for removing the trees was simple. We started on one corner of the house and made our way to the other. Around the Oak tree, we first had to clear the ground, as no one had raked up the dead leaves in what seemed like years. In some areas, the leaves were over 2-feet deep. With that removed we went ahead and started cutting the palms. These are easy to cut with a chainsaw but given that they were so tall we had to make sure they wouldn’t fall on the roof or our neighbor’s house. The best way to do this was by setting up two individuals with long lines at 45 degrees from where we wanted it to go down. That way as the tree was cut both individuals would pull the tree down in the direction it needed to fall. With the main palms and smaller ficus out of the way, we would concentrate on removing any small brushes, which typically took much longer.
There really isn’t much to cutting down trees other than blood and sweat. You just have to be prepared, have some good chains for the chainsaws and be careful. That last one step proved to be an issue though. When making the cut on one of the palms my brother swung the chainsaw too far in. He ended up just nicking his leg, but it required a trip to the emergency room and a number of stitches. Just something to keep in mind when doing this yourself.
The most physically demanding portion of the removal was a large brush area in the front yard. The area in question was between 40 & 50 feet wide and it was completely full of a small tree with potato-like roots. The trees were easy to cut but the roots were everywhere. These large potato tubers completely filled the ground. While they were generally easy to cut with a pickaxe, the sheer volume was daunting. Additionally, the tubers were quite heavy and wet. Worst of all was the thousands of cockroaches that lived in this root system. Every swing of the pickaxe brought 10 or 20 roaches flying from the ground. At first, it was rather gross, but after a few hours, we just grew accustomed to killing as many as we could after each swing. I saturated the ground with bug killer multiple times and it helped greatly but it took a while to clear the area.
At the end of the day, we removed the vast majority of the trees, but nowhere near enough. Not only did we have over 100 trunks to deal with, we had two very large ficusses that we couldn’t remove ourselves and a 70-80 foot palm we were afraid to bring down. We also had to deal with the remains and debris of the removal, which had been piled up on the swale. This mound stretched nearly 75 feet long by 15 feet wide and over 10 feet tall in places. Our city debris removal ended up using 6 full garbage trucks to haul it all away. At the end of the day this first phase cost over $1,000 between the tools and cutting removal, and that’s not even counting the emergency room trip.
While the backyard was once again usable we began searching for a professional arborist to remove the remaining trees, plus trim the trees that we would be keeping. It was gruelling, backbreaking work that left people with injuries and nagging pains. Should you remove a few trees yourself or clear some bushes, no problem. Should you remove 100 palms and clear-cut a quarter acre of heavy brush? Probably not…