Rather Square: DIY yard landscaping for overgrown bushes

We’ve been bringing you regular updates from Rather Square, a blog ran by Oak Park residents Laura Kesselring and John Christenson, an Oak Park husband and wife who are artists and graphic designers that recently started tackling the redesign of their 1920s historic home.

This week’s post covers do-it-yourself yard landscaping for overgrown bushes:

…last summer I spent a lot of time trying to trim their out-of-control growth. Aside from contorting myself into knots trying to reach some spots, I was frustrated to see that these bushes were pretty bare underneath and getting sparse on the tops too. We wondered if they could be as old as our house (92 years) – it’s hard to say. But it’s obvious that they are reaching the limits of their aesthetic qualities.

Courtesy Rather Square

Courtesy Rather Square

In addition to looking scraggly, the yews were proving to be a bit of a safety hazard. They obstructed the view from our entry pathway and living room windows – and with small children playing outside the house, it’s important that we’re able to keep a quick eye on them.

Courtesy Rather Square

Courtesy Rather Square

Plus, they just made our house look like it had an overgrown beard. Our harsh winter dumped a lot of snow on the yews and really crushed them down at times, but they are apparently engineered for survival at any cost, because they bounced back once the weather warmed up. I knew I’d have to do something about them this year, but hanging out the window again with heavy-duty shears didn’t sound too appealing. So we came to the conclusion that it was time to say farewell to the yew beard.

One option was to have them professionally removed (roots and all), which would cost between $500 and $700. But we ultimately decided that this cost is not in our budget right now. And digging up the yews ourselves is not a task we’d want to DIY, since these decades-old bushes have pretty extensive and solid root systems. I knew I’d largely be handling any yew removal on my own (with Laura on toddler-watch and fetus-growing duties), so I had to think about how much effort and knowledge a one-person amateur landscaper could take on.

I did some extensive research on yews and found that they are good candidates for renovation pruning, which means that they can be rejuvenated by cutting them down nearly to the ground, and then they’ll grow back over several years. Not only did this sound doable, but it would give us a chance to see if the yews might look better with all-new (and smaller!) growth. So I made the decision to go ahead with this approach.

First, I assembled all my tools (a chainsaw, a reciprocating saw and heavy-duty loppers), and made sure they were clean and sharp. [Below is a video of the chainsaw in action]:

Courtesy Rather Square

Courtesy Rather Square

This landscaping project took me two days. Not only did I cut down eight huge yews, but then I had to clear out all the trunks and branches and other debris from our front yard afterward. Laura was able to document this process during the toddler’s nap (somehow she slept through the chainsaw roar!) as I started at one side of the house and worked my way across the front.

It was easier to get the smaller branches first with my reciprocating saw and the loppers, and then use the chainsaw on the thicker trunks at the bottom.

Finished product. | Courtesy Rather Square

Finished product. | Courtesy Rather Square

[To read the full landscaping experience and read more tips on what to do with the branches, visit Rather Square]

 

 

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