We know that David Hasselhoff would pay a contractor to remove a shrub or bush from his yard but the rest of us usually take care of something like this ourselves.
There’s two common ways to remove a shrub or bush but you won’t be happy with the results from these methods. One, dig the entire root system up with a shovel and try to pull out the shrub or bush out. This is back breaking work and it’s unlikely you’ll be able to dig around and through a well established root system. Two, use a saw to cut the trunk of the shrub or bush at ground level. If you’re planning to replant in the area this approach will only cause more work and/or inhibit the growth of new plants.
So what should you do? Take advantage of the most powerful tool you already own, your vehicle. It is advisable to utilize a vehicle with an established hitch or tow hook system. Consult your vehicle manual if necessary. Four wheel drive or all wheel drive vehicles work best.
Now there’s still some work ahead of you even when using a vehicle to remove a shrub or bush. Depending on your location, weather, time of year, and age and type of shrub or bush your vehicle may not be powerful enough to simply pull it from the ground. My truck has been unable to pull a shrub or bush from the ground without a little help and preparation.
For those well established shrubs or bushes the first thing you can do is soften the root system with water. Turn on the garden hose and allow water to trickle into the soil around the shrub or bush. Again depending on your situation you may have to do this for an hour or more. The wetter and softer the soil the easier it’ll be to extract the root system. Depending on your terrain you can use a shovel to dig the top layer of soil to properly direct the water where you want it to go.
So after the soil is saturated it’s time to secure the base of the shrub or bush to your vehicle. Your common cotton clothesline or nylon home improvement rope isn’t going to do the trick. You need strapping, chains, or a cable capable of towing another vehicle. There will be tremendous force required to pull the shrub or bush from the ground. I use a tow strap with a 20,000 pound capacity. This is something I keep in my truck anyway for pulling vehicle from the ditch in Winter. I also use a steel D-ring to secure the tow strap to my truck.
What you want to do is feed the strap, cable or chain around the base of the shrub or bush. I use a 20 foot strap so both ends of my strap can be secured in the D-ring to my tow hook on the truck. The higher up on the shrub or bush you can get the strap the more force you’ll have to pull the plant out, but you also risk the strap pulling through the shrub or bush branches and falling off. I always start with the strap at the very base of the shrub or bush.
Now you pull your vehicle away slowly taking up the slack in the tow strap, chain, or cable. When the slack is gone you can start to slowly apply the gas and attempt to pull the shrub or bush from the ground. Every situation is different. It may pull right from the ground or your tires may begin to slip because the root system is still holding. If the shrub or bush is being stubborn you can gently rock back and forth giving small pulls and then letting off. What you want to do here is loosen the root system slowly. You may also want the water running while you’re doing this. As the root system shifts water will flow down deeper and help saturate the soil.
At this point experience and judgment have to come in. You certainly don’t want to damage your vehicle. I’ve had shrubs and bushes pull from the ground with slow steady pulls and I’ve also had some only pull free with a strong jolt. If you aren’t having any luck you may want to get out the shovel and dig a few shallow holes around the shrub or bush. It’s likely you’ll hit the root system quickly. If necessary you can saw a couple of the larger roots to give you a better chance at removal.
When it finally pulls free you’ll show a sign of relief and accomplishment. Now you’re likely left with a fairly large plant with a large ball of dirt attached. This will be impossible to lift depending on shrub or bush size. So use your vehicle to drag the shrub or bush to where it can be discarded, dismantled, or perhaps replanted.
The weight of the shrub or bush is largely due to the soil ball intact with the roots. An easy solution to remove the dirt and hence lightening the shrub or bush is to hit the soil with a garden hose or even a power washer. If you hit the soil with some water pressure the dirt will simply wash right away. You’ll be left with only the shrub or bush which can be cut up, burned, or moved to curb for disposal.
Congratulations. You removed your shrub or bush, had a little fun doing it, and didn’t have to expend unnecessary energy. The trick is using the tools already available to do the work for you.