How to Cut Down Shrubs

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Cutting down a shrub can open up your landscape or address unhealthy plant issues. Some landscape shrubs can grow 15 feet or more, so wrangling the branches to cut them down can be challenging. Work in smaller chunks to cut down shrubs to make the job more manageable.

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Cut Off the Branches

You need to get to the base of the shrub to remove it from the ground, but that can be challenging with branches spreading out in all directions, especially on a very full, large shrub. Start with bypass loppers to cut off the smaller portions of the branches that you can access easily. Work from the outside toward the center of the shrub, removing branches as you go.

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When you reach the middle of the shrub, the branches will get thicker and might be too large for the loppers. Switch to a pruning saw or even a chainsaw if necessary to remove the remaining branches to cut it down so there's just a small trunk left. Sanitize the pruning tools after you're done working, especially if you're cutting down a shrub that's dying or diseased.

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Dig Up the Trunk

Using a pointed shovel, work around the trunk on all sides to dig it loose. Remove soil from around the trunk and cut through the roots as you dig. Use your weight to push the shovel into the dirt and loosen the trunk. You likely won't be able to dig up the trunk completely at this point. You're just trying to loosen it and prepare it for removal.

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Cut the Shrub Roots

Your shovel will only cut through smaller roots. You'll likely need more help from a garden mattock, which is similar to a pickaxe. This tool is designed for cutting through roots, as well as loosening hard dirt. Work around all sides of the trunk, using the mattock to sever the deep roots to free the trunk from them.

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Pry Up the Stump

Once the roots are cut on all sides, grab the trunk and pull it from the ground. If the trunk resists, force the shovel underneath the trunk and pry it out of the ground. Keep your mattock nearby in case you need to cut through additional roots that you uncover as you pry the stump out of the ground.

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You can also use glyphosate herbicide on the remaining roots to kill them. If it's been a while since you cut the roots, you'll need to make a fresh cut to ensure the herbicide penetrates the roots. Apply the herbicide using the package instructions. Be careful that the herbicide doesn't travel to other plants or shrubs that you want to keep.

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Clean Up the Area

You likely won't remove all of the roots, especially if the shrub has an extensive root system. However, you can clean up any debris you see in or near the hole. Add the branches to your compost pile or prepare them for collection if your city offers yard waste pickup. Fill in the hole where the stump once grew.

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