- Active Time: 1 hour
- Total Time: 1 hour
- Cost: $0 (I had the shovel and used my dad’s reciprocating saw)
- Help Needed?: Maybe, but I’d lean towards yes to be safe.
- Difficulty: Advanced Beginner (Be comfortable using a shovel and possibly using a reciprocating saw)
Hi friends! Here’s a project I never planned on tackling–removing a tree from our front yard (and trying to save it–not cut it down). Today I’ll share not only how to remove a small tree from your yard, but also how to try and salvage it.
Disclosure: The links in this post are affiliate links, meaning, at no cost to you, I earn a small commission if you click the link and purchase the item. The links are products I’ve used and loved in the past (or something very similar).
Our Lovely (but in the way) Peach Tree
When we moved in two years ago, we had a young peach tree planted in our front yard. He (yes I refer to my plants as he’s or she’s–I get it from my dad) gave us delicious peaches for 2 weeks in the summer, but otherwise he blocked the whole view of the front of our house from the street. When the leaves were growing, you couldn’t see our house numbers or the front window. So, we decided we were going to have to cut him down.
Enter my dad–the tree saver. I felt bad about cutting down a perfectly healthy tree because it was in my way, but I was ready to do it. My dad was not. He wanted to try to save it. Since our yard is so small and we had no place to move it to, he offered to try and dig the tree up and replant it in his backyard to try and save it.
So, one misty morning at the beginning of March, we dug up the tree and stuck him on a truck to drive to Maryland to his new home. He’s currently blooming a few weeks later, so we’re hopeful he’ll keep growing and be happy in his new home.
After this unexpected project, I wanted to share with you how to remove a small tree, in case you move in to a place with a tree in a not ideal spot. It’s a lot easier than expected–it just seemed like a scary thing to attempt.
Timing for Removing a Tree
But, back to why we’re here: how to remove a small tree. You can use this same process, whether you’re removing the tree and replanting it elsewhere or you’re removing the tree and killing it (makes that option seem so mean, right?).
My dad (who is my expert for everything DIY) says the best time to move a tree with the hope of replanting it is the early spring (before it starts blooming) or late fall. This is for two reasons:
- The soil is softer (not frozen from the winter) so it’s easier to dig out.
- If it’s not in a growing cycle, you have a better chance of not disrupting the next growing cycle if you move it then.
He also recommends moving it on a rainy day (or right after a rainy day) because the rain also makes the soil softer and the tree easier to remove.
Luckily for us, we had the wettest year on record last year, and that trend has continued through the beginning of the year, so the soil was nice and wet after one rain storm and worked perfectly for us to remove the tree.
If you’re not saving the tree and just want it gone, you can do it any time during the spring, summer, or fall when it’s rained recently, since you’re not as concerned about the growing season.
Here’s what we used for our how to remove a small tree guide:
- A friend (trees can be heavy, so it’s nice to have someone help you carry it)
- A shovel or 2–one for each person (this isn’t my shovel but it looks almost identical. It has a padded handle and is big enough for bigger gardening projects)
- A Saw to cut through any roots you can’t break with your shovel–we used my dad’s Dewalt Reciprocating Saw, which worked great!
- Gardening Gloves to protect your hands
- Optional: Fill dirt if you have a big hole to fill afterwards and a truck if you’re driving your tree to it’s new home and new soil to give it some good nutrients when replanting it
Step 1: Gather your Supplies and Your Friend
This first step in how to removal a small tree is pretty straightforward. My dad came down one drizzly Sunday morning in March and brought his shovel, his truck, and his reciprocating saw. I had my shovel and some extra dirt from my container plants last year already.
Step 2: Dig a Hole Around the Tree
Start by digging a hole around your tree. For many trees (and plants) for that matter, there’s one main root and a lot of collaterals. Since we were trying to save the tree, we needed a few feet of the main root intact. So, we dug the hole about 3 feet out from the tree in a circle. The roots were pretty shallow–he hit them with one dig of the shovel. The smaller roots can be cut with the edge of the shovel. The bigger roots–just expose them for now if you see them.
Step 3: Start Rocking the Tree
Once we had dug up the soil around the tree, we started rocking the trunk in the ground, back and forth a few times, and then side to side a few times. This served a couple purposes: 1. It helped loosen the tree up from the soil to make it easier to remove and 2. It helped with the next step.
Step 4: Dig Out and Cut Any Remaining Roots
As you see roots holding the tree in place when you’re rocking it, you can cut the remaining roots holding it in place. Most of the roots you can cut with the end of your shovel. Others, especially the main one, will need something stronger. Here’s where we used the reciprocating saw.
Five seconds of sawing on the biggest two or three roots was all it took to free it. Each time we cut a root we would rock it again to see where else it was stuck.
We cut the main root about 3-4 feet from the soil line, and we tried to keep some of the collaterals with 2-3 feet of length, so it would have some basis to try and root in its new home.
Step 5: Remove Tree from the Ground
Once the roots are all cut, you should be able to push the tree all the way over and drag the tree out of the hole. Cut any remaining roots as you try to move it, if you find the tree getting stuck.
Step 6: Put Tree in its New Home (or Cut it Up for Scrap Wood)
If you’re replanting the tree elsewhere, dig it a nice hole (big enough to accommodate its roots and about as deep as the hole you dug it out of. Cover it with nice rich soil and give it a good long watering.
Keep an eye on it in the upcoming weeks to make sure it’s getting the water it needs, it doesn’t need extra support, and it’s showing signs of life.
It may need some supports for the first few months while it’s roots reestablish themselves (you can pick those up at any gardening store).
If you’re not trying to save the tree, then this is when you cut up the tree for scrap or recycling.
Step 7: Fill in your Hole
You’re going to have a big ol’ hole where you took the tree out of, so use some fill dirt to fill the hole if you’re not planting something else in it’s place.
And, You’re Done!
That’s it–it took us 30 minutes to get this all done. Not too bad! I hope you found out how easy removing a small tree can be!
And, look how easily you can see the front of our house now. (Don’t mention that now I need to start making the front of the house prettier–that’s the first thing I noticed when the tree came out).
If you need more garden projects, we have plenty! Check out some of our favorites like The Best Plants for Beginners, Starting Seeds Outdoors, and Overseeding your Lawn. And, then head to our homepage to find even more projects to try!