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Yew and me: A landscaping renovation story

By on July 2, 2014


Remember the huge yew bushes in our front yard that we talked about in our last landscaping post? Well, we did a little work on them recently…

Yew Renovation Pruning | Rather Square

You may recall that 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.

Yew Renovation Pruning | 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.

Yew Renovation Pruning | 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.

Yew Renovation Pruning | Rather Square

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.

Yew Renovation Pruning | Rather Square

Yew Renovation Pruning | Rather Square

Yew Renovation Pruning | 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.

Yew Renovation Pruning | Rather Square

Yew Renovation Pruning | Rather Square

Yew Renovation Pruning | Rather Square

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.

Yew Renovation Pruning | Rather Square

Yew Renovation Pruning | Rather Square

Here’s a video of the chainsaw in action.

And once I chopped down every last bush, we were left with this aftermath.

Yew Renovation Pruning | Rather Square

Yew Renovation Pruning | Rather Square

I piled all the cut branches and trunks in an out-of-the-way area behind our garden for now, while we decide what to do with them. Maybe we’ll rent a wood chipper to make some mulch? If not, I need to figure out how to dispose of them (they’re too big for our village’s yardwaste bag pickup).

Yew Renovation Pruning | Rather Square

Here’s our front yard after all the debris was cleared away. It feels like our house can breathe a little more easily now without its big bushy beard.

Yew Renovation Pruning | Rather Square

It’s a little surreal to be able to stand in the space where these giant bushes used to be.

Yew Renovation Pruning | Rather Square

I counted the rings of the stumps, and it looks like these yews were actually about 60 years old. So not quite as old as our house, but they’ve still been around for a very long time. I can only imagine what kind of root systems must be under our front yard!

Yew Renovation Pruning | Rather Square

Now we wait to see how the yews will react to their clean close shave. These bushes grow pretty slowly, but a smaller, gentler greenery border in front of our house is our goal anyway.

In the meantime, we’ve suddenly got a lot more space in our front yard to do some landscaping! We don’t have a lot of time to allocate to this at the moment, but I’ve been brainstorming some small quick things we can do this summer to get this space ready for more major changes down the road.

Yew Renovation Pruning | Rather Square

I’ve got some ideas that I’ve already started to implement, so I’ll be back with a follow-up post soon. Have a great Fourth of July, readers!

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July 2, 2014

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