How to Remove Shrubs from Your Yard

person pulling out bushes and shrubs

Bushes and shrubs serve many functions in a yard, but sometimes their useful life is over. Do you have a dead bush in your yard, need more space, or want to put something fresh in its place? Removing bushes is a simple weekend DIY project. Let’s dig into how to remove shrubs from your yard with some elbow grease and the right tools to make way for something new.

How to remove shrubs in 5 easy steps

1. Call 811 before you dig

A cut utility line will ruin a lovely day in the yard and put you in danger. Call the 811 hotline and have your lines marked before you get to work. Call them several business days before you dig so they have time to respond. Leave gates unlocked and pets inside on the day of.

2. Gather tools and protective gear

Gardening tools placed in a garden
demaerre | Canva Pro | License

You’ll need tools to remove the shrub, including branches, dirt, and roots. Some tools are interchangeable with each other, such as the different types of saws. Ensure all your cutting tools are sharp before you begin.

Tools you may need:

  • Chainsaw, pruning saw, or reciprocating saw
  • Hedge trimmer
  • Bypass loppers or hand pruning shears
  • Shovel (trenching shovels work best)
  • Mattock
  • Topsoil (to fill the hole)
  • Tarp

Protect yourself from harm by keeping safety first. What gear you need will depend on what tools you use, but it’s best to err on the side of caution.

Protective gear:

  • Eye protection/ear protection
  • Hard hat
  • Face screen
  • Chainsaw chaps
  • Work gloves
  • Steel-toe boots
  • Long pants and sleeves (but nothing too loose – you don’t want it to get caught in your power tools)

3. Cut the branches

Tree trimmer trimming trees
Anna Shvets | Pexels

To access the root ball, you’ll need to reduce the circumference of the bush. For small to medium bushes, use electric hedge trimmers on the outer leaves until you can see the interior stems. You could use bypass loppers or hand pruning shears for the ends of the branches, but they may not be able to cut the thickest branches, and work will go slowly.

For large shrubs, like a yew, cut out a few branches close to the stem and then use your chainsaw or reciprocating saw to cut from the inside at the main stem. It helps to have a friend haul the branches to the yard waste pile or pickup truck as you cut them.

Continue to use the hedge trimmer or saw to cut back the interior branches if they prevent access to the root ball. Trim enough to circle the bush with a shovel easily, but leave some stump so you have something to grab onto later.

Pro tip: Lay tarps on all sides of the bush. As you cut, the tarps will catch the falling branches. After cutting, you can roll up the tarps and haul them to a compost pile or green waste canister.

4. Dig up the roots and pull the shrub out

person digging bush with a shovel
Valerii Honcharuk | Canva Pro | License

Work your way around the bush with the shovel. Once you reach the root system, grab your mattock and sever the roots. Then, lift the bush out of the ground. You may need to alternate between cutting and pulling before sufficiently loosening the shrub. If you have large roots sticking out of the ground after removal, use your mattock to cut them out of the hole.

When you dig up the bush at the roots, you’ll take care of the whole plant, roots and all. Since there’s no bush stump, there’s no need for a stump grinder or herbicide treatment, which saves you time and money while reducing chemical use in your yard.

Pro tip: If your overgrown shrub is too much for your muscles, rent a compact utility loader. You wrap a chain around the bush, and the machine provides the muscle to pull the bush out of the ground.

5. Fill in the hole

If you’re not planting something in its place right away, fill in the hole with the surrounding dirt and the topsoil you bought at the store. Once that’s done, you can proceed with your landscaping plans, such as decorative mulch or new fencing.

If you want to plant a new shrub where the old one was, you need to take these additional steps:

  • Ensure all the roots from the old plant are gone so they don’t interfere with the new one.
  • Dig a deep and wide enough hole to accommodate the root ball. When planting shrubs, the width should be two to five times wider. The depth should be around the height of the root ball.

How much does it cost to remove shrubs from the yard? 

decorative shearing of shrubs
DZMITRY PALUBIATKA | Canva Pro | License

If you hire a landscaper, shrub removal costs $20 to $300 per bush, depending on the size and ease of access.

If you want to DIY, the cost is free if you have the supplies. If you don’t, here’s how much they would cost to buy or rent from your local home improvement store:

SuppliesPurchase priceRental price (per day)
Pruning saw$10-$240$10-$95
Reciprocating saw$60-$710$10-$25
Hedge trimmer$100-$600$35-$75
Bypass loppers$15-$75N/A
Hand pruning shears$8-$40N/A
Trenching shovel$15-$75$5-$10
Safety glasses$2-$41N/A
Ear protection$5-$120N/A
Hard hat$5-$35$2-$12
Face screen$5-$50N/A
Chainsaw chaps$40-$270$5-$10
Work gloves$1-$40N/A
Steel-toe boots$30-$400$15-$55

Borrow supplies from a friend or local tool-lending library to save money.

FAQ about how to remove shrubs from your yard

What is the best time of year to remove shrubs?

It depends on your climate. Your best bet is fall or spring if you have hot summers and freezing winters. The ground won’t be frozen, and you won’t risk heat exhaustion. 

However, homeowners in mild climates should consider winter removal. The fallen foliage will make the plant easier to cut apart since you can see what you’re doing.

How do you move a bush without killing it?

Removing a bush is more challenging if you plan to replant it. Here are the additional steps you need to take to transplant shrubs:

  • Select a new location: Carefully consider new planting spots before you begin anything. Look for spots with similar soil and sun conditions to where the shrub currently is. You also can research your plant type to find an even better location than where it is now.
  • Prune the roots: Established plants use feeder roots to get the most nutrients. If you cut the roots without proper planning, the shrub may be too shocked to establish in the new location properly. Prune the roots in the fall, then transplant the shrub in winter. Pruning will encourage new root growth condensed near the root ball.
  • Plan the plant’s transportation: Unlike other removals, you can’t cut the plant into manageable pieces to carry away. Use a ball cart, tarp, or cardboard to transport your shrub to its new home. Wrap it up in natural burlap beforehand.
  • Water generously: Before you dig up and move the plant, soak the root ball. Once you’ve replanted the shrub, water it during the growing season to ensure it’s healthy.

How deep are shrub roots?

Shrub roots tend to extend 1 to 2 feet below the soil surface. Contrary to popular belief, established shrub roots tend to grow further to the sides rather than straight down, with a root spread up to 3.5 times as wide as the above-ground plant.

Can you leave old shrub roots in the ground?

It depends. Some shrubs regrow from the roots. In these cases, you may need to dig them all up or apply chemical control.

What if the plant doesn’t regrow from its roots? You may be able to leave them if you don’t intend to plant anything there soon. They will eventually decompose after several years. However, it’s not a good idea if you want new plants there, as the old roots will get in the way and make it difficult for the new plant to grow.

Can you use a car to pull out a shrub?

Technically, yes. Some homeowners and landscapers use trucks to pull out shrubs. They wrap a recovery strap around the shrub, attach it to their car, and slowly pull away. It helps to dig around the base and sever some of the roots so the shrub is looser and easier to pull out.

However, this strategy is risky if not done correctly. Sudden movements could make the shrub into a projectile or yank off your bumper. With too much pressure, the strap could come loose or snap and fly toward your car, putting you in danger.

Only pull shrubs out with a car if you have a truck, and move slowly and gradually. Have a friend stand nearby so they can tell you when it’s out or whether you need to cut more roots to loosen things up.

Are you shy about shrub removal? Have someone else do it

If this sounds like too much work for your sore, aching back, contact a landscaping pro. Professionals have the equipment and power to make quick work of your most challenging bush removal job. They also can help you prep the area and plant new bushes.

If shrub removal is part of a larger landscape decluttering, contact a local yard cleanup team to do the dirty work.

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Lauren Bryant

Lauren Bryant is a freelance writer currently based in the Pacific Northwest. In her free time, she enjoys long walks and baking. She excitedly awaits the day she can grow her own edible garden.