Limbing Up Trees So You Can See The House Again

Alternate post title: Trees: 0. Sherry: 2.

You might not remember what our first house looked like when we bought it so I’ll remind you:

And this is what it looked like five hours after John left and I went crazy with a clipper (surprise!):

Three cheers for being able to see the house. And we gained a view of the neighborhood from our front windows. You know, instead of the view of a dense “tree fence.” So much better. Plus it was free and gave me a nice little arm workout.

Of course that house’s curb appeal was a pretty constant four and a half year evolution (these things take time) so when we left we finally had it looking like this:

Isn’t it amazing what removing some stuff and bringing in some other stuff can do? And we’re huge fans of craigslisting bushes and trees that you don’t need to give them a second life (we post “you dig ’em up and they’re yours for free” ads and people come and do all the work to clear our yard – it’s pretty amazing).

But I digress. Back to this house and my “me vs. tree” tally. I decided to surprise John while he was out picking up these craigslist chairs, so while he was driving to Mechanicsville and back (about an hour and a half round-trip) and Clara was inside napping (miraculous!) I realized I was free to go outside and go crazy on our giant blocks-the-entire-house-and-it’s-all-you-see-out-the-window magnolia.

You think I’m kidding. Here’s the giant ranch-hiding magnolia:

At first we thought we needed to get it taken down (it’s just way too big to be right smack in front of a small ranch, and it blocks so much light). But when my mom visited she recommended that we try limbing it up as an it-can’t-hurt solution to see if we could keep it – at least for a while. So I decided to give it a go. Couldn’t hurt right? Although I was kinda scared my tree tally would end up tied (since the magnolia is a lot more monstrous than the other trees that I tackled by myself at our first house).

Here’s what I used: a Corona branch clipper and a WoodZig hand saw, both from Lowe’s about four years ago.

And here are my other supplies:

A baby monitor, my cell phone, and the house phone. In case Clara woke up, I needed to be ready to drop the clippers and spring into action. And in case John called, I needed to be able to answer the phone and act like I wasn’t outside cutting down giant tree limbs so as not to ruin the surprise. John actually did call a few times so I tried not to sound too out of breath as I hurriedly dragged giant branches to the back of our property (one good thing about having nearly an acre of land is that there’s always a wooded spot in the back for dumping trimmings).

My method was basically to use the branch clipper to get all of the thinner branches that I could reach from the ground (since the clippers were so long they extended my reach quite a bit) and then to use the hand saw while standing on a nice sturdy wrought iron lawn chair (I probably should have gotten the ladder but I’m too wimpy to carry it by myself) to get all of the thicker branches that the clipper couldn’t handle.

The hand saw part of the job was the hardest (it only took about ten minutes to clip all of the low-hanging branches that I wanted to nix, but it took about 15 minutes per giant branch that I had to saw manually. And I tackled three of those for a total of 45 arm-cramping minutes spent sawing away. Oh well, still a better solution than me with a chainsaw (which I’m pretty sure would = death). Plus I am now the proud owner of Arnold Schwarzenegger arms.

Just kidding but how disturbing is that mental picture?

Anyway, the other hardest part of the job was dragging what felt like an entire tree into the back of our lot after trimming everything back (including a few dead boxwoods that I cut out from the front yard’s perimeter while I was at it)…

….while panicking that John would pull up mid project or Clara would wake up and start screaming for me. Luckily I got everything to the back just in time to snap a few “progress” photos (let’s face it, they’re most definitely not curb appeal after pics)…

… and run inside, toss all of my muddy clothes into the wash, and even take a quick shower before Clara woke up and John got home. And since some of my best ideas happen in the shower, it was there that I hatched the plan to video tape John’s arrival (I snickered at the thought of catching that what-the-heck-did-you do look on his cute surprised face). So here it is:

That’s right. He didn’t even notice that the bottom of the magnolia was missing (!!!) because he couldn’t tear his eyes away from his weird wife waiting in the carport with the Flip cam. Foiled. But when he did walk around front to see my handiwork he was definitely shocked and extremely happy that I did all the work without him. Haha. Mission accomplished (I kept saying that all I wanted for my birthday was to limb up the magnolia so I finally made it happen, if not a bit late).

I’m sure our front yard will continue to evolve over the years just like our first house did (we’ve got a long way to go), but for a free 1.5 hour afternoon undertaking, it was totally worth it. Even if only for the light that now floods into the dining room and a view of the neighborhood that we gained (instead of a big old mass o’ leaves out the front windows).

Point: me.

But come to think of it, I did end up with a clipping-related blister:

So maybe the tree deserves half a point for putting up a good fight.

Psst- We announced this weeks giveaway winners (along with a discount for everyone else). Check it all out here.


  1. says

    Ok, I haven’t read the post yet, so you can totally delete this. Just had an urge to be the first comment here. (Plus you guys work hard to make your house a home, and I admire that a lot. Working with your hands, yeah! (Imagine whatsisname from WordGirl.)

    • Jessica Z. says

      Totally had to comment here — I get the WordGirl theme song stuck in my head (along with the Dinosaur Train theme song) and walk around the house singing it. It cracks my husband up that I get so excited about the PBS Kids line-up. I swear my little girl doesn’t watch too many cartoons, but sometimes we both just need a half hour of zone-out time, you know? ;)

    • says

      LOL I like that show too. I tend to sing the “hip hip horray” song… And yes, Dinosaur Train…lol Oh boy. Sherry, you rock. I’m super impressed! Your Sharnold arms look great! ;)

  2. says

    Oh my goodness Sherry, I did the same thing last spring with a huge pine that was hiding our mailbox and blocking the view from our drive! (pictures on my blog: )

    and we also took out a ton of shrubs and trees so you could see our house from the street! (

    It is a totally different feeling to get more light and a different view! Wait till the neighbors start cheering you on! I’m almost ready to tackle the back yard! Plus, yeah I got pretty buff with all the sawing, digging and chopping!

  3. Megan says

    What a difference a couple of hours and a saw makes! When we moved into our place last year it took us 8 hours over the course of a day to make our property look like someone actually lived there (the previous owners neglected it, due to their age).

    A week later we had some man stop by while we were mowing the lawn to tell us how ‘great’ and ‘updated’ the house looked.

    Point = us!

  4. says

    I’m at work and I just let out a whopping laugh over that Sharnold picture! I think I hear some footsteps approaching from some curious (or concerned) co-workers!

  5. says

    Wow! It looks awesome!

    On a more somber note: have you looked into when it’s best to trim trees in your area? I know that here in North Texas, the early spring can be a dangerous time, since this is when diseases are rampant and can take up residence in the fresh cuts. But I’ve never lived in Virginia, and every zone is different. Also the dangerous disease times of year can be different for different trees.

    It’s too funny that he didn’t even notice. :)

    • says

      Ooh good point. I’ve trimmed back lots of trees (including magnolias) in the spring here in VA, so I’m crossing my fingers that this big guy can handle it.


  6. says

    Go Sherry, its your birthday (well was ur birthday)! Looks great. I have yet to tackle trimming up the Bradford Pear tree in our front yard.

  7. Jenny B says

    Way to go! We just bought a 45 year old house with a ton of random (some good, some not so good) plantings and trees. We took out a bigggg Crepe Myrtle that was entirely too close to the house & completely blocked the view out the family room windows. The difference is amazing. Although, my grandmother had a hissy fit when we cut it down! Oh well-we have to do what works for us, right?

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