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.

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  1. Katrina says

    So, does John ever surprise you with DIY projects? You’ve surprised him with the bathroom towel bars, the tree trimming, and the light painting (among others), but I can’t recall one project that John sprung on you!

    Love the effect – so much better. I’m completely jealous of your green grass and sun dappled lawn. Oh, for the snow to be totally melted and for there not to be the prediction for another snow storm tomorrow. Sigh. I can’t wait to get my hands dirty in our new yard!

    • says

      I think when I’m gone John likes to kick back and relax. Haha. And he knows I get a rush out of being the surpriser (but being the surprisee might be risky if I don’t like what he does- haha).


    • says

      Haha, I actually meant to write foiled. You know like in the cartoons when Elmer Fudd is foiled again by that rascally rabbit? I know, I’m weird.


  2. Willow says

    I have to be honest, the second picture is by far my most favorite, but then trees happen to be my most favorite thing on the planet. (:

  3. says

    The change is drastic! It looks so much better now. I hope that you guys are able to make peace with that tree now that the lower branches have been trimmed. I would hate to see it come down.

  4. Sheryl says

    Watch out for a return engagement on the boxwoods. If you don’t get all the roots (ALL THE ROOTS)it will come back again and again and again. My husband and I dug one up three years ago and I’m still fighting it.

    • says

      Oh yeah, I just did a quick job on those so I’ll have to go back in and really dig them up. Lots more to do outside so I’m sure I’ll be getting muddy again soon!


    • says

      We don’t use that stuff (babies and dogs running around makes us anti pesticide) but we’ll dig those babies out the old fashioned way. Haha. You know I like a good arm workout!


  5. says

    Great job Sherry! I’m a fan of butchering overgrown trees. I went to town on one outside of our house last year and my hubs surprise was a little less enthusiastic than John’s, ha. He hated it, but it has grown over the past year and looks a lot better this year! :)

  6. says

    Good job! I don´t think the tree will get ill, it would resist, it’s a big one and it seems to be healthy. A magnolia is a beautiful tree, so please, don´t take it down! Your garden will smell wonderful in summer!

  7. Emily says

    The video is hilarious. I love the slightly bewildered look on John’s face when you admit to climbing on a chair to get the higher branches. Priceless! :)

  8. says

    It looks marvelous, and you definitely were a busy bee…You got a lot done in such a short amount of time. I’m hoping to have the same progress in my yard soon. We are almost to the stage of finishing up the inside projects, so then it will be the task of conquering the outdoors.

  9. says

    Sherry!!! Wow! I wish there was a video of you doing that, such a big difference! I’m SO impressed. And I believe Clara must be totally in sync with the DIY/Home decor aspect of your lives. She always seems to nap extra during big projects!!

  10. Cara says

    Looks great! So fresh and so clean clean! :)

    I just love magnolias with their big fat evergreen leaves – and I can’t even fathom the value of yours. We just paid almost $200 for one of the “teddy bear” (aka miniature) variety to be installed in our garden. Props to you for saving your beautiful tree and making it work!

  11. dana828 says

    Love it! Surprising my husband with projects is my favorite way to go…usually because if I tell him about it beforehand, he tries to talk me out of it. Just the other day I finally took down the gawd-awful scalloped wood trim piece that was bridging our kitchen cabinets on either side of the window…did it while he was at work, then just waited for him to notice. Four hours later I finally had to point it out to him! Men!

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