Outdoor Updates, Be They Ever So Slight

Perhaps this screenshot of our old header will give you a hint as to what we tackled in this outdoor update (which is most likely number 7 of 582, since we like to tackle outdoor stuff in bite-sized stages so we don’t get too sore/overwhelmed or blow the budget)…

Yup, that’s the Camellia tree that we first mentioned back in March (you guys actually helped us identify it). It’s a beautiful tree, but we’ve always bemoaned the fact that it was growing just inches (maybe even just one inch?) from our foundation… which made us tres nervous about permanent damage if we allowed it to stay.

After showing it to a few plant expert friends of ours, they all recommended removing it asap so the root systems didn’t cause any issues. And we had to admit it was kinda like a bushy, overgrown sideburn on our home’s pretty little face anyway. You know, the tree equivalent to a mutton chop? Or maybe one of those weird extra long “feeler” eyebrow hairs? Whatever the face-hair analogy you prefer, it wasn’t good.

Unless you enjoy the whole tree-tickling-the-gutters look.

Long story short, we finally decided to serve Miss Camellia an eviction notice.

Our first instinct was of course to transplant it. We generally liked the look of it and figured there was no reason not to at least try to save this gal. So I got out my shovel and went to town on her for about 30 minutes. This is as far as I got:

It may look like progress, but certainly didn’t feel like it. The roots were so tight that it was hard to maneuver around them… and I was in constant fear of knocking out a brick or two from the house as I dug into the earth with some pretty serious force (we have very dense hard soil here). So after about another hour of digging (where we discovered just how close some of the roots and the foundation really were) and some thoughtful discussion, we knew what we had to do. We apologized, told her we had done our best and that it was just the wrong time and (more importantly) the wrong place… and I got the saw. It was sad, but it was necessary. And we made a promise to plant another camellia somewhere in the backyard in memory of our gutter-tickling friend.

When it came to the removal process, first I took off the big limbs and then I spent the bulk of my time sawing through the trunk right at ground level. About another 30 minutes later, I was left with this little stump that (after snapping this pic) would be low enough to bury with level dirt so it wouldn’t be seen. I contemplated further cutting it out, but was still waaay too nervous to upset the ground more around the foundation, so I decided just to leave it be and cover it up with dirt so everything was nice and level.

I generally don’t like cutting down perfectly healthy trees. At all. So this bummed me and Sherry out more than we should probably admit. But we consoled ourselves with the fact that we had already planted six new trees since moving in (remember these) and reminded ourselves that removing this one poorly placed camellia meant that we were making room for new better-fitting plantings in that spot, that would, among other things, not lean on our house or threaten our home’s foundation.

The replacement plantings will definitely be smaller and more low-profile. It’s our general theory that short stout houses like ours need lower, airier landscaping to help them look taller (aka: not so darned squat). Our last house was so weighed down with a a heavy row of azalea bushes when we moved in that it practically made the thing seem half as high (see how we remedied that in this old post). So taking out this taller-than-the-house tree helped us earn back some much needed visual height (thanks to the fact that a tiny tree no longer towered over our house, making it appear even shorter).

Though when I stepped back I realized that one very overgrown bush was undoing all of my hard work. Sheesh. You know you’re in trouble when a bush is taller than your house.

So I gave him a little haircut with the ol’ clippers.

Not amazing at all. But better. That whole swarm of bushes is something that we’d love to transplant in order to open things up as we go. We’re actually really looking forward to revamping our front yard because the house still feels very closed off to us. Pretty much the only thing not blocked by greenery is the carport, which (though it has grown on me) is not exactly the part of our home that I want to highlight (we still very much look forward to turning that into a proper garage down the line).

Maybe now that it has cooled off a bit we’ll finally gain some momentum outside. Heck, late last week was so beautiful that Sherry did some weeding in the driveway to keep me company (and Clara and Burger “helped” – which means they pranced/toddled around and played with sticks/leaves). And yes, I did just say that Sherry did some driveway weeding. As much as we love our double-wide paver driveway, the fact that we’re one of the few folks who have to weed our driveway doesn’t escape us (as opposed to all the blissfully weed-free paved ones out there).

See, the driveway is very long. And, thanks to the weed-friendly paver-ness of all those cracks, it’s proving to be pretty impossible to keep free of super annoying green sprouts. We’re not down with those chemical spray-on weed killers since we have a bean and a pup who play outside (they’re not supposed to be great for the planet either), but we’ve done our fair share of research when it comes to more natural weed killing alternatives like these:

  • Pouring boiling water on them
  • Using course driveway salt
  • Implementing a mixture involving vinegar

Sadly after a bit more research (like calling the paver manufacturer directly) we’ve learned that using salt or vinegar on our pavers can permanently damage them (leading to erosion, cracking, etc). So we’ve only tried the first method (using gallons of scalding water from the stove repeatedly dumped over various sections of the driveway). The result? Cue the sad trombone sound effect. It didn’t do nada. Even after waiting a few days (holding out hope that it might take a while to burn down to the root or something) those weeds were still sitting there smiling up at us. Grr.

So we decided to give up on the boiling-pots-and-pots-of-water technique and resort to good old fashioned hand-pulling every so often. Which isn’t exactly every day (yup, we’re those neighbors with the weedy driveway). So if you ever come over, forgive us if the front of our driveway looks like this (here’s hoping it’s at least partially weeded, which seems to be our pattern). And maybe someday we’ll get around to using polymeric sand which is supposed to cut down on weeds…

Okay, now someone make me feel better about having to take out the camellia. Has anyone else has had to move/remove a tree or other planting that wasn’t working for them? And if you’ve ever had success moving a tree with dense tight roots right near the foundation, what are your tips? I just couldn’t keep digging away without crippling don’t-break-the-house anxiety. We’d also love any and all driveway weeding tips. Especially the all natural ones that might be more paver-friendly than salt and vinegar.


  1. Amy says

    After living in our house for over 10 years, we finally bit the bullet and cut out a tree that was planted 4-6 inches from the foundation – a huge, gorgeous Japanese maple.

    Yes, we cut down a tree that (due to its size) was probably worth at least $1,000. Alas, we spoke to several arborists and even if we could afford to have it transplanted by a professional (which we couldn’t), there was only a 50% chance it would survive.

    I’m still in mourning. And the house looks so odd to me still.

  2. Melissa says

    For the weeds on the driveway you can try sweeping some of the current sand out and replacing it with polymeric joint sand.

    • says

      Yeah I keep trying to convince John that it’ll solve the problem but he keeps pointing out that there aren’t many deep grooves for those weeds and they still pop up. It can’t hurt though so I think that might be on the agenda for later this fall when things die off a bit more!


    • Sheila says

      yep, polymeric joint sand is your best friend. Doesn’t have to be much between the joints, just enough room to seal it off. Key is to sweep-sweep-sweep it in…this is the step most DIYers slack on, and the problem is that little voids are left and just waiting for a weed. (then water in, sweep, wait, water…whatever, read the instructions).

      But once it’s fully hardened, no more weeds! I had your same problem, got this done, no more weeds.

  3. says

    Yep! I had to take out a willow tree that was dead when I moved in. Especially after it cracked in high winds and nearly crushed my car!

    At least you got the tree taken care of before it created additional, more expensive problems for you. Prevention! (it must be a weird day because I totally sounded that out in my head like “Tradition! Tradition!” as if I was in Fiddler on the Roof)

  4. says

    We have a gorgeous old magnolia a few feet from our house. We have a 60’s split level, and when we replaced the carpet in the downstairs level we realized that our floor was cracked and water was seeping in – right next to where the magnolia is. We sealed the floor, but the tree needs to come down. We don’t have the money right now, and it’s going to make me sooo sad to lose that beautiful tree and the shade when the time comes.

  5. Caroline says

    Hi John,

    I know I might be outting myself as a complete amateur here (eekk), but what happens to the roots underneath the soil? Are those not going to continue to grow (possibly into the foundation)? I have some plants in my backyard which I would like to remove, but on the off chance they must be cut (like yours), do I not need to worry aobut the roots in the soil?

    Thanks, Caroline

    • says

      Once the tree is no longer alive (it dies when you cut off 90% of it) the roots won’t continue to grow. You can always have those roots ground if you want to plant new things in its place (we might have to dig more out or grind them when we move on to replanting that area).


    • says

      I guess trees might be different than bushes then? We had a couple tree/bushes planted too close to our house that we dug up/cut off after moving in, and we still always had shoots growing up from the stump/roots. A botanist told me to drill into the root with a wood bit on my drill to make a hole as far in as I could and then pack it with salt to kill any part of it still growing.

    • Meghan, UK says

      The drilling/salt tip is so helpful! I knew I read the comments for more than just gratuitous time-wasting! Thank you!

  6. threadbndr says

    I hear the pain. I have pin oaks. Two of them. They were planted too close together – back in 1930. They shed their underneath limbs. A lot. And make acorns. A lot.

    BUT they are mature trees and I hate to cut them down, to say nothing about how much the arborists want to do that.

    Be grateful that your little tree was one person-sized. Mine are at least as big as the back tree that killed the neighbor’s roof.

  7. Heidi says

    Did any of your plant expert friends recommend putting a little Round-up or other herbicide on the stump of the camelia? If they didn’t, you might want to consider it: the root system is still alive, and it will likely send out a ton of shoots for perpetuity, in an attempt to sustain itself. Your other option is to yank up the stump, or cut out the main chunk (easier to do if you’re not trying to save the tree).

    • says

      Don’t be too afraid of Round-up for the driveway either. Because it works so well, there is a lot of misinformation out there. Call your local extension for research-based info. It is systemic and does not leach into the soil. I would keep the little ones off for 24 hours and then spray any residual off the plants. It will kill the existing plants, but I suspect that you have seeds germinating between the pavers. For that you would need to sprinkle something (Preen?) that prevents seeds from germinating. Again your local extension office will have information.

    • says

      I just saw something on our local PBS station about how to use Roundup to kill stumps – you don’t need to brush it on the entire stump, since only the outer ring is the alive – so dripping or brushing the Roundup only on the outer part is enough, and limits exposure to the chemical (wear gloves too, of course!) Sadly, this doesn’t work on our Poplars…who, ten years after being cut down, still send up shoots from the roots and where the stump was (even though it is covered by lawn now). Weedy little jerks.

    • says

      My father in law came around to spray our weeds with round up a couple of weeks ago (how nice is that? He lives like 40 minutes away!) and he told me the pro tip with round up is to mix it with washing detergent, which breaks down the water and ensures the round up gets through to the weeds faster.

      I was nervous about using poison – while our animals don’t spend much time out the front there are cats that run around the neighbourhood, and of course concern for the environment too, but he told me that you could let your animals loose on that stuff within 30 seconds of spraying! Obviously we’d leave it a LOT longer than that, just to be on the safe side, but it is a comfort to know.

    • Tabitha says

      We have a poplar in our backyard that we had to cut down this spring. It was only 10 to 15 years old and already 50 feet tall. Our friend who worked for his dad’s tree removal service said it would double it’s height once it hit full maturity. Not safe when it’s right in between our house and our neighbor’s! My husband and I didn’t feel so bad taking it down knowing it to ensure our safety. But now the jerk keeps sending up suckers to spite us so we know how you feel, Maren!

      We do have a lovely silver oak that’s reaching it’s golden years though. Will be sad when we have to take it down. I could cry thinking about it.

  8. rachael says

    We don’t have any weeds in our driveway so I can’t comment on that, but we did transplant a Rose of Sharon bush once and its roots were so close to the foundation and so so so tight we had to take a recipricating saw (sawsall, anyone?) to get it out of the ground and it actually lived!! I’d be very watchful of your tree growing new sprouts though. Just keep checking, you might have to do more digging if it does.

  9. Christine says

    Chopping down the tree/bush that was blocking our lovely huge picture window in our living room was the first thing we did after closing. And we may have to sadly get rid of a lovely kousa dogwood next year – we’re building a deck and it’s right smack in the way (and we’re not building a little hole around it – not worth it). I want to replant elsewhere in the yard but we really don’t have that many spots for planting things (huge tree in the center of the backyard = limited spots of consistent sunlight) so it may sadly go bye-bye.

  10. Amy says

    We had to remove a three foot tall azalea bush along with a rose of sharon tree when we moved in for the same reason. I can’t quite figure out how they managed to plant it so close to the foundation. I never even got to see what color the azalea was:(

  11. Margaret says

    We had to cut an small pine tree in the front yard because its root system was so weak. It leaned farther and farther until after a snow storm, it looked like it it was at about a 45 degree angle. We literally got booed by some of our neighbors as we were cutting it down. But the tree was doomed, and we saved it from falling on someone’s car.

  12. Colleen says

    We had two giant Holly Trees just feet from our house. Our neighbors vine climbed up them and across our roof, nothing could grow around the trees for at least 5 feet and they were wedged in between our two houses and sort of dangerous. I didn’t want to cut them since they were so old and shady, but it was a good move. Now we have a nice garden there and wonder why we ever put our house in danger.The roof damage, the prickly leaves and the poor looking yard are all perks to removing the poor trees.

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