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 videotape 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).
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.
The tree definitely looks 100 times better and Sherry those muscles girl!!!!!
Dawn SC says
Wow, great job Sherry! I love magnolia trees (we just planted one in our backyard on our tree planting spree :) ), so glad it could be spared a little while! I suppose my tally with our trees is tied – I thinned out our lemon tree and we can get the fruit easier now, which was the overall goal. But, aesthetically… well, I won’t be taking a job making topiary animals anytime soon. :)
I have to admit I started getting panicky when I read that you were going to get rid of that magnolia!! I have a thing for mature trees… We have a huge magnolia in our back yard now (also in Bon Air!), and even though it’s massive and badly placed, it’s gorgeous and intoxicating when it’s in bloom in May. I’m really happy/relieved that you decided to try trimming it up first – it looks a million times better, and you get to keep the tree!
Anna @ Take the Side Street says
Hi there! It looks TONS better, and I saw the comment about best time to prune — I was just wondering if you’ve heard of that spray tarry stuff for pruning? My father always made me use it on roses to help keep bugs from getting inside the plant. I can’t remember what it’s called but they sell it at garden stores and it’s like a little aerosol can of tar — you just blast the cut spots really quick and it’s like a bandaid that keeps stuff out. Just a thought you could try so the tree is around for many years to come??
Great job though, awesome photo of Sherry in competition shape ;)
Never heard about that stuff- but I’ll look into it for sure! Thanks for the suggestion!
Rachel @ The Avid Appetite says
You never cease to amaze me with your ideas and your tenacity! Amazing!
Jessica Dellamorte says
So unbelievably impressive.
Great job Sherry! And cute video. Loved John’s “Happy Birthday to you!” comment.
Amy N says
What a different a little trimming makes! Great job! The branch clipper is my favorite outdoor tool.
Jessica Z. says
Looks awesome! I love giving our trees and shrubs a haircut — we spent most of last year’s gardening season doing the same after we bought our house. No planting, just clearing. And things look so much neater. Amazing what you can get done in an hour or two and how great you feel afterwards . . .
Oh I am soooo glad you didn’t end up just chopping it down.. I LOVE magnolias. We actually just planted a smaller version in our yard. I LOVE what you did though.. it looks great. Now the tree really looks nice in the yard!
chain saws don’t have to be huge – i have a small electric one and it was so awesome. let my mom and sister use it and they are hooked too. if you have more you want to do i totally recommend checking them out! p.s. love your blog!
Rosa @ flutterflutter says
That Sharnold pic is disturbing/hilarious!!! LOL. But I bet John would have noticed if Sharnold had been standing in his front yard. haha.
PS – Leanne is right, sawzall’s have changed our life for the better! Can you say kitchen demo?!
Awesome Job :) What a big difference you made!
Wow. Like we say about our youngest, you are “small, but powerful” – that tree looks AWESOME!!!!!!!!!!!
Go Sherry! That’s amazing! The yard AND tree look fantastic.
I took out the majority of a mulberry tree in early November. It was too close to the house for my liking, and the branches were starting to touch my neighbors’ house. The distance between our houses is a good 10 to 12 feet, if not more! My stepdad brought the chainsaw with him, but I took off the smaller branches with clippers and assisted in pulling down the large branches that my stepdad partially sawed. I have a grassy meadow of sorts behind my house, so I just tossed the clippings back there.
Next up, I’m going to add a tree to my backyard to help suck up excess water. There’s a nice dip in my yard that turns into a small creek whenever it rains! I’m thinking a weeping willow or a magnolia…but after seeing how big your magnolia was, I don’t know about that!
Please….please….don’t cut down that tree!! Just limbing it made a huge difference. You can get a ladder and limb higher, but please don’t cut it down!!
PS: I have one of these since I don’t have Sharnold arms…
It works great on trees!
Oh my goodness I want one! And no worries about the magnolia’s life! At least for now we love her (she’s definitely a girl). Can’t wait for those big white flowers!
I have one of those too, and I love it. Re: birthdays, our friends give my poor hubs a hard time about him buying me stuff like this for my birthday – but it’s what I want!
“Macho macho (wo)man, I want to be a macho (wo)man!” Well done, Sherry! Love what a little facelift (branchlift ??) has done for the tree! I’m super jealous of ALL THAT GREEN! Things are finally coming to life here in Colorado and I can’t wait to get going on our outdoor projects. YAY!
Kate (and Ben) says
Wow. As a woman of 5’1″ who has trimmed a few trees in her day, I congratulate you on the job well done on your magnolia (especially since you didn’t cut it down–I LOVE magnolia trees). I usually end up with a bizarre arc-like shape as I usually trim out of necessity and frustration and just grab everything within my arms’ length.
Looks a lot better–great choice!
K (Barking Babymama) says
That makes SUCH a big difference – Great job! Can’t wait to see what else you guys do outside.
Anna @ The Owl & The Phoenix says
Love it! It’s such a pretty tree it would’ve been kind of sad for the whole thing to go. I think it looks fab now =)
Somehow, you trimming the bottom made the top seem thinned out, too. Magic! It looks great! You can see your house from the street now!
Paula W says
My house (40 yo ranch) came with a black spruce at the top of my yard, probably planted 35+ years ago after Christmas. It effectively blocked winter sunshine from the front of my house including the LR window, and did nothing but drop cones in summer since it was too far from the house to provide summer shade. My 2009 autumn project was to get rid of this 50 foot tree (which I paid someone else to take care of). Voila, sunshine in winter, a much better view from–and to— the house, and no cones. It’ll be another project to deal with the chip crater left behind but this was a tree removal with NO down side! Yours looks great and you’ll still be able to enjoy some magnolia blossoms!
Jane @ The Borrowed Abode says
Looks great! It’s amazing what a little trimming will do. :) And yay for the upper arm workout!
Bahahaha! AWESOME! I dub you “Lumbersher”!
That looks great – you did a wonderful job! Now I am imagining some sweet spring flowers planted underneath, maybe in a raised bed – daffodils, tulips, crocus, hyacinth….Do you guys prefer just grass in a front lawn, or have you considered a flower bed here & there? Either way, a big improvement!
We’d love to go less grass heavy with this house (it’s cheap and easy, but John prefers having less to mow). Should be interesting to see where we end up…
That is AMAZING!!! What a difference!
Great job! That definitely opens up the front yard (even for the interim while you still have the tree here)!
I don’t think I ever saw a picture of your old house from that angle before! I never realized how many trees you had out front. Great job with the magnolia tree…it looks so much better now that it’s not blocking the house! Go Sharnold! :-)
Wow, that looks amazing!
I remember when my Grandfather limbed up their magnolia tree, he was so proud of it until all those magnolia leaves and their giant maraca looking pods started to litter up all under the tree. He cursed those things for years!
One of their neighbors told my Grandmother that was why many people don’t limb them up so all that is hidden under the branches. She said she just giggled and told her it kept him busy and out of her hair so she had no problem with it!
Just had to say that I loved the video… so funny!
steph anne says
Awesome!!! :) If you still have the tree by Christmas time, I think you should use this tree as a Christmas tree and put lights up. NOW that would be fun!
Haha, that would be awesome. We’d need a pretty big ladder…
That muscle-bound picture of you is hysterical! You are too funny! Way to go on the magnolia tackling. Good job, and I hope he kissed your boo boo! Or at least you… teehee
I would much prefer to look at trees than the street and neighbors, but I’m in a more urban area. I also understand the need for light. Luckily it looks great and I hope you’ll keep the tree. Magnolia is the best fragrance evah!
Some readers may need some tree trimming advice, and this primer on This Old House (that’s okay given your history, right? hee hee) is a good one.
For high branches, it can be dangerous. This is coming from someone who got conked on the head by a branch recently. There are saws on long poles that work well.
Okay the first thing I said when I saw the tree was “How did she get up that high?” Then I laughed when it’s the first thing John said lol! Magnolias are so pretty when they blossom. Let’s hope this one puts on a nice show for you this spring.;-) Nice work Sherry!
It definitely opens up the yard, and I know why you would want to do that. But, my mother-in-law is a master gardener, and she told us that you aren’t supposed to remove the bottom limbs of magnolia’s, because they hide all of the huge amounts of leaves they drop. If you’ve ever seen one in it’s natural state, you can see exactly what she means. They are truly beautiful that way. Their lower limbs are also EXCELLENT for kids to climb! The problem is that these trees should not be planted so close to houses. We have the same issue with one in our backyard, which is not huge. It shouldn’t be there. We had to cut the lower limbs because most were already cut, and now people will run into them if we don’t keep cutting them. And our kids love to climb it!
Oh yeah, we know they drop all sorts of stuff (our last house had some magnolias going on), but cleaning that stuff up seems worth the trade off for a lot more light coming into the front rooms of the house year-round. Those might be famous last words though…
Nice job! You know people pay big bucks for those cut magnolia branches. You might be able to sell them on Craigslist to a local florist or someone looking to add some major drama for their next soiree. My boss purchases a huge box of magnolia branches every December for our office holiday party and arranges them in a giant vase on the center table in our main studio. It looks really fantastic.
Wow – never heard of that. But you’re right about them looking really pretty. I should go bring some of the smaller branches in for a large vase on the dining room table!
Awesome! You do that labor girl! LOL!
I think you may need a new tag for blog posts: Things I Do Without Telling My Husband First
It’s true! Thank goodness he’s usually just relived that he didn’t have to help. Haha.
Seriously impressive. It opens up the yard so much, and makes me even more jealous of the beautiful area you live in. There’s something to be said for open space. What’s the story on all of the power lines running out front? I’ve never seen quite so many front yard lines in a residential area like that (maybe that’s an East Coast thing).
Clara should be so proud of her super mom!
Grrr, those power lines are totally an east coast thing I guess. No idea why there are so many but older neighborhoods like the ones we love seem to have lots. The good-ish news is that they’re not on our side of the street this time (in the last house they were) so if you drove by and looked at our house, they’re not on our side of the street. Wahoo!
The yard looks great! And I was tickled to see that I have the same moniter, cell phone, and portable phone! As a totally off-topic question, does the monitor’s sensor pad still work well even now that Clara’s moving around more, or have you taken that part off?
We actually called the company when Clara got to be around 3 months old and was rolling off of it (causing false alarms) so they said they could send us a two-pad system for $30. Sold! We never looked back. Now we never have issues with false alarms. Hope it helps!
Sarah M. says
It looks amazing!!! I can’t believe you did it all by yourself!!! I love magnolias! I want to spray paint a few branches in the winter and make a pretty wreath!!
Sherry, what a tremendous improvement! It looks great, I’d bet you wouldn’t have to cut it down at all if you keep it trimmed like this. Also, regarding your old house, after cleaning up the yard, how in the world were you able to get your whole lawn to fill in with grass like that? Did you sod, seed, irrigate, install drainage? Tell me everything you did. I love your blog and am a regular follower.
We basically cleared everything, leveled it as much as we could, added some topsoil in low areas, and then seeded and watered to establish some wispy grass. Then we overseeded every fall and spring thereafter (and watered a bit to establish those new areas for the first week or so- about 15 mins a day in the evening). After about a year or two it was nice and lush. And we kept overseeding each year (without watering, we just did it during rainy spring weeks) which seemed to work. Hope it helps!
I came back to your site three times to look at your pictures. I think ‘cuz I’m ready to start seeing green on the trees somewhere, anywhere. (Some of the early trees are in bloom for sure, but all this rain isn’t helping.)
Nice job on the trimming.
Short, Sweet Season says
You know what? I love how sweet you guys are to each other in this video! I always think that you can tell so much about a person by how he/she talks to his/her spouse (which may seem irrelevant on a DIY blog, but I don’t return to blogs where the writers are snarky).
wow! That looks awesome! Nice view and a nice workout all in one. Not too shabby of a way to spend an afternoon!
What a huge difference it makes, doesn’t it? We recently moved into a new home and there are so many trees. We actually hired someone to do the limb up for us – way too many trees on this property. The first day I pulled into the driveway after they had done it I almost cried. It made everything so pretty!
OMG, I laughed out loud at “Sharnold”! I sure hope that photo makes it into your hallway montage somehow. Ha!
They also have long tree trimmers, for us short people ;). Hubby’s grandfather gave us one for Christmas one year and we use it every year to trim up the giant cherry tree in our front yard.
There’s a house behind that tree!!! Great results – if you’re polling the peanut gallery I’m all for keeping the Magnolia tree. They’re so pretty :o)