How To Remove A Bush Or Shrub

Removing a large bush or shrub is not an uncommon chore for homeowners. Whether you just purchased a new home, or just want to change the look of your existing yard, often this can involve removing a bush. I have had a lot of experience over the years, as I removed about 20 large shrubs and several trees since purchasing my current home in 2016. And I have used conventional yard tools for removing all of them.

I removed all of these forsythia bushes with hand tools. The year after I had to level the spots where they were as the ground settled after digging out the root ball.

In this article I’m going to give you my first hand experience, tips for saving time, and show you exactly how to remove a bush from your yard. And I will do it using common pruning and yard tools. I’ll even give you some very clear pictures and things to consider before you get started, as well as show you how long it takes me to remove one and make sure it never comes back!

The basic steps are below, but later in this article I’ll go into clear detail on each step and what you should be considering as you plot your strategy on how best to remove it.

  1. Remove the lowest limbs to allow access to main trunks
  2. Dig out around the stump, exposing roots
  3. Cut the roots connected to the main trunk/stems
  4. Pull out the root ball

Now, after I go through the process of completely digging out a shrub, I’m going to have a small addendum. I’m going to remove another shrub, but rather than dig out the roots I will just cut the stem low to the ground and poison it with herbicide, a method known as the ‘cut and paint‘ method.

Also, I made a short video documenting the process, which is at the end of this article. You can jump there if you prefer video over my writing.

Time required to remove shrub

The bush you see below is my ‘subject’. It is approximately 6′ diameter (2m) by 5′ tall (1.7 m) in the center. The total time it took me to remove it was approximately 45 minutes. I know this because I filmed the whole job, and thus have time-stamped video.


For tools, at a bare minimum I recommend some leather gloves, loping shears, pruning saw, and spade. However, below I will list some alternatives that can be used. Note that if you are using power tools (chain saw, reciprocating saw) you should be using chainsaw chaps and glasses, as well as considering your balance when cutting hard to reach things.

  • Hand protection
    • Leather or canvas gloves
  • Branch removal
    • Lopers
    • Pruners
    • Shears (depending on shrub type)
    • Small pruning saw or bow saw
  • Cutting the trunk
    • Small pruning saw
    • Bow saw
    • Chain saw
    • Reciprocating saw (Sawzaw)
  • Digging out roots
    • Spade
    • Digging iron
    • Mattock
    • Pick axe
  • Cutting the roots
    • Hatchet
    • Reciprocating saw
    • Chain saw

Ok, so the above list is great because it contains common tools that most people will have. And while all of them can be used, some are just better for most jobs. The best tools for manually cutting the branches and roots will be the lopers and a small pruning saw. And a spade and digging iron are best for digging out and exposing roots. Again, I’ve taken down a lot of shrubs in my lifetime!

I really have to say that having a small pruning saw is important here. It has a short cutting stroke, but aggressive teeth that make quick work of larger diameter branches. And the short cut stroke means you can use it in tight spaces, like the base of a large bush. Sure the large bow saw cuts faster and is more powerful, but you can’t reach it into the center of the bush and start removing central limbs.

Pictured is a bow saw and short, folding pruning saw.

Ok, so I’m going to show you how to remove a large shrub or bush, with simple tools step by step. Follow along to see exactly what to do. This shrub was approximately 1.7m tall by 2 m diameter. In it’s entire life it was rarely pruned, so was a bit overgrown. The total time to remove this shrub was about 45 minutes (while filming).

1 – Removing lowest limbs

The first step for removing any shrub from the ground is to gain access to the lower trunk where the bush enters the ground. So, cut your branches as deep into the bush as you can, exposing the lowest parts with your tools.

I begin by making a path for myself to be able to access the lower limbs. As I cut branches, I toss them out of the area.

Depending on the branch size you can use pruners, lopers, or a pruning saw. Try to cut branches as close as possible to their starting point at the main trunk. If you do so, you can often remove an entire branch at once rather than picking up many smaller pieces. You may find yourself having to chop or use shears on other branches to ultimately get to main branches at the bottom.

The bush is still mostly intact, but I am able to reach down inside to access the lowest branches. This saves time, as this way I will make fewer cuts.

I personally find it easiest to use loping pruners as the long handle provides great leverage to slice through the limbs that are 2″ diameter or less. For branches that are larger than 2″ diameter, I prefer to use a small handheld pruning saw. A small pruning saw with a six blade can really be a time saver, as the shorter yet aggressive cutting stroke allows you to get close to the bottom of the bush without having to chop up most of the foliage with shears.

Also, remove the branches as you cut them. I often just throw them into the yard or away from me. But doing so will give you more space to work, and we will need that space in the next step when we begin tackling the roots.

It only took 15-20 minutes to remove the branches. Here I am with my trusty pruning saw again.


Do not cut the branches off at the ground, but leave 12-24″ sticking up. You can use this as a handle later on for breaking loose or picking up the root ball.

2 – Dig out around the stump to expose roots

Using your digging tool (spade, digging iron, shovel, mattock) loosen the dirt around the bush and locate the roots. As you locate the roots, use a shovel to remove the soil so that they are fully exposed. Work your way around the entire trunk doing this, trying to find as many roots as you can.

Use a shovel, digging iron, spade, or something to loosen and dig out the soil. You need access to the roots to be able to sever them.

I find that a nice way to locate ‘hidden’ roots is to stab my spade or digging iron under the whole root ball. Then using a log or rock for leverage, I lean the handle back to try to pry out the trunk. The thing is, since most of the roots are exposed, ones that are still hidden will give resistance. Where you see no movement of the trunk…that is where you need to dig to expose a root.

What about removing shrubs with really deep roots?

Although every shrub we go to remove may seem like it has really deep roots, most often they do not. In general, nearly all the roots of any mature woody plant are within the top 12″ of soil with the exception of some trees. Nonetheless, the most powerful tool in your arsenal against a taproot or really deeply rooted bushes is a digging iron. Use it to loosen the soil under the root ball, then go in with a pruning saw to sever the taproot.

Digging irons are long, (6′ / 2m) iron poles with a wedge shape on one end. You hold it with two hands, and stab under the root ball. Then, place a large rock or board under the handle, and put all your weight on it. Similar to a teeter-totter, you can apply a lot of force via leverage, breaking the root ball free or at least locating the roots for cutting.

3 – Cut the roots

As roots get exposed, reach down with pruners, or a saw to cut them. A reciprocating saw with a demolition blade can make quick work of most roots, and even go through soil!

Pruners, lopers, or a hatchet are my preferred method of cutting roots.

4 – Remove the root ball

Once you think you’ve cut all the roots, it is time to break the root ball free. To do this, I like to dig or stab my shovel underneath the root ball, then place something hard underneath the handle for leverage, and try to pry it up. Also, if you left the branches sticking above the ground, you can kick them or have someone else pull on them. If find this often will break free even the most stubborn of bushes.

Tips for removing the root ball

To get the root ball out of there, you can simply pick it up by the remaining branches. But if it is too large, I find a great method is to roll it into a wheelbarrow. You may need someone to help you do this depending on the size of the root ball. Click on the image to see it full sized image.

Click for full size

But essentially you will place your shovel under the root ball, then place some kind of block under the handle to use as leverage (this also helps to break it loose). Finally, raise the root ball up, and with the aid of someone else, roll it into a wheel barrow. This method works for large rocks as well as root balls and stumps!

You can roll a root ball into a wheelbarrow by yourself if it isn’t too big.

Disposing of the brush

All those branches need to be disposed. If you live in a rural area or near a forest, this isn’t a big deal. Otherwise, you may need to take it to a dump or somewhere where you can get permission to leave them. Many municipalities do have a public area for dumping brush.

Removing a bush without taking the roots

If you have a bush you want to remove, and you don’t mind having the stems cut low to the ground, then there is a quicker way to do the job. You just cut the central stems low to the ground and then paint the freshly cut stems with herbicide.

I’m going to demonstrate this by using some power tools and herbicide, rather than digging out the root ball. This method is much easier than digging out the whole root ball. The only thing is you are basically making a trip hazard unless you cut it right at ground level.

But like the other method, first we need to remove the branches, but also cut the stump very close to the ground. I’m going to us my electric chainsaw for this job.

We had kept this shrub pruned better, and so the lower trunk was completely accessible. Because of that, it only took a minute to cut the base and remove all the branches!

Next, we want to apply herbicide to the stump. And you want to do it quick – within 10 minutes of cutting (the sooner the better[1]). I like to use concentrated ‘brush killer’, which is triclopyr. But you can use concentrated glyphosate too. Just spray or paint the stump with a generous portion of herbicide and you can expect the stump to be completely dead[2]. I’ve literally killed hundreds of invasive Bush Honeysuckle trees in the forest of my backyard using this method. It works, you just need to paint the stump quickly after cutting.

Always wear protective gloves when applying chemicals, and follow the directions on the bottle.

Other herbicides like glyphosate work too. But I like triclopyr because it has a lower half-life than others. In sunlight, it’s half-life is measured in hours[3], and in soil, it’s half-life is less than a year[4]. So, spraying a stump that is exposed to sunlight will allow me to kill the stump, but not poison the soil for long in comparison to other common herbicides.

Video guide

Here is a video I made documenting the entire process, so you can see it in action. Overall it took me about 45 minutes to remove the first bush (while filming!).


Well, that is the basics for removing a shrub. Doing so with hand tools is not an easy job, but it is completely doable for the average homeowner. If you have to take out a large amount of bushes, then you may wish to borrow or invest in some power tools. The electric chainsaw I used to take out the second shrub is several years old, but still works great.

Overall though, don’t be intimidated by the job. With the right tools and methods, you are more than capable of removing bushes larger than you! You just need to take them one piece at a time, and you will have it out before you know it.

Find more gardening tips here


[1] – Schalau, Jeff. “Cut stump application of herbicides to manage woody vegetation.” (2011). Archived version.

[2] – Enloe, Stephen F., et al. “The influence of treatment timing and shrub size on Chinese privet (Ligustrum sinense) control with cut stump herbicide treatments in the southeastern United States.” Invasive plant science and management 11.1 (2018): 49-55. Archived version.

[3]- Tu, Mandy, Callie Hurd, and John M. Randall. “Weed control methods handbook: tools & techniques for use in natural areas.” (2001). Specifically, page 7.k.3. Archived version.

[4] – Johnson, W. G., and T. L. Lavy. In‐situ dissipation of benomyl, carbofuran, thiobencarb, and triclopyr at three soil depths. Vol. 23. No. 3. American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America, and Soil Science Society of America, 1994. Archived version.

Joe Foster

Hi - I grew up outdoors in nature - hiking, fishing, hunting. In high school I got my first job at a garden center where I learned to garden and landscape. I've been growing plants from seed and designing native plant gardens for over 10 years. I hope to share some of my knowledge with you! You may have seen some of my videos I create on our YouTube channel, GrowitBuildit (more than 10 million views!). You can find my channel here: Additionally I am a wood worker / DIY enthusiast. I enjoy designing/building projects (with hand tools when I can!). I hope to give you some tips and useful information!

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