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I am planning for a landscape project. I wish to start construction in 9 months. In this project I plan to remove many 20-foot-tall trees. They are badly sited, and becoming a serious problem. I am trying to decide when to remove them.

One choice is to remove them soon after landscape design starts but before other construction begins. Perhaps this will give the architect a chance to design around some of them. However, this seems unlikely. These trees were planted along a fence with 4 feet spacing between trees, as if making a spite fence.

Another choice is to remove them soon. The reason is to give the designer a blank slate, a better view of his/her work area, more accurate lighting. And I suspect this choice will help the new plants too by ensuring the existing trees' root network are completely inactive in 9 months.

Which choice is better? Please provide your reasons too. Thanks.

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  • Am I right to assume that you have not yet consulted with a garden/landscape/designer for your project? That's usually the first step because during discussions with the designer is when its decided what needs to go and what can be spared...
    – Bamboo
    Feb 6, 2020 at 19:26
  • Not yet, but I am aware of his preference about the trees. Because the construction start date is still 9 months away, I don't plan to formally engage him for now. Also, because most or all the trees must go, what I want to learn here is the logistical side. That is, do architects prefer an actual empty space vs an imagery one? Do roots of felled trees still complete with new plants? Questions like that.
    – BLiao
    Feb 6, 2020 at 20:34

5 Answers 5

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I'm a landscape architect and prefer that clients don't clean sites before I start as I can often recycle and reuse a lot of things out of it.

Trees that are only 20' tall may have some value - depending on species and shape. One of the things I do is move trees like these and put them into new landscapes - Usually I get them from orchards but also from where sites are being cleared.

Also often the existing plants are useful for me for legal reasons as they may be able to be used to screen something my clients wants to do. I have seen a number of sites that were 'cleaned' and where subsequent development was impossible as it could now be seen.

People above are right to say you need a LA who knows about plants as many don't.

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  • How quickly can you decide what to keep or remove once you start a design? How often do you change your mind? I asked my original question to decide on design start time. The design will probably take a month. The arborists have a 2-month wait lists. If some time should pass between tree removal and planting new plants as others suggested, with your preference, I need to start my conversation with the architect 5-6 months before construction. Isn't that too early?
    – BLiao
    Feb 6, 2020 at 21:01
  • It's my experience that everything that is on the site at the start should be discussed with all stakeholders as early as possible. Can never be too early, can save a lot of hassle and $$ with this approach. You never know the architect may want to include the trees as part of the design. It is best to have an open mind and to be able to negotiate some flexibility when it comes to trees. Trees can be useful to keep as they may enable permitting where they are screening something, or as part of your jusrisdiction's stormwater codes etc.
    – nigelc
    Feb 17, 2020 at 1:06
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You should discuss this with your landscape architect. Assuming he/she has much experience with plants. Some are much better at hardscape and have not taken the time to learn about plants. If they do know much about plants they will should be able to tell what plant they want to keep for that project as well as which ones need to be removed, because they will cause structural damage to either the existing or design hardscape.

It will be best that they are removed before you start the project or they will be the first thing that needs to be completed in the project. The last thing you want to do is remove plant after a design has been finalized which includes them as part of the area. But, even more so you do not want to destroy or compact the soil of the plants you just put down an investment. The people removing the trees may not care if they step on a newly or an existing fern. New garden soil should not be walked on. You need to give the soil time to settle and the plants time to put down roots before you start walking around the area.

If the l.a. has no opinion then have an arborist look at the site. They will be able to tell you which ones are going to be problematic for the existing property. He/she will appreciate having the space to work before the rest of the project is begins.

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  • If the trees are left in place until design starts, some or all will be removed before design is finished. The arborists around me have long wait lists for jobs so I must plan accordingly. Sorry I wasn't clear about this. So to me the question is whether possibly saving a few outweighs the potential problems of late removal, such as re-growth brought up by alephzero.
    – BLiao
    Feb 6, 2020 at 20:06
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We don't know where in the world you are, but to answer the question from a different angle, the best time to get rid of deciduous trees is when they are dormant and the leaves are gone. The reason is simply that trees without leaves weigh less and the wood is easier to handle. Also you don't end up with damaged leaves trampled everywhere into the ground, along paths, etc.

You probably need to take out the large roots as well removing what you can see above ground. Felling several 20 foot trees and taking away the wood will leave your "garden" looking like a building site, so do it as soon as possible, level the ground, and leave it to settle for as long as possible before you start on the detailed landscaping.

If anything starts to re-grow from the remaining tree roots, it is easier to deal with that if you can use chemicals which are not going to be friendly to your new plants. That is another reason for felling the trees as soon as possible.

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  • Thank you for reminding me about the re-growth. I didn't consider that. BTW, the trees are evergreen.
    – BLiao
    Feb 6, 2020 at 19:56
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As noted ask your designer. An important/expensive factor is will some or all stumps be removed? It will be a significant expense to "grind" out all the stumps. Alternatively , low stumps may be left in some locations such as where there will be a thicket of shrubbery. A similar factor is if stumps are to be removed , the trees can be pushed over in place ; this pulls the stump out of the ground. This is the way it was handled on my lot to remove a dozen+ 100 foot tall pines. ( Note: Be careful where you stand while they are pushed.) . Also , will the removed trees be put through a Chipper/Shredder to produce mulch ? : This is less costly than having the wood removed. And, because you have the time , you may want to put in some plantings now , in the margins where thy will be out of the way. I planted several magnolia trees in the spring and lot clearing did not occur until late summer , so the trees got a one season headstart.

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You've said the trees are evergreens - if that means coniferous, with one or two exceptions (Yew for instance) most conifers do not regrow once they have been cut to the ground. However, stump and major root removal to a depth of 18 inches is preferable in order to remove any risk of honey fungus appearing via the rotting stumps later on. Honey fungus is best avoided, for it attacks living plants as well as dead ones, and is next to impossible to get rid of once it's established. Even if honey fungus did not appear, it takes some years for stumps to rot down, and while they're doing it, all kinds of fungus will appear on them, inevitably, because fungus is part of nature's disposal system.

As to whether they should be removed prior to consulting a landscaper/designer, I wouldn't particularly recommend it, unless you absolutely detest them and want them gone anyway. Usually, a landscaper/designer has their own team who will come and remove anything that needs to go prior to carrying out the design, once you and the designer have agreed on a plan for the area. The only other thing to say is make sure your designer is also knowledgeable about plants - many aren't.

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