How To Clear Land Of Small Trees And Brush | Brush Clearing

Perhaps you’ve just purchased a piece of undeveloped property or just haven’t gotten around to clearing certain overgrown parts of the one you already have. I know, just thinking about how to clear the land of small trees and brush can leave you feeling a little daunted. Yes, it can be challenging and possibly even necessary, if you plan to build on that land. But, allow your trepidations to be eased a bit with the knowledge that clearing land can actually be a simple process. 

If you have acres of land to clear, employing the help of professionals may be your best strategy. They have access to hefty, industrial-grade equipment designed to clear large swaths of land in little time. Of course, this does come with a price tag ranging anywhere from $500 to $2000, depending on the area size to be cleared. 

If you’re working with a smaller area that’s packed with dense plant material, you could potentially tackle this yourself. Especially when you have the right tools and an effective removal plan. These will save you not only time and money but energy too. So, how do you do it? 

How To Clear Land Of Small Trees And Brush 

Assessing the full scope of this task is key to determining if this will be a satisfying weekend project or something more challenging. With just a few small trees and bushes to remove, a sturdy shovel and a hand saw may be all you need. Larger trees are anchored by equally large root systems, though. These may need stronger encouragement like a bulldozer and backhoe. 

Do-it-yourselfers should then determine the equipment needed, and formulate an effective plan including a timetable and order of removal. If you don’t have the required tools, these can easily be rented. Some rent a dumpster for disposal, but a better option is to grind everything down and use it as mulch/compost for the rest of your garden. When choosing professional assistance for larger jobs, all of the above should be discussed when shopping for quotes. 

Heavy Duty Brush Clearing Equipment 

It’s important to make your choice of equipment equal to the size of the task. For example, hand-shovels and weed-whackers would be no match for a 10 ft. tall tree. Conversely, a bulldozer would be unwarranted for small saplings. But, no matter the extent of the job, horsepower is still far more efficient than human power.

Another point to consider is that industrial equipment may only be needed for one or two trees while the rest could be removed with small to medium-sized tools that you could manage yourself. Saving you money on rental costs or professional assistance.

If you happen to own farm equipment, you may be able to rent specialized, land-clearing attachments. But, let’s take a look at some effective tool options that will enable you to get the land cleared in no time and at a fraction of the cost of professional help.  

Brush Cutter 

With three different styles, a brush cutter can be a powerhouse DIY tool. The walk-behind type is self-propelled and cuts down brush and trees up to 3 inches in diameter as you push it through.

The tow-behind option, for denser brush on rough terrain, can be hooked up to the back of a tractor or even an ATV. This also works well for grooming open pastures that have been left unattended.

Then, there is the hand-held model which works the same as a string trimmer but with more force. As this tool is designed to take down dense brush with ease, it can be dangerous for a novice to use. It is highly recommended that you wear protective gear and read the owner’s manual carefully before use. 

Brush Grubber Chain 

With heavy overgrowth, there will be occasions when a brush cutter, while powerful, is just not powerful enough. Like when you have a few trees to remove with trunks larger than 3” in diameter.

A brush grubber chain is designed to remove trees from the roots, by securely attaching one end to the tree and the other end to a pickup truck or utility vehicle. The torque of such trucks will lift trees with a trunk diameter of 5” or less, and even fence posts, right out the ground.

Any surrounding brush can then be cleaned up with your brush cutter or by hand. 

Root Grapple 

Now that you know how to clear your land of small trees and brush using some powerful and time-saving equipment, how do you remove all that plant material from the area?

One efficient tool is the root grapple. Just like the previous two, this tool can be attached to a tractor or ATV. Different from a root rake, the grapple allows you to pick up large loads of debris at a time with its clawed arms. Then, lift, stack, or push it to where you want it to go.

You can then load the plant material into a dumpster or move it to another location to be broken down into mulch or compost. 

Hand Tools For Brush Clearing

As we’ve seen, the above heavy-lifters can make quick work of clearing away undesirable trees and shrubs. But, they can also make quite a dent in the budget. If you find yourself with more time than funds, it might be a better bet to spread out the timetable and tackle the brush a little at a time, and use tools that you may already have in your shed. If not, renting them is a lot easier on the pocketbook.

Keep reading for a list of hand tools that can make clearing land of small trees and underbrush easier when accomplished over an extended period of time.  Just keep in mind that while these aren’t industrial-grade tools, personal safety should remain a priority.

Chainsaws and Saws 

Despite having a lot of horsepower, the above tools are limited to removing 5” tree trunks. Anything bigger is more efficiently removed by a hand-held chainsaw for heavy-duty use or clean-cutting models designed for large branch removal or for small trees and shrubs.

In exchange for horsepower, you get a tool that’s more budget-friendly to rent. 

Even more economical is a staple of every tool shed, the hand saw. Perfect for removing small trees and shrubs a few branches at a time. If you have a small area to clear, you could most likely complete this with a hand saw and a shovel in just a couple of days. 

Axe Or Hatchet 

Chopping down large trees with an axe is the stuff of myth and legend. But, also one of the most cost-effective methods around. Especially if you already have one of these on hand. Expressly constructed for larger trees is ‘the felling axe’. Handle length, head weight and blade angle all contribute to how deep a cut one swing makes. 

A hatchet is basically the same tool, just half the size. Perfect for smaller jobs or tighter spaces. Using these simple implements, you could chop your way through some pretty significant brush in no time. Provided that you’re wearing protective clothing and following proper usage recommendations. 

Pruning Loppers 

Imagine a pair of secateurs (or pruning shears) with arm-length handles and you’ve got pruning loppers. These tools are essential for reaching twigs and branches, up to 2” in diameter, that are too high to remove with a saw or an axe.

Pruning loppers are available either with an anvil blade or a bypass blade and they have different uses.

Anvil loppers are best used on dead wood. They won’t provide the cleanest cut but they are designed to prevent blade jam so there is less chance of woody fibers and tree branches getting caught up in the blades.

My top pick is Tabor Tools 30″ Aluminium Anvil Loppers. The single sharp blade that cuts down onto a flat anvil surface means you can get through larger areas quicker.

 Tabor Tools 30" Aluminium Anvil Loppers
Fiskars PowerGear 32-inch Bypass Loppers

Bypass loppers are most commonly used on live wood and consist of two blades that pass by each other to provide precision cutting.

I use Fiskars PowerGear 32-inch Bypass Loppers because they provide a super-sharp, clean-cut, and a nice neat finish. Perfect for trimming back hedges at the end of the season.

The downside is there is more scope for blades becoming jammed with fibrous material that may require freeing up periodically.

The handles on some models telescope out even further. Giving you an extra advantage when working on taller trees and shrubs. While safety is crucial when using any of the tools discussed here, pruning loppers are probably the safest. To that point, they also allow you some distance when pruning or removing a potentially toxic plant. 

Hand Tools To Remove Roots

Using hand tools for root removal can be an effective approach for a couple of reasons. One, digging into the soil with a shovel can give you a clear idea of root ball size and what it might take to ensure complete removal. Two, if the root ball is fairly small (within two feet or so) a well-made shovel will allow you to dig a deep trench around that root ball to make removal a lot easier. After which, any remaining bits of the root can be loosened out of the soil using a hand spade. 

Chemical Brush Killer 

When used as directed, chemical brush killers can save you time, effort, and energy as they do most of the “heavy lifting” for you. Selective herbicides, like triclopyr, will only affect certain types of plants with similar biology. These are broadleaf, woody shrubs, sweetgum, mesquite, etc.

This option is nice because if you’re removing a lot of brush next to a lawned area, selective herbicides won’t damage the turf. Whereas, non-selective herbicides will eliminate everything it comes in contact with. When making the choice to use a chemical brush killer, make sure its intent matches your goals. 

Clearing Brush, Vines and Small Trees By Hand 

Successful strategies with small areas begin with the largest trees. Once these are removed, you can move to smaller shrubs and trees. And then, the remaining vines, brambles, and ground-cover foliage. 

What’s the best way to do all that? How exactly do you clear land of small trees and brush by hand? You start by protecting yourself with safety gear such as:

  • Long sleeves, pants and gloves for protection from tools, brush and/or toxic plant material
  • Steel-toed shoes
  • Safety glasses
  • Ear plugs
  • Safety helmet/hard hat 

Next, have your disposal method in place. Will you haul it away or have it repurposed as mulch or compost in your garden? Then, have your project timetable handy. Will you be doing this all in one weekend? If not, how much do you want to get accomplished and when? Finally, you’re ready to dig in, literally.   

Clearing Small Trees 

This technique is effective for 5” trunks or larger, using a chainsaw or axe. Cutting as close to ground-level as possible. (For anything smaller, a brush cutter would work.)

  • Mark your chosen cut point, with spray paint or chalk.
  • Make your first cut at a 45° angle, one third the way through, on the side you want the tree to fall.
  • On the opposite side, make a second 45° cut, just above the first, half way through.
  • Push the trunk down from the second-cut side. If not, make each cut a bit deeper until the tree falls.   

Clearing Vines And Brambles 

Pruners (or loppers) are usually the best hand tools to use for these if they’re not too packed in. With dense overgrowth, a brush-cutter will save you time and possibly a sore back. A simple string trimmer can quickly clear away any remaining ground cover.

Otherwise, a good selective herbicide can take care of that, over time. By hand, vine and bramble roots can be removed with a shovel or hand spade. Be sure to move cut plant debris to the disposal or mulch pile, as you go. This makes the result of all your hard work immediately evident.  

Underbrush Clearing 

Clearing underbrush alone is a far less labor-intensive task and serves to tidy up tree-lined areas and eliminates their need to compete for soil nutrients and water. This is efficiently accomplished using a string-trimmer or a selective herbicide that is labeled for use around trees. 

It’s also the final step in land clearing. Once larger trees and shrubs are removed, the underbrush that once thrived beneath their protection will become visible and accessible for removal. Vines growing along the ground can now be removed, roots and all, with shovels and spades. Or, by the use of a selective herbicide. 

How To Clear Brush By Hand

It may sound odd, but the best strategy for clearing larger areas may be the exact opposite of smaller ones. Bigger areas of land tend to have bigger trees and removal may require bigger equipment.

Clearing away smaller bushes, shrubs, and undergrowth around those trees will give you extra space to get bigger equipment in there. But, no matter the amount of land to be cleared, success equals following the same key steps, just perhaps in a different order. 

  • Assess the land. (How big of an area do you want to clear? How big are the trees and their roots? How dense is the brush?)
  • Determine the level of labor. (Is this a job for professionals or DIY?)
  • If DIY, decide on the appropriate equipment (Industrial, heavy-duty or hand tools?)
  • Formulate a plan including a timetable
  • Carefully follow equipment instructions and wear protective clothing 

Clearing Land 

If you have acres of land to be cleared, but still feel this could be a DIY endeavor, a brush cutter, brush grubber chain and root grapple will enable you to remove trees by the roots, mow down the thick brush and move it all to one disposal point in record time. Especially if you have access to utility vehicles like a tractor, pickup truck, or ATV. 

With a little more physical effort, hand tools like chainsaws, axes, and pruning loppers can accomplish a similar thing in smaller spaces. Either way, thoughtful planning and safety considerations are key. 

Cutting Small Trees and Underbrush 

Small trees can be extracted by a number of different methods. Brush cutters are forceful enough for trunks up to 3”. But, hand tools like chainsaws or hand saws work as well. Chainsaws are also effective on thicker trunks when cuts are made at precise angles.

A brush grubber chain can remove the same size, roots included, by simply attaching one end to the tree and the other end to your utility vehicle and driving away.  The remaining underbrush can be quickly cleared away with a string trimmer or over time using a selective herbicide. 

Clean Up 

Now that your land is cleared and you can see for miles, what to do with all that you’ve removed? Some rent a dumpster and fill it using a root grapple. This can grab large quantities of debris at a time and load it into the dumpster when attached to a utility vehicle.

Others prefer to re-use this valuable, organic material in other areas of their property. Wood chippers can break down tree trunks and branches into small pieces that look great in flower beds and around trees. And foliage can be composted, becoming a rich, organic fertilizer. 

Roundup: Clearing Land of Small Trees and Underbrush 

Figuring out how to clear your land of small trees and brush can seem a bit overwhelming, at first. But, as we’ve seen, it’s a fairly simple project to plan. Assessing your land and understanding exactly what needs to be done will help dictate the rest.

For example, the size of the space to be cleared will indicate what equipment you need and whether or not you feel comfortable doing it yourself. The answers to these questions will help define your budget for the project. But above all, when tackling this project by hand, safety comes first.