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House with an overgrown yard with a scenic mountain backdrop.

How To Clear Brush: A 3 Step Guide

Reclaim Space by Clearing Brush From Your Backyard

Whether you’ve owned the property for years or just found your forever home, yard maintenance is inevitable. Most of the time, it’s as simple as trimming the bushes and mowing the lawn. Sometimes, though, things have gotten a bit more out of hand and you’re left deciding how to clear your overgrown land.

This step-by-step guide will give you the information you need to know for clearing brush from your backyard, from the best hand tools and brush clearing power tools to an alternative method that will help you double-up on your tasks.

How to Remove Brush

Project Prep | Remove Trees | Clear Undergrowth | Cleanup

Get Ready to Clear Your Overgrown Land

Check Out Your Land

You wouldn’t build a home without blueprints and a game plan, and clearing brush from your yard should be no different.

While you don’t need a map of your backyard, you do need to walk through and determine the best way to clear the brush and undergrowth. Mark any trees you want removed and note areas that appear particularly thick in overgrowth. It’s also a good idea to note any spots of your yard that might be hard to work on such as swampy or rocky terrain or overgrowth intertwined with a fence.

Check If You Need a Permit

In some areas a permit may be required for you to work on clearing brush in your yard. It could be needed for any number of reasons, from needing a dumpster on the street for cleanup to removing a tree, so check with your local zoning and planning department to be sure.

Pro-Tip: The typical cost of a permit is $50-$200.

Plan for Brush Disposal

Depending on the scope of your project, your weekly trash collection might not be able to handle cleanup. Or, you might not want to wait to clear the brush until it coincides with your area’s next brush collection day.

Consider some alternate strategies such as composting or a yard waste dumpster rental. From dirt and limbs to shrubs and brush, a dumpster rental is an easy way to get rid of your overgrown yard on your schedule.

A string trimmer and a scythe laying in a green lawn.

Gather Your Tools

There’s one thing for certain when it comes to clearing brush: you’ll need some tools. Whether you plan on clearing brush by hand or using power tools, there are a variety of instruments available to help you out.

Pro-Tip: Don’t lock yourself in on either hand or power tools. It will probably take a mix to get your project done.

Best Tools for Clearing Brush

Power and Hand Tools: Materials:
  • Chainsaw
  • Stump Grinder
  • String Trimmer/Weed Wacker
  • Ax
  • Shovel
  • Bow Saw
  • Tree Pruner
  • Scythe/Machete
  • Rake
  • Eye Protection
  • Gloves
  • Long-Sleeved Shirts and Pants
  • Helmet
  • Heavy Duty Trash Bags
  • Spare Dirt or Topsoil

Important Safety Tip: If you aren’t comfortable or trained to use these tools, please consider hiring a service instead to avoid injury to yourself or your property.

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How to Clear Brush and Undergrowth in Three Steps

You’ve put together a plan, gathered your tools and now you’re ready to start clearing your backyard. But where do you start? The general rule of thumb is to start big and work down to the small.

Man cutting down a white tree with a chainsaw.

Step 1: Cut Down the Trees

In the prep section, you marked the trees you wanted to cut down. Here’s the last chance for you to change your mind, as tree removal is the first thing that needs to get done.

Important Safety Tip: Removing small trees is simple enough to do by yourself. However, medium and larger sized trees can be dangerous to take out without proper equipment. For larger trees, consult a professional tree remover first.

How to Cut Down a Small Tree

  1. Mark the trunk around a foot above the ground.
  2. Cut at a 45-degree angle using either an ax or chainsaw until you’re about a third of the way through the trunk. Make sure you’re cutting into the side that you would like the tree to fall toward.
  3. Cut a 45-degree wedge on the other side of the tree, slightly higher than your cut on the opposite side. This cut should go about halfway through the trunk.
  4. Push the tree from the side where you made your second cut. If the tree does not fall, use your bow saw to continue your cut until the tree begins to fall.
  5. Repeat steps 1-5 as needed for the trees you want to remove.

How to Remove a Stump

With the trees cut down, stumps need to be removed to completely clear your land of brush. There are plenty of ways to go about it, but it all depends on the size and quantity. Here are a couple of ways to get rid them:

  • Use your shovel to dig them out. This works best with smaller stumps that have a shallow root system. Expose the roots by digging, then use an ax or pruning shears to cut the stump loose. Next, pull the stump out of the ground.
  • Use a stump grinder to discard the stumps. This works well for small stumps with a stubborn root system as well as medium to large stumps with shallow roots. Grinders can often be rented from home improvement stores at a per hour rate.

Whether you use a shovel or a stump grinder, be sure to fill in the hole with dirt or topsoil so that you have a flat surface.

Pro Tip: If you’re using a dumpster for brush disposal, be sure to check with your rental company before tossing trees. In some areas, there are restrictions on the length and circumference of tree limbs and stumps.

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Man using a string trimmer or weed wacker to cut down overgrown grass and weeds.

Step 2: Clear Out the Undergrowth

Once larger items are cleared, it’s time to get into the thick of things. Tall grass, weeds, small shrubbery and vines are still in the way, so it’s time to bust out your string trimmer/weed wacker, scythe/machete and tree pruner and get to work.

Important Safety Tip: If you haven’t been wearing pants and long sleeves yet, be sure to wear them at this point. They will help protect your skin from plants such as poison ivy and oak that might be hidden.

How to Thin Out the Brush

  1. Remove shrubs by simply pulling them out or trimming them with a tree pruner.
  2. Use a shovel to get the stump and roots out.
  3. Cut thicker vines and brambles with a tree pruner and toss them to the side.
  4. Pull any larger weeds out at the base.

Trim the Remainder

The last part is simple. Cut the remaining vegetation using your string trimmer or scythe. You want to cut as close to the ground as you can. If the overgrowth is particularly high, cut it down about halfway on a first pass and then trim it to the ground on a second pass.

If the brush you need to trim is particularly thin, you can use a lawnmower to take care of this step. However, you may need to clean out the deck of your mower more often.

Pro- Tip: As you trim, be sure to keep an eye open for any shrubs or thicker vines you may have missed while thinning out the brush.

Goats eat overgrown vegetation on a hill on the outskirts of a metropolitan city.

Use Goats as an Alternative Method

In some areas, the use of goats for clearing overgrowth has become a popular tactic. Bonnie L. Grant of Gardening Know How notes that the digestive abilities of goats make them fantastic for clearing brush.

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“Goats will eat almost any vegetation and have a capacity to digest even plants with stickers and thorns. Goats will even eat poison ivy and many other pest plants.”

Bonnie L. Grant | Gardening Know How
 

Grant also says that this option will be a bit more time consuming, stating that “a herd of 30 goats can clear half an acre of brush and weeds in three or four days.” However, as the goats are munching on the brush and overgrowth, it frees you up to handle other tasks, such as removing a vine intertwined with a fence or even removing some more trees or shrubs.

Goat rentals are more available than you might think, with rates varying based on the time needed as well as the number of goats rented. Just keep in mind that goats may not be allowed for brush removal in some areas, so it is always best to check with your local government.

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Step 3: Cleanup Time

The end is in sight. It’s time to grab your rake and finish clearing the brush.

There’s really no right or wrong way to rake up the trimmed brush. Just remember that the brush will need to be disposed of, so make sure you create piles with your disposal method in mind — whether that be a compost pile, your weekly trash collection or a yard waste dumpster.

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A Backyard Full of Possibilities Awaits

The final step is up to you. Perhaps it’s time for some hardscaping? Or maybe there is another DIY project you have in mind to make your backyard an outdoor oasis? You have a blank canvas with a world of possibilities.

Have other spots in your yard you would like to fix up? Check out our Complete Guide to Yard Cleanup for more tips and ideas.