How to Remove Bushes and Shrub Roots

You don't have to dig when learning how to remove bushes and shrub roots! Use a lever to make shrub and shrub root removal easy.

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20-40 minutes






Instead of spending hours digging out a stubborn shrub, use a lever system to remove it without breaking your back.

Shrubs are the backbone of most home landscapes. But when they succumb to disease or weather, or they outgrow their allotted space, they need to go. The challenge: The roots of a dead shrub don't come up easily. I've found even small shrubs can hold on tightly, making them surprisingly difficult to remove.

More than once in my decades of landscaping, I've tackled a dead shrub with a shovel, pick, loppers and even a spud or digging bar. The latter is usually a five- to six-foot-long heavy metal bar with a wedge or taper on one end. But there's a much easier way! By setting up a simple lever system that would make any science teacher proud, the roots release with a fraction of the effort.

To gain the best leverage, place the jack stand farther away from the shrub than the jack itself to provide the most lift. After connecting the chain around — and possibly through — the roots and securing it over the lever arm, it's miraculous to watch it slowly pull the shrub out of the ground.

Sometimes it's easier to cut off the branches to give you plenty of working room. Just don't cut them all the way to the ground where the chain might slip free of the root ball. Leaving eight to 10 inches usually works well.

If you have a shrub that needs to be removed, pull on a pair of work gloves, take out your jack and jack lift and follow our step-by-step.

Project step-by-step (5)

Step 1

Attach a chain around the shrub roots

  • Take one end of the utility chain and weave it through and around the shrub’s roots, snugging it as tightly as possible.

Chain On The Shrub And Jack And Jack Lift In PlaceAmy Grisak for Family Handyman

  • Dig down approximately four to six inches, depending on the size of the rootball.
    • Weave the chain through the roots so there’s no chance of it slipping. If that’s not possible, find a narrow spot to securely wrap and tighten the chain to keep it in place.
  • Place one of the bolts through two links in the chain and use the nut to secure them together.
  • Hand-tighten the bolt and nut as much as possible.
Step 2

Set up a lever system

  • Place the jack close to the shrub to provide adequate lift. Set the jack stand on the opposite end to support the 2×6 board used as the lever.
    • Depending on your soil conditions, you might place a piece of plywood underneath the jack and the jack stand to prevent them from sinking when you apply force. But if the ground is firm or you have solid material next to the shrub, this may not be necessary.
    • For the jack I used, I built a platform to hold the lever board. I used three pieces of 2×6 lumber roughly eight inches long. With 1.5-in. nails, I attached two of the pieces to the outside of the bottom 2×6 piece. To keep the lever board upright, I cut a 2×6 piece in half to fit on either side and keep it in place.

Platform To Support The Lever Board On The JackAmy Grisak for Family Handyman

Step 3

Attach the chain to the lever board

  • Once the jack and jack stand are in place, make sure the jack is as low as possible. This provides a maximum range to pull out the shrub.
  • Take the opposite end of the chain and wrap it around the lever board. Try to have the chain perpendicular between the connection of the lever board to the root ball. If there’s too much of an angle, it can pull the board sideways, losing its effectiveness.

Shrub Pulled FreeAmy Grisak for Family Handyman

  • Place the second bolt through two links in the chain and secure it with the nut. Hand-tighten the nut as much as possible.

Close Up Of Bolt And ChainAmy Grisak for Family Handyman

Step 4

Jack it up!

  • Begin slowly cranking the jack. As the chain tightens and the lever board rises on the one end, it gradually pulls the shrub out of the ground.
  • If there’s a sticking point, instead of forcing it, lower the jack a few inches to release the tension. Then grab the loppers and cut the larger roots.

Lower Jack And Cut RootsAmy Grisak for Family Handyman

  • Begin jacking the lever board again. Watch for any additional roots holding the shrub in place.
    • If necessary, lower the jack to release the tension and cut the roots again. There’s no need to muscle up the root ball. With consistent tension and cutting, even the largest one will loosen.

Use A Hand ToolAmy Grisak for Family Handyman

  • Continue this process, raising the shrub a little more each time until it releases completely.
Step 5

Fill in the hole

  • After removing the shrub, cut out any additional roots left in the hole with the loppers.
  • Use the shovel to fill the hole with the soil you initially removed from around the shrub. Now you’re ready to plant again.