I can barely type this post because my fingers and arms are blistered and sore. And I'm writing this because I'm in better shape between the two of us. No joke, it was one heck of a weekend working on our front flower bed, but I'm happy to say that in spite of some major obstacles, we came out on top.
Because we live in an urban setting, our opportunities to improve curb appeal through flowers, plants and grass are extremely limited. In fact, our only chance to make an impact are via our two cast iron urns and the area surrounding our newly planted city tree.
Last weekend I planted flowers in the urns, and am happy to say the plants are thriving! (Phew, no deaths yet.)
So this past weekend, on a very beautiful Saturday, we turned our attention to the barren, weed-peppered "flower bed" out front. I'll use that term loosely as there isn't a flower in sight.
But there were plenty of large tree roots in sight. Large...menacing...gnarly...difficult tree roots.
We've been on the fence -- no pun intended -- as to the style of flower bed border to install. We scouted other flower beds around town and have our minds made up that we'd like to do a cast iron/metal border. We think it will be a nice complement to our cast iron stairs and urns. Though we haven't found the right fence just yet, we didn't want to delay our efforts any further since the current tree box is a pretty significant eye sore.
Therefore we opted to turn our attention to preparing the area for flowers and plants, which meant tackling the hidden beast that lies in the bed itself -- a nasty tangle of roots. "Roots?" you may wonder. Unfortunately yes, not from our current sapling of a tree, but instead left as a reminder of the majestic old beauty that once stood in this spot.
When our rotted and diseased tree was taken down two years ago, a mess of huge roots was left behind. The location of a water meter in the bed made for precarious root removal (especially when using a stump grinder), and therefore the city workers decided to play it safe and leave many of the old roots intact.
While I appreciate their conservative style (no one wants a broken water line after all), it certainly presented an added layer of obstacles when readying our bed for future plantings. And so we set out to remove these blasted roots, once and for all.
We had a few methods to try to whip these bad boys into submission. First we started with the tried and true chop with an axe (actually a cutter mattock) method. So in sexy attire, we set out. Chopping. Chopping again. And still chopping, even while our blisters burst and band aids flew off of Alex's double gloved hands. We're still not sure how that happened.
The exhaustion was really setting in, and some of these stubborn roots still weren't budging. When we'd splinter off enough to mark just a bit of progress, we'd give our arms and backs a rest to collect some sticks and claim a splinter of victory.
After much exhausting effort, we tried drilling holes with a flat boring bit. The goal here was to drill enough holes in the root, that when we went back with the axe, it would be more easily removed. Also, anything we couldn't actually remove would have enough holes to allow moisture into the roots and ultimately (over a very long time) let them naturally decay. After much effort, and several dead drill batteries later, we were making some progress.
At this point in the day, we were elated when our friend Colin showed up, eager to lend a hand. Colin brought his cordless circular saw and attempted to slice grooves in the larger roots to ease the chopping process. The work was slow going, but proved to be an effective technique.
With the roots weakened, we went back to chopping to try to remove additional sections of root.
After what seemed like hours (wait, actually it was) and drop by visits from friends, neighbors and pedestrians that gave us a chance to rest our weary bodies, we were finally satisfied with the state of the bed. It wasn't the prettiest "after," but it sure felt good to get that stuff taken out.
The roots had been removed to a satisfactory point and we felt we could begin filling the area with good planting soil. The process consisted of:
- Removing any large debris from the area
- Tilling the existing soil
- Adding a layer of fertilizer
- Adding several bags of moisture control soil
Have your eyes recovered yet from the shocking glare of my winter white legs? You may need to take a moment before reading on. Don't worry, I'll wait...
After some clean up (ourselves included), we called it a day. We didn't have quite enough dirt this first go round, but we just didn't have it in us to go to the store to buy more. Instead we went inside, took a good Saturday nap, then headed out to Hard Times Cafe with Colin for some chili and beer. You really can't get a much better dinner after a ridiculously hard day of work.
It was truly a back breaking kind of day, but I speak for both of us when I say how relieved we are to check off "remove old tree roots" from the project list. Now the fun can really start when we move on to selection and purchase of our new plants, flowers and metal fencing.
So, what were you up to this weekend? Do you have any tips for root removal that we should have tried? You know Alex wanted to burn it out, something I'm sure the city and nearby car owners would not have been happy with. Anyone else tackling garden projects that made you long for a chaise lounge from which you could supervise your full time gardener? I'd love to hear all about it.