How to Clear Land of Small Trees and Brush?

Clearing a piece of land of small trees and brush is often necessary before you can undertake any number of landscaping or building projects. Whatever you have in mind for the plot of land, be it installing a patio, a firepit, or constructing a shed, you’ll need to clear away any thorny brush, old logs, small trees, and stumps.

For large areas of heavily wooded land, you’d probably be better off calling in a professional with an excavator or bulldozing equipment – but for smaller jobs, you can clear the land with some basic tools and a little elbow grease.

The right tools to clear the land of small trees and brush will depend on the size of the job at hand. Basic hand tools can be used if you just need to cut down a few saplings, but anything larger than that will greatly benefit from the right power tools.

It’s also a smart idea to have a basic plan before you clear land of small trees and brush. You should have a basic idea of which trees need cutting down, which ones you want to save or transplant, and what you plan to do with the cuttings and brush piles afterward.

Tools Needed

The tools you’ll need for land clearing will vary somewhat depending on your particular situation. Some general tools like chainsaws, axes, string trimmers, and tree pruners will always come in handy, whereas you may or may not need to rent specialized tools like stump grinders or brush mowers.


How to Clear Land of Small Trees and Brush – Guide

Step 1: Survey the Area and Take Notes

The first step to clearing land is to survey the area and put together a basic plan. Walk around the property and take note of which trees, saplings, and brush need to be cleared. It’s a good idea to mark these areas with some brightly colored tape or string so you’ll be able to spot them easily later on.

trees marked with red tape
Trees marked for cutting.

Also, take note of any trees or vegetation you plan on keeping or transplanting. Mark these with a different color tape or string.

At this point, it’s a good idea to take note of any potential hazards or particularly large, difficult, or dead trees that may require special equipment. It’s also a good idea to consult your local laws regarding land clearing and check if you’ll need a permit.

Step 2: Plan Brush Disposal

Depending on the amount of clearing your undertaking, you may be able to dispose of your brush and trimmings with your local yard trimming collection.

If you’re undertaking a larger job, this may not be an option and you’ll need to find an alternative. Burning the brush and branches, or running them through a wood chipper to make useful mulch are both good options.

brush pile
Cuttings and brush can accumulate quickly. Having a plan for brush disposal will make cleanup fast and easy. [Source]
You can also turn felled trees and saplings into firewood and kindling by cutting them into smaller pieces. A firewood storage rack is a good idea if you’re planning on cutting up a large amount of firewood.

Step 3: Clear Smaller Brush

The next step of the actual clearing process is to cut through the smaller brush, shrubs, weeds, and overgrowth. This will free up room to move freely and use larger tools to cut down trees and saplings.

Before you start, it’s important to wear the appropriate safety gear to prevent injuries. This includes safety goggles, work gloves, a long shirt, and pants, as well as steel-toed boots. If you’re operating a chainsaw, a hardhat and protective chaps are also recommended.

string trimmer
String trimmer in action. [Source]
There are a number of tools you can use to accomplish this task effectively, but one that you may already have in your garage is a string trimmer.

This humble tool is deadly effective at clearing through light brush – and can actually be made even more effective by changing out the string for a blade attachment. This will transform your string trimmer from a beefed-up weedeater to a brush cutter capable of mowing through thick brush and saplings like butter.

Another tool you may want to consider for this task is a brush mower or “brush hog”. A brush mower is basically a beefed-up lawnmower that can cut through heavy brush up to 3” thick. They come in both push and pull-behind models and can be rented from most hardware stores.

Step 4: Cut Small Trees, Shrubs, and Prune Branches

After you’ve cleared most of the smaller brush and vegetation, it’s time to move on to the larger shrubs and smaller trees. You should have enough room now to cut down smaller trees and prune large branches without them becoming lodged in vegetation. This can be a dangerous situation, as lodged trees can fall unexpectedly and seriously injure or kill even experienced loggers.

A useful tool you might want to look into for this step is a brush grubber. A brush grubber is basically a set of spiked metal jaws that attach directly to the trunks of smaller trees and shrubs.

Once you’ve got the jaws clamped on the tree trunk, you attach the other end to a chain hooked onto a lawn tractor, riding mower, pickup truck, or ATV. Then you drive in the opposite direction while the shrub is pulled out of the ground with its roots intact. This eliminates regrowth and ensures you won’t need to dig up extensive root systems after you cut down the vegetation.

A chainsaw is another key tool for this step, as it’ll allow you to tear through small trees, saplings, and shrubs rapidly. Both gas and battery-powered saws can work well for this, with electric saws being lower-maintenance and more beginner-friendly.

limbing small tree
Limbing and bucking small tree.

It’s a good idea to break down the small trees and large branches you cut down into manageable segments as they accumulate (commonly referred to as bucking). Use your truck, UTV, or trailer bed as a guideline for cutting length. A small ax or hatchet is also useful for quickly limbing smaller felled trees as you go.

Step 5: Plan Large Tree Removal

Last up, it’s time to cut down any large trees that need to go. This is a serious task, and you should plan it out thoroughly before starting. If you’re not experienced or are unsure about your abilities, consulting with a professional arborist is a good idea.

Before you start making cuts, it’s important to scout out the area for potential hazards like power lines, fences, structures, and equipment that could be damaged from the falling tree. Electricity can travel through trees if they come in contact with power lines, so keep a close eye on any trees near power lines.

You’ll also want to be on the lookout for other trees that may be damaged, knocked over, or cause a snag when your target tree is felled. This is another reason for cutting and clearing smaller trees before larger ones.

The first thing you’ll want to determine is which direction you want your target tree to fall. This will determine the location of the directional notch you’ll need to make. The directional notch is cut on the opposite side of where you want the tree to fall.

Step 6: Cut Large Trees

To begin your directional notch, mark the outline of the notch with some chalk, spray paint, or by scoring it with your chainsaw.

Then, begin cutting the top portion of the notch, which should be at approximately a 60-degree angle to the ground. The depth should be about one-fifth of the tree’s diameter. Now, make a horizontal cut to meet the top cut and form the bottom part of the notch.

cutting directional notch
Cutting the upper portion of the directional notch. [Source]
Now, on the opposite side of the tree, you’re going to cut the felling cut about an inch or two above the notch. This is the cut that will lead to the tree falling, so make sure you have your escape route planned out.

Make the felling cut until you reach a few inches distance to the directional notch. This will create a hinge that will cause the tree to fall in your intended direction in a controlled manner. To finish the job, use a felling wedge and the back of an ax to apply pressure to the hinge.

As the tree begins falling, walk away in a calm and quick manner. You generally want to retreat at a 90-degree angle from the felling direction, as this will ensure you avoid both the falling tree and the bottom section of the trunk as it separates from the stump.

Now all that’s left to do is limb, buck, and turn your felled tree into pieces of firewood!

Denis Gardner

I've loved tinkering and fixing things for as long as I can remember. So, naturally, I gravitated towards DIY and home improvement when I bought my first home. Nowadays you can find me writing about my passions or messing around with my newest tool!

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