Fourth Project: Removing Overgrown Trees

I had mentioned this in an earlier post.  This tree.  This massive palm tree in front of the house.  It has to go.  I’ve disliked it for quite a while.  When I bought the house, it was pretty large and it didn’t take long for me to see it was becoming a problem quickly.  The fronds would sit on the roof (which is widely known to be a cause of bug problems).  Additionally, it was blocking the view of the house, which annoyed me.

The previous owners were the ones who planted it, from a tiny potted plant from Home Depot.  They were amazed at how large it grew so quickly.  It was my plan for some time to make them an offer to pay for removal and transportation to their new house down the road.  But that would have to wait until the house was fully mine.

As it all turned out, the opportunity to gift them the tree never happened.  A neighbor of mine does my lawn work regularly and one month I didn’t feel like cutting the fronds on that beast and asked him to do it with his next lawn cut.  Now before I finish that story, let me talk about another unrelated tree story.

Another neighbor (next door) has some trees that hang over my property and drop dead branches all the time.  His house is generally abandoned so I couldn’t get a hold of him to tell him to cut his trees back.  So I hired a tree service of my own.  The lady that came out was a licensed arborist and chattered non-stop about every tree everywhere on my property.  The trees I was asking to trim, she said, were a horrible choice for a residence because once they get to certain age, they start falling apart, which is exactly what was happening with me.  When we walked around to the front of my house, she said in passing that a palm that size needs to have at least 18 fronds to provide enough nutrients to stay alive.

And you can probably guess now what happened when my neighbor (who is not an arborist) trimmed that palm.  I came home from work that day and saw the results and immediately said to myself, “oh no.”  There were maybe 4 or 5 fronds poking out the top.  And just like that, the tree died within a week.

I can’t really blame my neighbor and I never accused him of killing the tree.  I did want the tree gone anyway.  But now, I had to pay to have the tree removed.  I did have my neighbor get me the quote for removal (I figured he owed me that), which turned out to be less than I expected.  Along with that palm tree corpse, I was also going to have a couple of tall pines that were way out of scale for the house – and one was being choked to death by Spanish moss.  The total for removal, stump grinding and disposal was under $600.  I was expecting over $1000, so good for me.

I wanted to hold off on the removal until my former co-owner had moved out completely, but last weekend, my hand was forced.  The palm had rotted enough that it had broken in half and fell over.  So, although a dead tree in your front yard is a pretty bad eyesore, a toppled tree in your front yard is even more so.  Maybe it was the tropical storm that came through (and was actually pretty much a non-event) that blew it over.  I noticed it leaning in the days before it fell and it convinced me I needed to take action.  Not soon enough, though.

This is the palm back in its glory days (via Google Street View),


Then sans all fronds,


And in death,


And then removed,



This is how the other trees were:



And now they’re gone,


Failed Project: Relandscaping

After removing the shrubs in the front garden bed, it was my plan to grow grass in it and just put potted plants and things there for decoration.  Then it was pointed out to me that the pots would kill the grass underneath, so I decided I would fill the bed with stone.

I had a lot of stones from the clearing of other garden beds.  And I spent a lot of time digging up stones in the bed I was was working with.  I finally had enough of sifting dirt so I went to fill the bed.  I laid down weed barrier, carried a bucket of stones over and dumped them in.  Immediately, I knew I was in trouble.

I thought I had a lot of stones.  I thought I had a ton of stones.  I had nowhere near enough.  Seven buckets of stones didn’t even cover 20% of the area I needed it to cover.  I needed literal tons, not figurative tons, of stones to fill in the bed.  Nope, not spending money on a bunch of rocks.

So, after that disappointment, I left the few stones in place and cleaned up, figuring I needed to think about this for a bit.  Grass probably wont work.  I don’t want to spend money on rocks.  What about mulch?  I hate mulch, too, but maybe rubber mulch…

I’ll price out some mulch this week and see if it’s worth it.

Project: Cleanup, Day X

I’m continuing with the overwhelming task of cleaning up what all has been left behind.  Since I work for a company that deals with foreclosed properties, I have seen photographs of what the industry calls “trash-outs”.  When a property is vacated and foreclosed on, the articles inside must be disposed of.  While my situation isn’t the same as having a pile of used diapers in the corner of a room, I do have piles of garbage bags, primarily of paperwork and office supplies.

Yesterday, I got a lucky break.  While my neighbor was over dropping off his lawn cut invoice, I explained my situation.  Turns out his daughter has some sort of charity for the homeless and might be willing to take some of the “donate” pile.  She came over within an hour and took all of the donate pile.  Well, she has to come back today for the rest because we filled her truck.  That cleared out a third of my staging room.  In fact, I’m going to try offloading some extra stuff in that deal.

That leaves the shred pile and trash pile to process.  The shred pile should be handled in a couple weeks and the trash pile will probably shrink over a period of months.  I had an epiphany a few days ago that I should just rent a dumpster and throw it all in there.  That solution is a bit too costly.  I could rent a large truck and haul it to the landfill and pay whatever surcharge they have for dumping.  Or I could just dispose of it slowly over time, which is the cheapest route.

I also tentatively brought out the vacuum cleaner to clean up the floor of the emptied bedroom.  Have you seen the floor of a room that’s been untouched for five years, except by a large, shedding cat?  It was a multi-stage process, for sure.  The trash pile gained 8 boxes of old business files yesterday, which will let me clear out another room in preparation of floor cleaning.

The project continues…

Project: Cleanup, Day 1

Yesterday, the final stage of my house repossession happened.  The first was the purchase, the second was the title transfer, the third was the refinance, and the final stage is the move-out.  My former co-owner finally moved out of the house, taking only the most important things along.  Of the unwanted stuff, first dibs went to a friend and second went to the movers.  The remainder was left behind for me to deal with.

The first thing I did was change the locks.  I had purchased a re-keying kit and really botched the first deadbolt lock while learning.  One thing I learned was that my locks were 6-pin, and the kit was for 5-pin.  This resulted in the 6th pin spring getting jammed up in the cylinder.  The end result of fixing it was a 4-pin lock.  The other locks were fixed efficiently, but I still feel a bit suspicious, so they will probably eventually be swapped out with new ones.

The next step was sorting the left behind material.  Things had to be sorted into donate, trash, shred, and keep piles.  I was surprised to see there was actually very little for the donate pile.  That is, until I made it to the closet.  I filled up 3 lawn bags of clothing, and probably half of the clothes still had the price tags on them – incredible.  Two full lawn bags of just hangers.  The trash pile is huge. 

I got quotes from companies for mobile document shredding.  The price varied from $65/bin to $85/bin.  A bin is a 95-gallon toter, which they say is about 10 document boxes or about 300 pounds.  So that’s not that bad of an expense.  I will probably schedule that in a week or so.

As far as the keep pile, it’s pretty much limited to office supplies and maybe some other things that are useful.  I did find a $20 travellers check.  Haven’t seen one of those in decades.  I have to figure out how to cash it.

Fortunately, I have a very large unused room (the former garage) to stage all these piles.  There’s no shortage of drop boxes for donations, so I can spread the wealth every night.  It’s going to take months of disposal in my weekly garbage bin pickup to clear the trash pile out.  At the same time, I’m going to rid myself of other decorations and things from the past.  This is a fresh, new start.

Side Project: Removing Redundant Fence

When I first bought the house, my neighbor and I had fences between our properties and there was about a 4ft gap between the fences.  Enough to get a lawn mower in and not much else.  Fairly recently, my neighbor came over and discussed his plans to build a new privacy fence and build it right up against my fence, eliminating the gap.  He said he would relocate my fence gate to the front instead of the side as part of the deal.  I’m not sure what kind of a deal it was, since he assured me the land was his and my fence was at the property line.  Four feet, what do I care?

So anyway, his new fence has been built for some time now and there’s been some wild grass growing between our fences.  I decided to get in there and kill off that grass.

This is the way the fence looked before the removal.  You can see the grass plants at the front gate between the fences.



After tearing out the grass plants, I decided to just keep going and eventually pulled out all the fencing.



It looks a lot cleaner now.  The fence now becomes my neighbor’s full responsibility.  This will also make things easier for my lawn service, so they can weed whack the areas they couldn’t before because of the wire fence.

Third Project: Delandscaping Pool Planters

The pool deck has an elevated waterfall spa with two planters on either side of the spa.  The previous owners had planted palm trees in them.  There’s plenty to dislike about this setup, at least in my eyes.

Because of the difference in sun exposure, the trees grew at different rates, so that was unappealing.  The trees would grow and shed their fronds and bark, making a mess.  The rocks in the planters would develop weeds that needed maintenance.  And the worst part of all, when you needed to pressure wash the deck, the planters would spew stones and dirt all over the place unless you were extremely precise with the pressure wand.

For all these reasons, I wanted those trees gone.  As far as what will be in their place, I’m leaving my options pretty open.  It may be plants (potted of course), it may be fountains, it may be “leapfrog fountains”, or maybe grass (for the cat to enjoy), or it may just not be anything.  The first step is getting those trees gone and covering the hole.

The plan for the hole is kind of an outgrowth from the leapfrog fountain idea.  I wanted to place a cover over the openings with a pass-through rubber loop mat, the kind used at entryways and sometimes on pool decks.  They aren’t all that cheap.  Initially, I was looking at about $300 for two mats.  Then I determined I could get one larger mat and cut it in half.  That brought the price down to $200.  Recently, I saw a blue mat in the size I needed for under $80, so I bought it right away.

By the time I ordered the mat, I had mostly removed the rocks and dug out the trees.  The digging bar was invaluable and continues to be the best tool I have ever purchased.  I had also tried and failed at making various soil sifting devices until I broke down and bought the standard hardware mesh.  I also held off on pressure washing the deck until I had the mat in place.  It would be a total disaster to be spraying water without the stones in the planter.  I actually purchased a second electric pressure washer so the GF and I can double-team on cleaning tasks.  Since the deck needs done, as well as the driveway and walkway, this should save us plenty of time.

As far as the planter, my plan is to bury 5-gallon buckets in the holes and then cover them with the mat.  This keeps my options open to install something under the surface, whether it be a potted tree or a fountain or even secret storage.  I have some Lowes buckets with lids ready to go.  I’ll have to cut the bottoms of the buckets to provide drainage.

The end result fell pretty short of what I had envisioned in my mind.  But it will have to do for now until I can come up with a better idea.  One thing that is nice is being able to walk around the area without palm fronds in the way.

This is what I started with:


Notice how the one palm is just dead.  That was a recent thing I caused when I trimmed it back without regard.


Then I started getting the rocks out


Using the digging bar, I eventually ended up getting the trees out and was left with a couple of holes.  Looks at the size difference between the two trees.



I dug out the holes to hold the buckets.  The bucket to be planted is on the left, with its bottom cut out.


Then buried the buckets


I brought the mat out and cut it to size.  This is probably where I failed to make the concept presentable.  The mat was difficult to cut accurately and the planter was not a uniform size.  This resulted in a mat that didn’t fit the hole perfectly.  Additionally, it was difficult to get a nice, smooth surface with the bucket and ground.

wp_20160525_004 wp_20160525_005 wp_20160525_003

I’ve gone back and tried to fix the fit of the mat in the planters and probably will continue to tweak it a few more times to make it better, but I‘m not convinced it’s ever going to be the way I expected it to be.


And after pressure washing:


So, I’ll put his project behind me and plan for better things in the future.