Our predecessor here in Pennsylvania, who built the house in the late 1970s, planted three dramatic cherry trees in the front garden (as you can see from this picture shot from the roof). The tall one looks like good old ‘Kanzan’ to me. They’ve been spectacular every spring for a few brief weeks but, as cherries do, they’re now showing their age.
Heart rot and split crotches (yikes!) have taken their toll. As you can see in the second picture, maple seedlings are even growing in the rotted crotch of one of them. Last year I took out the first of the trio, now I’ve just started on the second. It’s not complicated, but it’s hard work.
Basically, you take off most of the top growth with a chain saw but leave 3-4ft/90cm-1.2m) of trunk standing. Then dig a trench about 18-14in/45-60cm from the trunk, all the way round. This exposes the roots and you can saw them through and keep digging down to 12-15in/30-38cm, removing all the roots. The depth depends on the soil and where the roots actually are.
As you go you can rock the stump using the trunk for leverage and this will reveal the placing of hidden roots as the soil moves. Often, you’ll also need to excavate under the stump and cut roots there too’; rocking the stump will reveal them. Do not use the chainsaw in soil; you’ll ruin the chain and send soil flying everywhere. Of course, you’ll be wearing eye protection but even so...
The hazards are using pruners in the soil to cut smaller roots – it’s all too easy to snip the tip off your finger so take care! And if you snip through a root that’s under tension, it will probably spray soil in your face.
It’s hard work… I’m doing a little every day otherwise my back will crack and I won’t be able to do it at all. But when the roots are out, and the stump is out, I have a mound of topsoil ready to make a new planting area. And I’ll have a new area in the shade garden which is a little less dark than it was before the cherry came out. I reckon the final cherry will get one more spring..