Our New Old House

1918 Bungalow


Archive for the ‘trees’ Category

Lumberjacks Gone Wild!

With the damage done to our ash tree in this summer’s storms, we were prompted to take a good look at the rest of the trees on our property. One of our neighbors is a tree surgeon, so I asked him to look over the yard with me.

The catalpa tree between my house and my neighbor’s has long been of concern. It’s a beautiful tree but very messy and the seed pods and leaves it drops have been damaging both of our roofs. Ralph said he was shocked the two halves of the tree, which leaned out at precarious angles over both roofs, hadn’t fallen on our houses yet. It also provided way too much shade and made it impossible to grow grass between our houses. We decided that it would be a good time to take that tree out.

Here’s the spot between our houses from around the time we moved in:



Another tree that posed a threat was a huge double elm in the backyard. We have several Chinese elms, most of which are in good shape, but this one grew double and the two halves had been splitting apart over the years, hollowing out in the middle and threatening to fall on my neighbor’s garage.

In this picture, it’s the big tree on the far left.


Here’s a full size view of the whole tree. They’d started cutting some of its top limbs by the time I took this picture.


In the process of taking down the double Chinese elm:


In addition to these big trees, there were a bunch of smaller trees that had volunteered as saplings years ago when nobody was taking care of the yard. One clump of them was along my neighbor’s garage and one was along the slab where a garage had once stood on our property.

I took this photo from on top of a ladder two years ago. On the left you can see three trees by our neighbor’s garage, and on the right you can see the clump of volunteer trees that frequently dropped limbs on our power line.


In the midst of these volunteer trees were a mock orange bush and two lilac bushes. Both were getting too shaded out and were growing spindly, especially the lilac.

And here’s the back yard with the scrubby stuff removed. (Note the caution tape around the double elm, signaling its impending doom.)


My next task this fall is going to be cutting back the lilac and mock orange bushes to help them grow back better. They’d both grown all wide and spindly because they weren’t getting any sun. Time to shape them up a bit better. (Anyone with tips on seriously pruning lilac bushes, please let me know! I’ve never done it and I’m nervous about killing them!)

Here’s the space between the house, post catalpa removal:



And the back yard sans double elm and scrubby trees:


Now that there aren’t limbs dangling dangerously over the spot where we want to build a shed, we should probably, um, build a shed. Hope to finish that before the first snow falls. Meanwhile, we’re adjusting to the look of the back yard with far fewer trees. I’m still mourning the loss of some big old trees, but I’ll be excited to plant some nice saplings and start the cycle over again. One of the reasons we love our neighborhood so much is because of all the big old trees. They give the area a permanent, established feeling. Now’s our chance to choose trees that will last another 50 years and give future residents the same environment we’ve enjoyed.

Our Ash Tree: Gone With the Wind

We had an ash tree in our front yard when we first moved in. It’s actually between the sidewalk and the street, so it’s the city’s property, but we cared for it quite a bit. It gave really nice shade in the morning and some homes for birds and squirrels.

We had some really strong storms this summer and this young ash tree was badly damaged by winds that twisted and split it apart.

Each of the following pictures is of a DIFFERENT split in the tree.





Here it was two years ago (with Brandon mowing the jungle that was our front lawn.)


And… gone.


I called the city and asked them to take the tree out before it would fall on my neighbor’s car. It was gone within a week. I’m sad to see it go, but hopefully we’ll get a nice new sapling in the spring.

It’s a jungle out there.

This summer finds us cutting lots of trees and shrubs down at both of our new old houses. In Des Moines Brandon cut down the shrubs in front of our porch. They’d overgrown the space provided and I wasn’t able to trim them back far enough to be able to use the sidewalk. I’m going to replace them with rose bushes.

(With bushes, and snow)

(Bush free and summery)

We did a similar job at our house in Clear Lake. The shrubs in front of our porch there were getting dead spots and were kind of preventing us from keeping the rest of the area around the house clean, so we decided to cut them out too.




Obviously, we have more clean-up to do now that the bushes are gone. We’re going to dig out the stumps and clear all the weeds out, then plant some new flowers there.

In the back yard in Des Moines we’ve got a bunch of trees that were volunteer saplings many years ago and have now grown to be total pests. We’re gathering quotes this week to see what it will cost to have them removed, as well as what it will take to have the big catalpa tree between our house and the neighbor’s taken out. I’ve got a good recommendation for what kind of tree to replace it with, so that will be a big change coming up sometime.

And while I’m talking about future plans I might as well list out some other things we have coming in the (hopefully) near future.

  • Reshingle the roof
  • Repair the front steps
  • Tear out sidewalk blocks & have a new one poured
  • Paint the back wall of the house
  • One more coat of paint on the rest of the house
  • Build a shed on the old garage slab

Phew! That’s a long list. Better get to work then!

Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

I was feeling presidential today so I thought I’d clear some brush. (wink)

I focused on the fence line along the alley.



More Before:


More After:



Zoot watched through a new storm window.

I found a stick with four snails on it. Can you see all four of them?

Here’s a closeup:

There was a dried out puff ball mushroom left over from last fall.

I stepped on it to help Nature along. Fungi are a very important part of the ecosystem and they get a bad rap.

While I was walking through the yard I found evidence of violent warfare!

Not very threatening when you put it in perspective, though.

This tree has grown around this rock.

Wish I knew what kind of plant this was. Anybody know?

The east side of Des Moines has an awesome system of alleys. Here’s the view north up our alley:

And south down our alley:

I did not take a before picture of that one, but notice how clean the fence line looks after I got rid of all the dead sticks and weeds.

I’m so glad spring is finally here!

[tags]yardwork, trees, photos, alley, weeds[/tags]

Diverting my energy

Since we’re going to be so busy the rest of this summer working on our new old house, Brandon and I made it a point to go up to Clear Lake this weekend and work on our other house. We did some outdoor jobs that we’ve been putting off too long. Brandon mowed the grass while I went to the hardware store (more about that later), and when I got back he had borrowed a neighbor’s tree trimmer (sawblade on the end of a LONG pole) and was cutting away the branches that were brushing the roof. I changed my clothes and got on the roof to help. He gave me the lopping shears and I snipped off everything I could reach. Then he handed me a big broom and I swept the whole roof. Our neighbors on two sides have really dirty trees that drop two sets of leaves every year, PLUS these little peppercorn-like seeds that act just like ball bearings under your feet when you’re trying to walk around on the roof. Yeah, I was taking my life into my hands, no doubt about it. But after I got the roof swept off I put on my rubber-coated gloves and cleaned out the three inch layer of mosquito-infested compost that had built up in our gutters over the course of the summer. Amazingly, I escaped with only one mosquito bite on my whole body, and it’s on the knuckle of my right pointer finger. All in all it was a very productive and exhausting day, but we did get to go swimming so that made it all feel a little like a vacation.

My trip to the hardware store had two purposes: to buy some things we actually need, and to scope out prices and plan for future projects.

Here’s the stuff I put on my list to buy:

  • latex gloves
  • a gallon of kilz
  • a couple new brushes (since the foam ones I used last time have since bit the dust)
  • a face mask
  • furnace filter
  • protective eye goggles

I got all those things.

More importantly, I did some planning for future projects. Here’s what I came up with:

We want to remove the countertop sink in the bathroom and replace it with a pedestal. I found a really lovely one for about $60. Faucets tend to cost between $40 and $60, so I’ll budget for $60. That doesn’t include any additional plumbing hardware we’ll need to connect it with, so I guess I’ll add $30 for that and come up with a total sink replacement budget of $150.

We need to buy a refrigerator. Menards had a 10 cubic foot self defrosting fridge/freezer for $309. We were hoping to spend no more than $400 for a fridge, so that’s probably what we’ll go with. I had hoped to buy an Energy Star appliance, for the tax break, but they only had one at Menards and it was around $600. This one only uses 386 kwh per year, though, so it’s not like it’s an energy hog.

We can borrow most of the power tools we’ll need from friends and family, but we wanted to see what it would cost to buy them anyway, because it’s always nice to have your own tools.

I found two circular saws that I liked and that were in my price range. One was a Tool Shop brand. It was $23.66, a nice compact size, and had all the standard features. I found a Skil one at Sears, though, and it felt more balanced in my hand. It costs $39.99. They had a Craftsman saw at Sears that I picked up but it just felt awful. All the weight was in the back and it felt really bottom-heavy. It was also $39.99 on sale.

The Skil reciprocating saw was $54.99 on sale, but the Masterforce, which comes with an actual hard case rather than a canvas carrying bag was $64.00 regular price, so I’d probably go with the Masterforce. Everything about them other than that was the same, except I like the pivot foot on the Masterforce better.

I wanted to see what a chainsaw would cost, so I looked at the 14″ ones, both gas and electric. I was really surprised by the difference in price between the gas and electric. Gas was $109 and electric was only $34.99. The electric one at Sears was $59.99. I don’t actually plan on buying one very soon. We already have an offer from my mom’s boyfriend to use his next week.

The big project I’m going to work on planning for is the retaining walls and planters to fix our erosion problem on the side of the house. I still haven’t measured for how big these retaining walls are going to be, but I got prices per unit for all the supplies we’ll need, so once I have measured we can figure out how much it will cost. Here’s a list of supplies I will need for the project (and the prices I gathered today):

  • Paver base (50 lb. bag – $2.38)
  • Pea gravel (50 lb. bag – $2.39)
  • Retaining wall bricks (88 cents each)
  • Top soil (40 lb. bag – $1.14)
  • Flagstones ($1.44 each)

So, the plan as I see it in my head, having never done this before, is this:

  1. Measure the area to build the walls
  2. Add up how much of the supplies I’ll need
  3. Buy the supplies I’ll need, plus extras
  4. Put the first layer of bricks together so they fit properly
  5. Mark the final layout where the walls will go
  6. Dig a swath for the base layer of bricks
  7. Pour paver base into the swath and tamp it down
  8. Build the brick wall
  9. Put a layer of pea gravel inside the planting area
  10. Put a layer of top soil inside the planting area
  11. Put some plastic edging strips at each end of the pathway between the two planting beds
  12. Level the ground and put down paver base
  13. Lay flagstones to make a path
  14. Pour pea gravel around the flagstones and up to the walls to fill in the rest of the space
  15. Plant hostas and other shade loving plants in the planter beds

At least that’s the plan as it appears to me in my current state of being under the influence of a valerian root sleeping pill. We’ll see how coherent all this looks to me in the morning.

[tags]budget, Clear Lake house, future plans, gutters, power tools, retaining wall, trees, yardwork[/tags]

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