Excavators for Clearing Small Trees


Mini-excavators are one of the most powerful and versatile landscaping tools available. They can be used for digging, trenching, grading, clearing brush and even for removing small trees. They are available at many tool rental centers and do not require a license to operate. However, homeowners must educate themselves on safety protocols and operating procedures before attempting to use, because they can be extremely dangerous if not used properly. Small trees can be removed with a mini-excavator by following a few simple steps.

Getting Familiar with Excavator Operation

  • Excavators have two joysticks to control the digging movements of the machine. One moves the far arm of the excavator boom up and down and rotates the cabin right or left. The other engages or releases the bucket and moves the near arm of the boom up and down. There are also levers that move the tracks forward and back and another that raises and lowers the blade. It takes a bit of practice to coordinate these movements to operate the machine smoothly enough to begin working. Experiment on flat ground with nothing in the bucket before attempting to clear small trees.

Clearing Small Trees

  • Often, it is possible to push over small trees with the blade of the excavator, although this depends on the type of tree, its size, root structure and soil moisture. Direct the excavator toward the tree with the blade in front and about 6 inches off the ground and see if it is able to push it over. Use the lower gear when doing this in order not to cause an unpleasant jolt when contacting the tree or risk damaging the machine. If the tree is knocked over and the root system pops out of the ground, the entire tree can be pushed into a pile along with other trees and vegetation to clear the land. This method is most effective after a rain when the root system is released more easily from the soil.

Digging Out Stumps

  • If the tree does not pop out of the ground when pushed with the blade, the stump must be dug before the tree can be removed. Dig a trench about 2 feet deep on three sides of the tree as close to the root ball as possible. Attempt again to push over the tree from the side lacking a trench. If it still does not give way, dig the trenches deeper and use the bucket to cut under the root ball, as well. Never attempt to use the boom to push or pull on the trunk of the tree -- personal injury or damage to the machine can easily result.

Safety Information

  • Never operate the machine when other people are within the distance that can be reached by the boom or by a tree when it is pushed over. A safety lever on each side of the seat should be lifted to prevent the machine from moving whenever the operator gets out of the seat or is not actively working. Do not attempt to drive the excavator across or up a slope greater than 15 degrees. The excavator can back up slopes up to 25 degrees, however.

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