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looking for suggestions on removing 1000's of plant pots grown into the ground  RSS feed

 
Posts: 61
Location: Washington DC area
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I purchased a small abandoned farm that at one time had 5 hoophouses, 2 fiberglass greenhouses, and a couple of dozen block walled cold frames -- all completely rotten and fallen down.

When the farm was shut down it was shuttered without a going out of business sale or anything.  There were literally 1000's of potted plants just left.  Over the intervening decade or two various things grew in pots and the roots eventually punched through landscaping fabric and they are now firmly rooted to the ground.  I need to come up with some ideas on ripping them out...

I currently do not have a tractor, but a couple of friends stop by when I need a helping hand with a small tractor or a skidsteer.  I was not able to effectively pull them with dragging or digging with a bucket, or popping them with pallet tines.  I'm looking for suggestions on best way to pull them -- a spring harrow or single bottom plow maybe?  I'm still finding buried infrastructure (like buried electrical conduit, etc.), so this is slow going.

Again, any suggestions greatly appreciated.
 
garden master
Posts: 1854
Location: USDA Zone 8a
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Welcome to permies!

I feel the other members might need some more information like what kind of potted plants were these?  Trees, shrubs, flowers or perennial vegetables? 

Wouldn't some of these plants be beneficial to you?

My suggestion would be to put an ad on Craigslist or some other place to offer to let people come and dig up plants for free.

 
Ebo David
Posts: 61
Location: Washington DC area
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The farm used to grow azaleas, rhododendrons, daffodils, and something like 1,000 different varieties and species (or so the old sales brochure said). 

The pots are mostly black plastic, and all the plants are now dead, so craigs list is not the thing to do.  I am looking at having to rip out half buried plastic pots covering 2,000 square feet.

That said, if someone wanted the last standing potted magnolia tree (20' tall), or the red cedar (4' tall).  You are welcome to it.   They are both basically in the way.

No all the pots are buried, and I tried to salvage them by hand with so little success that it simply is not worth it.
 
pollinator
Posts: 1984
Location: Cincinnati, Ohio,Price Hill 45205
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A farm jack might be the perfect tool for this.
 
Ebo David
Posts: 61
Location: Washington DC area
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Hmmm... I will give that a try (I purchased one specifically to pull small diameter stumps in places it would be difficult to get a tractor).  I am not sure how to grab onto it, or get under it to pull up, but that is a nice idea.  Maybe a small shrub chain grapple like https://www.northerntool.com/shop/tools/product_200365512_200365512 ; Actually, the grapple and a fence post puller might work and be faster...

Thanks William!  This just might work ;-)  I will also try to remember to take a picture next time I think about it -- to show you what I'm talking about.
 
Posts: 6546
Location: Arkansas Ozarks zone 7 alluvial,black,deep loam/clay with few rocks, wonderful creek bottom!
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what a project! 

I had just one overgrown peach tree that sent roots down into the ground through the bottom of the plastic pot.  In this case I wanted to save the tree (and leave it in place) and just cutting and ripping the pot off of the tree was difficult...then I built a mound to enclose.

I have had figs grow into the ground through a pot and used a long bladed garden knife under the pot to cut/saw through the roots.

Total five pots...I can't imagine dealing with thousands.

I wonder if some kind of power long bladed hedge cutter would work to slip under the pot and slice through the roots? Probably would hit too much soil and maybe rocks?

Did I understand correctly that the pots are on the surface of the ground, not buried? 



 
steward
Posts: 2723
Location: Maine (zone 5)
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one crazy idea might be to scrape them off with a tractor bucket along with the top 3 inches of topsoil.  Place it all in one big mound and let it compost down.  Maybe ass some grass and manure to get it going faster.  once it's all cooked down, then you could probably sift the plastic stuff out of the finished compost with a giant screen of some sort.  Then you can return the soil to the places you want it.  I would put down a nitrogen fixing cover crop in the area that gets scraped off, to avoid erosion and to help jump start the next crop.  Again... probably a crazy idea, but it would go a lot faster than doing each one by hand.
 
Ebo David
Posts: 61
Location: Washington DC area
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@Judith, if you run into things like this, or if you want to transplant large trees/shrubs (or even expose the roots so you can remove the stump with a small tractor) take a look at the airspade:  


These pots *were* on the ground 20 years ago.  Since then dirt has blown in and around, and all the invasive vines and knotweed has decomposed so that in some places I have a couple of inches of around them.  So some above, som slightly burried, some with 3" diameter roots running through (and mind you this is through an 8" diameter pot...

@Craig, I already tried a simple scrape.  That just busted them up, and I want to get them out of the soil.  I also tried running pallet for tines under them and pulling up.   That was not really effective either.  Maybe something that is designed to run under (like a fork spade or stump bucket), but I did not have those handy when I was able to borrow a friends skidsteer.

Also, I am trying to avoid any technique that breaks up the plastic.  I want it out of the soil...
 
Ebo David
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Location: Washington DC area
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Thought I would post a followup...  I got a "Bush Grabber" <https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000VYZ0ZK> and tied that onto a simple fence post puller that was laying around with a short section of rope.  That worked better than anything else I tried.  This will be a time consuming process, but it works.  One downside I have to consider is that the spring is WAY to strong for my needs.  I may temp modify it with a small door spring so that I do not have to use both hands and grunt to pull the thing open.

This will take a lot of time to clear all the pots, but frankly I can do this without any power equipment, tractor, or vehicle.  If I find any stubborn ones I might hit it with a truck jack, BUT...

Hope it is useful...

  EBo --
 
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