Trees are beautiful and marvelous things, necessary and in most cases vital to the environment. They provide much needed shade on a hot sunny day, clean air to breathe, shelter for small animals, help to increase soil stability and reduce erosion. Their fallen leaves and small branches provide food for bacteria and fungus, turning them into fertile humus for many plants to grow on and prosper.
However, despite all the merits that trees add to our life, there are times when the presence of a large tree or a tree in the wrong location could be more of a nuisance than a benefit. Many large trees can pose danger to the foundation or the roof of a property (especially if they grow too close to one), cause issues with electrical wiring (when their brunches are hovering over the cables) or to become a hub for pests, that can spread dangerous and hard to cure infectious diseases. In such cases, removal of a tree is not only advisable, but necessary and unavoidable.
Although the job of tree removal might seem to be a straightforward venture, in reality it is way more abstruse and complicated than it might seem to be at first sight. If you have never cut a tree before or helped someone with experience to cut one down, watching a step-by-step video on YouTube of how to do it will not shield you from a very dangerous and life-threatening situation, when things suddenly and unexpectedly go south.
However, watching a video or two of “tree cutting fails” will give you a good idea of what you will be facing and risking if you decide to undertake this task on your own.
Thus, the job of cutting a tree should be delegated to a team of professionals, who have the equipment, are prepared, and know exactly what to do, to prevent a disaster from happening on and to your property. Nevertheless, below we will discuss details of why, when, and how trees are removed, equipment used and what you should expect when hiring a service to get the job done.
Why And When a Tree Should Be Removed
When does a tree become an inconvenience? The answer to this question is not quite simple. There are many reasons why this happens and the most common are the following.
The Tree Is Too Large, and It Grows Too Close to the House
When people plant trees around their new houses, they don’t even think that one day these beautiful, shade-giving plants could cause damage to their homes. No one truly takes the size of the full-grown tree’s trunk, roots and crown into consideration and calculates how far from the structure a sapling should be planted. Such spontaneous decisions, however, in the future can result in a number of problems. An overgrown crown of a large tree can cause damage to the electrical wiring around the house, threatening with outages, short circuiting and even fire.
Accumulation of fallen leaves and small branches on the roof year after year causes sagging, cracking and therefore leakage of the roof (a very prominent problem up north, where the trees change leaves every season).
Massive root system can damage plumbing, lift, and cause cracks of the walkways in the yard and even cause damage to the foundation of the house, particularly if a tree is very close to the building and a massive root system has developed underneath the structure. Foundational or structural damage is very costly and difficult to fix. In some severe cases the only cure to this problem is to tear the house down and build a new one.
Homes with structural damage are very hard to sell and their value goes drastically down, which is another reason for a homeowner with a large tree growing next to the house to think about when considering if a tree should be removed or not.
The Tree Is Dead or Dying
A dead tree is no longer useful, it doesn’t provide shade, oxygen nor does it prevent erosion of the soil. If fact, a dead tree becomes a hazard, as it can easily catch on fire during a storm, especially if it is close to the electrical post and cables, its brunches become brittle and can unexpectedly snap and fall, causing damage or injuries, and more often than not, a dead tree becomes a hub for various pests, that will use it as their shelter and breeding ground.
Those pests can become very troublesome, notably when racoons or opossums make it their home. Regardless of their cutest looks, racoons and opossums can wreak havoc on your yard. They will destroy your pool, rummage through your trash, ravage your carefully designed landscape, tear out and dig through meticulously planted and cared for exotic plants and flowers. And if this is not enough, they can also eat right through the walls and the sheetrock of your house, causing structural damage.
As you can see, dead trees inhabited by animals are really bad news to a homeowner. Once taken a fancy of and settled down inside your dead tree, racoons and opossums become very bothersome to get rid of. You can’t “smoke them out” on your own, no matter what you do, and you definitely cannot trap or poison them, as it is illegal in the state of Florida without a special permit.
The only option you have is to call and pay a professional pest removal service to help you out. However, in many cases, once removed, the animals come right back, and the story repeats itself. Another problem that can be caused by a dead or dying tree is mold or fungi infection, which can spread and kill other healthy, living plants and trees in your yard. Thus, before more troubles arise, it is best to remove a dead or dying tree in a timely manner.
The Tree Is Leaning Too Much to One Side
A mature tree can be leaning to one side due to a number of reasons: damaged root system, (caused by fungal infection or pests taking up residency within its root plate), severe wind during a storm ripped it partly out of the ground (usually happens when a tree has a large and heavy crown), an imbalanced crown (when one side of the crown is larger than the other), improper planting and sometimes due to unsuitable soil, that is too crumbly and loose and is not able to provide suitable grip for the tree’s root system. If tree’s root plate is lifted, it can lead to water and nutrient shortage, causing its eventual death.
And as discussed above, a dead tree is “no bueno” in any case scenario. A leaning tree, that cannot be replanted straight but with its roots still in the ground, still is an undoubtedly serious hazard, because it can crash down with the next rain, wind, or storm, causing damage to your, or your neighbor’s property and maybe an injury to people and pets. Thus, it is always best to get ahead and prevent the tragedy from unfolding, before it becomes too costly, too nerve-racking, shrinking your wallet and reducing your savings account.
The Tree Sustained Massive Storm Damage
Another reason a tree could become a candidate for removal is if it sustained a massive storm damage. Often, during a storm, large trees with large and vast crowns become victims of virulent winds, that twist and bend their heavy brunches until they crack and snap and break and fracture, leaving a once spectacular plant in piteous and ravaged condition.
Some trees, however, can be salvaged by cutting and trimming most of the splintered and broken branches. In any case, this is not the job for anyone without experience or proper equipment to undertake. It is in your best interest to avoid the trouble and have a professional arborist to assess the damage and decide if the tree should be removed or if it can be saved and safeguarded.
The Tree Becomes Rotten and Hubs Insects and Other Pests
Not only dead trees can become a habitat for various insects and pests, sometimes a still living, but infected tree will hub a variety of species of the kingdom of animalia. Fungal infection can lead to the destruction of the tree trunk on the inside, allowing insects to penetrate the armor of sap and bark, further destroying sapwood, and facilitating the hollowing of the trunk.
This situation is not any better or less dangerous than a dead tree, as the hollow trunk of a large tree can no longer support and bear the weight of its enormous crown and will eventually and suddenly snap.
The entire tree with all its immense weight will crash down to the ground, onto your gazebo, loan, pool, your house and worst, potentially on your neighbor’s house or infrastructure.
If this ever happens, there will be no way to avoid costly and lengthy repairs, insurance claims and endless laments and yammers of your neighbor until you are completely sucked dry emotionally and financially. Thus, it is a good idea to carefully inspect your trees from time to time and remove the one that cannot be cured of infection or have already become damaged enough to pose danger.
Above, we discussed the reasons why a tree should be removed. Now, let’s talk about how a tree is cut down and what equipment is typically used to get the job done.
How a Tree Is Removed and What Equipment Is Typically Used
How a tree is removed will depend on the size of that tree and its proximity to the property and other structures. An approach taken to cut a tree that grows very close to the house is different from the one suitable for a tree that is a distance away. Whether a tree will be felled in its entirety or removed piece by piece will greatly depend on the space available around the tree and the landscape of the yard.
Removal Of a Small Tree
A small tree with a trunk no more than 10 inches in diameter can be cut down with a chainsaw that is at least as long as the diameter of the tree. A tree with a diameter smaller than 7 inches can be felled down with one cut straight though. If the tree isn’t too tall, it can be felled down entirely, as long as there is enough space for it to fall safely, without hitting anything that can be damaged.
However, if a tree is tall, it might have to be removed by cutting it down piece by piece, starting from the top, which means someone will have to climb it, cut a top off first, lower it down (you don’t want the top of a tall tree to free fall, as it can cause damage or injury, even though the top of the tree looks small from below), then continue by cutting a piece at a time and slowly lowering each one down to the ground, since the logs get heavier and heavier, as they get closer to the bottom of a tree and letting them free fall would be a peril.
If a tree is leaning, it is expected to fall in that direction. Nevertheless, even when all seems to be under control and looking good, a tree can still fall unpredictably and in an unexpected direction, therefore one should always be careful and have one or two routes to escape.
A larger tree requires three cuts. The first cut is made on the side you want the tree to fall toward, and it is approximately one quarter of the way through the trunk. The second cut is done above the first one, at a 45-degree angle about 2 inches higher, forming a wedge. The third cut is the deepest, it cuts through 90 percent of the trunk and is made on the opposite side of the first cut and about 2 inches above the bottom of the wedge. As soon as the back cut is finished, the tree should start to fall in the desired direction.
However, even with all the proper techniques and precautions, the tree can still fall uncontrollably, therefore the area around a tree should be cleared in all directions, just in case an unforeseen happens.
Removal Of a Large Tree
Cutting down a large tree is a notoriously dangerous task, especially in a home landscape and therefore should not be taken lightly. It takes skills, experience, practice, and special equipment to perform the job safely.
To fell a large tree whole, an arborist will first estimate its height, to determine if there is enough room for it to fall safely at once. However, a typical urban home doesn’t have enough room for this, therefore a tree must be cut down in sections. Typically, one of the workers will climb the tree and remove all the brunches first and only then the trunk will be cut section by section, starting from the very top and each log will be lowered down with the rope. This requires knowledge of where to cut notches, so each section falls in the right direction.
Equipment Used for Tree Cutting and Removal
First and foremost is safety. Anyone dealing with tree cutting or tree removal must protect themselves from unanticipated circumstances. Safety gear is essential and necessary for such dangerous jobs. Sturdy, non-slippery boots, hard head or helmet, ear, and eye protection along with gloves are basic must haves. Personal protective gear will help to lessen and prevent many small injuries, that can be quite detrimental to the overall wellbeing.
In regard to the actual equipment used for cutting and removing trees, the typical list consists of the following:
- A selection of pole saws, electric and hand chainsaws of various lengths and widths
Any reliable tree cutting company has a wide array of different saws, adapted to cut trees of various widths and heights. A pole saw is an electric saw that is attached to the end of a long pole or handle. It is useful in cutting down tree branches that are beyond a person’s arm’s reach without the use of a ladder.
- Pruners, hand pruners and tree loppers
These pieces are useful in cutting or pruning various twigs and smaller branches. Different sizes of blades and length of handles allow to prune twigs of various thickness and positions along the tree trunk or when the brunches of a tree are intertwined with electrical cables or other communications, preventing the damage when a tree is cut down.
- A variety of axes, hatchets, wedges, and hedge trimmers
Axes are used to make cuts on the tree trunk and designed for the task of felling trees and driving felling wedges into tree trunks. Hatchets, as the name suggests, are used to hatch off some branches or for chopping the logs. Felling wedges assure that the tree will fall in the desired direction. Even though hedge trimmers are not typically used when removing a tree, they can still be helpful in trimming down the crown, making it smaller as many urban yards don’t have enough space for the tree with all its crown to fall, without touching surrounding structures.
- Other equipment used in tree cutting are straps, spurs, ascenders and descenders, eye slings, split-tails, ropes, and carabiners
Those pieces of equipment are used for a variety of purposes, such as climbing, ascending, descending, securing, lowering cut branches and logs.
- Arborist Crane
Some companies will also have cranes to assist in cutting down large trees. An arborist’s crane lifts an arborist to the top of the tree (instead of him climbing it), making the job faster and safer for workers and the surrounding landscape. It is also used to lower down logs, when a tree is removed in sections. However, in order to use a crane, a space of around 200 to 450 square feet is needed to accommodate such a large machine. Unfortunately, many urban homes do not have the luxury of spacious yards and therefore a crane in most cases would be used to cut down trees growing on the streets and other open public areas.
The Tree Is Removed, Now What?
After the tree has been cut down, whether whole or in sections, now it must be cleared off the property and all the parts should be disposed or utilized properly.
Dealing With Debris
Typically, equipment such as woodchippers will be used to cut small and medium branches into small wood chips or mulch that can be bagged and disposed of or given to an organic waste dump. Large logs can be used for firewood, for woodworking projects, sold or donated to a lumber shop that can use them to make a variety of useful household items. Again, if you don’t want any of the tree parts, talk to your tree cutting service so they can properly take care of what remains for you.
What About a Tree Stump?
Dealing with the felled tree is one thing, however what about the stump? Well, it can also be removed, you just have to discuss your intention with the tree service ahead of time, so that they can prepare and bring what they might need in order to get the job done. The cost for the stump removal will typically be a separate charge from the tree removal service, as it is a whole another animal to deal with. Also, you can leave the stump as is and incorporate it into your landscape.
Nevertheless, if you decide to get the stump removed, depending on its size, condition, and location, it can be removed by the following methods:
The Stump Can Be Leveled Out with the Ground
The stump that is left in the ground will typically rot within 7 years, so if it is leveled enough and out of the way, it could be the cheapest and most convenient option. A stump of any size can be leveled and left for nature to do its job.
It Can Be Manually Removed from the Ground
If the stump is not large, it can be manually removed by digging it out of the ground with a shovel. Typically, a worker would first remove the soil around the stump, exposing as much of the root plate as possible, then the roots will be cut, and the stump will be pulled out of the ground. If the stump is large, an excavator might be needed.
However, in the majority of cases, excavation is not an option, as in the typical yard of a home within the city, there isn’t enough space for it, therefore other options, that are discussed below will be more suitable. Nevertheless, once the stump is removed, the remaining hole in the ground can be filled with soil and covered with grass sod.
The Stump Can Be Removed Using Chemicals
Stumps that are too large can be removed via chemical stump removers that speed up the natural process of rotting and it takes a minimum of 4 weeks to see the results. If the stump is very large, chemicals might need to be applied more than once. However, this is still a good option if you want to get rid of the stump as soon as possible, as you don’t have to wait 7 years until it decomposes on its own. Stump removal chemicals are poured inside the holes within a stump that are drilled prior and they make the wood soft and spongy within a few weeks.
Typical stump removal chemicals contain nitrogen compounds, but Epsom salt might also be used instead, if you are worried about the damage nitrogen can cause to the landscape around. Within a few weeks after chemical treatment, the stump can be easily chipped with an ax into small pieces and disposed of. If the stump is not large, a flower bed can be created to cover the remains, letting the stump continue to rot naturally.
The Stump Can Be Burned Out
Burning is faster than chemical removal and it is also a less expensive option than digging it out manually, but it must be done by professionals in order to avoid an accidental spread of fire to your property. Also, it is a bit more intricate than it sounds, as you cannot simply pour kerosene and light the stump up.
Before a stump can be burned, it must be treated with special chemicals that make the wood porous, like a sponge, allowing kerosene or other flammables to soak it through entirely. A few holes are drilled in the stump and only then it is soaked with flammable substances and light up. A burning stump should be watched carefully to make sure the fire does not spread onto structures and other areas. Nevertheless, it is recommended to dig a hole around the stump before burning it, just to make sure dry grass will not catch on fire.
It Can Be Removed by Grinding
By far, this is the fastest way to get rid of the stump. However, this method relies on the use of a special piece of equipment – “stump grinder”, that breaks down the wood and rips out the roots. Stump removal by grinding takes between 2 to 8 hours, depending on how large the stump is and how deep the roots are. Grinding the stump will also leave a hole in the ground, though not as large as if a stump is manually dug out and it can also be filled with soil and covered with a flower bed or grass sod.
How to Prepare for Tree Removal
When you plan to remove your tree, there are a few things that you need to think of and prepare for in advance. Taking these small, common sense preparations will ensure that your tree is removed as quickly and possible with minimum hassle and fuss around it.
The first thing you should do is to clear the access to the tree. The workers that will come to remove your tree will need to go back and forth from their vehicles to get the necessary equipment as they proceed. Make sure there is a clear route, free of parked cars, trash bins, pots with plants and other things that can interfere with the work flow.
Second, make sure the area around the tree is also cleared in all directions from things that can get broken or damaged by the falling branches, tree logs and even the tree itself. Even though tree service workers are professional with extensive experience, accidents still happen, and trees do sometimes fall unpredictably despite all necessary preparations and precautions.
Third, make sure pets and children are not mingling under the feet of tree removal team. This can cause an accident, as the workers now are destructed from their work and have to watch out for sudden appearances of unexpected moving “objects”. Plus, children and pets can get injured by a falling branch or a log. It is best to prevent this from happening by closing your pets in the house and taking your small children for a walk or to a park while the team is on site.
Fourth, agree in advance on everything you would like the tree removal service to get done. If suddenly you decide to get the stump removed without prior agreement, the team might not have the time or equipment necessary to get the job done on the same day, therefore it is best to plan ahead.
Removal of a tree might seem like a straightforward task that does not require the knowledge of a rocket scientist. However, as with many other specialized work, it requires expertise and skills that only come with experience. An average Joe who never held an ax and a chainsaw in his hands or climbed a tree will not be able to safely do the job by watching a few videos or reading even 100 articles.
Many unpredictable things can happen when trying to fell a tree, even when it seems like everything has been done in the right way and all precautions are in place. When a tree starts to fall in one direction or another, there is nothing you can do to stop it and there is no way for you to redirect it or correct its trajectory.
Keep in mind that an average tree weighs about one ton, and some can reach a weight of 4-5 tons. Once a mass like that falls, it slams on the ground with a force large enough to crush everything underneath it: cars, tractors, cranes, structures, and buildings, shaking the earth underneath it.
This can be a very scary moment, especially when you realize how helpless you are in this situation. Therefore, it is best not to risk your life and livelihood and entrust this difficult and intricate task to a team of professionals, who know exactly what measures to take to avoid such unpleasant instances. As the old saying goes “It is always better to be safe than sorry”.