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June 1, 2024

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    If you need to learn how to remove a small tree from your yard, you probably fall into one of the following categories:

    • You don’t like the tree.
    • The tree is dying.
    • The tree has become a safety hazard to you, your family, your pets, or your neighbors.

    I’ve tackled a handful of these jobs over the years, and now is my chance to pass on what I’ve learned through both successes and failures – and there have been plenty of failures.

    A small tree generally means one that is less than 15 feet tall and 6 inches in diameter. While it may seem simple enough to remove a tree of this size, there are both benefits and risks to doing it yourself.

    Cost efficient
    Saves time
    Can be done on your own time and schedule
    More risks of injury
    Labor intensive

    Handling it DIY can certainly save you money and time. But removing a small tree yourself can be labor intensive, and you have a higher risk of injury.

    This guide will break down all of the steps to remove a small tree from your yard. If you don’t want to wait, here is an example of how to do it yourself.

    But if you’d rather call in a professional, consider finding a professional near you.

    Get a Tree Removal Quote in 30 Seconds
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    What Are the Tools Needed to Remove a Small Tree?

    The tools and equipment you need for a DIY tree removal include:

    • Chainsaw
    • Loppers
    • Pruning saw
    • Shovel
    • Axe

    If you don’t have any experience using these tools, it might be beneficial to ask a friend to help you or hire a professional for lawn care services. You can also ask someone at your local home improvement store for advice on how to use the tools. 

    In general, a chainsaw is one of the best tools for removing small trees because it helps you work inside the crown. This is the area of the tree where there are a lot of smaller branches and leaves. The chainsaw allows you to quickly chop the smaller branches off to prepare to fell the main trunk of the tree.

    Loppers are helpful so you can cut the wood with a sharp blade, crushing the dead branches. Using loppers is similar to cutting vegetables with a knife on a cutting board.

    Pruning saws are good for cutting through at least 1.5 inches of thick wood, as they are typically used to cut a wide range of thick woods. You can also use a hand saw if you do not have a pruning saw.

    An axe can be used to cut through the tree before it falls over, just like you’d use a chainsaw. While a shovel is not used specifically to dig out the tree, it is one of the tools used for most lawn maintenance basics that cut through the tree’s roots, so you can begin the stump removal.

    Safety Gear and Precautions

    To minimize the risks associated with a DIY tree removal, you should use the proper tools, wear the correct protective gear, ensure the weather is clear, and inspect the tree before cutting it down.

    The safety gear for a homeowner removing a tree includes:

    • Gloves
    • Helmet
    • Steel-toed leather boots
    • Long sleeved shirt
    • Goggles

    Goggles or helmets with protective face equipment are especially important, as they minimize the risk of scratching your eyes from falling branches and debris. If you wear a helmet with protective gear over the face, you do not need to wear safety goggles, as the helmet will offer protection for your eyes.

    Removing a tree alone can also cut your skin, which is why heavy-duty gloves and a long-sleeved shirt are necessary.

    One of the worst things that can go wrong when removing smaller trees can be if the tree hits any electrical wires or power lines. You must do everything you can to avoid the tree coming in contact with electrical wires, as live wires tangled in the branches can cause electrocution or a fire. If you’re in any way concerned you may hit a power line when removing a tree, it’s best to leave the job to a professional.

    What Are the Steps to Remove a Small Tree?

    In the following sections, I want to outline the actionable steps you should take when cutting down a small tree in your yard.

    Step 1: Plan Your Cut

    When planning to cut the tree, you must determine which way the tree will fall. Cutting the tree in the wrong direction can be dangerous, as it can fall the wrong way and cause injuries or property damage.

    Choose the direction that is most natural for the tree. For example, if your tree leans slightly to the right, it will likely fall to the right side. So, you’ll want to cut it on the right side.

    Circle the tree and look at it from every direction to determine you are correctly seeing which way the tree leans. Measure and mark where you want to cut the tree using either a chainsaw or a pruning saw.

    Step 2: Cut Down the Tree

    tree removal diagram
    Credit: Cornell College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

    There are two cuts you’ll make into the small tree. The first is a notch cut, essentially taking out a wedge on the side you’d like the tree to fall. The second is a back cut, a straight horizontal cut on the opposite side.

    Now that it is time to cut down the tree, you must position yourself and the saw before cutting into the tree. Stand so that your left shoulder is touching the tree, and use your saw or axe to make a 70-degree cut into the tree, facing the direction you want it to fall.

    Continue cutting the tree until the cut is about one-quarter of the tree’s diameter.

    Then you need to make a horizontal back cut by turning your saw or axe sideways through the tree’s opposite side. You can stop cutting the tree when you have a hinge left. The hinge should be about one-tenth of the tree’s diameter.

    If you refer to the image above, the hinge is basically a section of the tree that is left uncut. You don’t want to cut through the entire tree because you won’t have control over when or where it falls then. By leaving a hinge, you can drive the wedge into it and this will start to make it fall.

    Once you cut the tree, quickly make your escape as it falls. You should have an escape route planned ahead of time so you know exactly which way to go after cutting the tree. Do not return until the tree has fallen completely.

    Credit: Canva

    3. Remove the Stump and Roots

    To fully remove the small tree, you must properly remove the stump and root system.  You’ll need to use your shovel to dig around the stump and expose the roots. Generally, for every inch of the tree’s diameter, you will want to dig 9 to 12 inches in diameter and 6 inches in depth.

    Cut through the roots using your chainsaw or pruning saw. Your rope can come in handy to pull out the tree stump, as it can be difficult.

    You can also use a lever to remove the stump. Some easier ways to remove the stump include burning it if permitted in your area, stump grinding, or pouring chemicals over it. When finished, you can cover the area with topsoil, mulch, or grass seed.

    Credit: Canva

    The chemicals will take a few weeks to break down and kill a tree stump, but it will eventually rot and can be dug out with your shovel. Before burning the stump, be sure to check with your local fire department if open burning is permitted.

    Here is a video that shows how to remove roots from a tree stump properly:

    How Much Does It Cost to Remove a Small Tree?

    Removing a small tree yourself is essentially free, though you may run into some costs related to removing trees. If you need to buy tools, you’ll need to factor that in. Depending on where you live, it may also cost money to dispose of the tree after you’ve removed it.

    Some examples of average costs for a DIY tree care and removal are:

    • $50-$100 for a small backyard pine tree
    • $200-$300 for a medium-size front yard maple tree

    Still, DIY small tree removal typically costs much less money than hiring a professional tree removal service.

    A licensed arborist may charge you between $300 and $500 for a small tree removal and more than $1,000 for a large tree removal.

    Professional arborists typically charge so much for tree removals because of how complex, unpredictable, and risky the service is. In addition, they charge more than you may expect because they have to pay high insurance premiums.

    Professional arborists also require heavy-duty equipment, like a stump grinder, and they dispose of your tree stump.

    Another reason professional tree removers charge more than you would pay for a DIY removal is because they are certified arborists and have undergone specific training to efficiently complete the tree removal process.

    Get a Tree Removal Quote in 30 Seconds
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    DIY Vs. Hiring a Pro to Get Rid of Small Trees in the Yard

    As an experienced lawn care expert who can remove a small tree, I highly recommend DIY tree removal. If you use the proper tools, wear the correct safety equipment, and know what precautions to take beforehand, DIY tree removal can be more beneficial than hiring a professional service.

    While this type of DIY project does come with some risks, removing a tree on your own can help save you a lot of money and time, and you can follow your own schedule.

    While it is highly unlikely, death is the largest risk associated with a DIY tree removal project. However, when dealing with trees that are less than 15 feet tall, you have an extremely low risk of death from injury. Overall, a DIY tree removal has challenges, but it can be done if you take the proper precautions.

    FAQS About Removing a Small Tree

    What is the best tool for removing small trees?

    An axe or a chainsaw are the best tools for removing small trees. You can use either one to get the job done.

    Depending on your tree’s thickness, a chainsaw can be the better choice to cut through the tree. If the tree is small in diameter, an ax should be sufficient to cut through the tree without using too much force.

    What is the best way to get rid of small tree roots?

    The best way to get rid of small tree roots, whether in your yard or in your driveway, is to compost them. By composting the tree roots, you are recycling them. Composting the tree roots enriches the soil, delivers nutrients to plants, and helps keep water in the ground to help fight droughts.

    Do I need permission to take a small tree down?

    You will likely need a permit from your local government to take down a small tree, so it is a good idea to check with your local ordinances beforehand to see if you need to secure a permit.

    Each city, township, and municipality has different rules that apply to tree removal, so it is essential to apply for a permit in advance if necessary.

    Editorial Contributors
    avatar for Coty Perry

    Coty Perry

    Expert Writer & Reviewer

    Coty Perry is a lawn and garden writer for Today’s Homeowner. He focuses on providing homeowners with actionable tips that relate to the “Average Joe” who is looking to achieve a healthier and greener lawn. When he isn’t writing he can almost always be found coaching youth football or on some trail in Pennsylvania in search of the next greatest fishing hole.

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    photo of Andrew Dunn

    Andrew Dunn

    Senior Editor

    Andrew Dunn is a veteran journalist with more than 15 years of experience reporting and editing for local and national publications, including The Charlotte Observer and Business North Carolina magazine. His work has been recognized numerous times by the N.C. Press Association and the Society of American Business Editors and Writers. He is also a former general contractor with experience with cabinetry, finish carpentry and general home improvement and repair. Andrew earned a degree in journalism from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, as well as a certificate in business journalism. He lives in Charlotte, N.C.

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