Trees provide wonderful natural beauty and benefits. Dying and dead trees still offer shade and provide shelter to wildlife, so complete removal is best reserved for structurally unsound trees. But there are times when tree removal is necessary for safety and property protection. These are more likely to fall and damage property or cause injury.

From severely damaged trees at risk of falling over to ones obstructing areas or causing issues, taking down a tree safely is crucial for homeowners. This homeowner’s guide covers when tree removal is warranted and how to properly tackle tree removal jobs yourself or hire professional help.

When is Tree Removal Needed?

Dead or dying trees with significant structural issues should be removed before they become hazards. Major defects that indicate a tree may need to go include:

  • Over 50% of the tree being damaged or decayed
  • Cracks or damage spanning over 25% of the trunk
  • Over 25% of branches damaged
  • Missing more than 1/3 of the interior trunk/heartwood
  • Severe lean of over 15 degrees with root lifting

Additionally, trees in poor locations like too close to homes, utility lines, sidewalks or on steep slopes may need removal before they cause property damage as they grow. Certain messy or invasive species may also be candidates.

Check the Local Regulations

Before removing any trees, even on your own property, check local ordinances. Some areas prohibit removal without a permit or only allow it for hazardous trees versus cosmetic reasons. Your city/county office can provide the rules.

DIY: Removing Small Trees Yourself

When considering the removal of a small tree yourself, it’s essential to proceed with caution and proper planning. Start by clearly determining the direction you want the tree to fall, keeping in mind its natural lean and any prevailing winds that might influence its path. It’s crucial to establish multiple escape routes to ensure your safety should the tree begin to fall unexpectedly.

The actual cutting should be approached methodically: a straight cut for smaller trees and a three-cut method for those slightly larger, ensuring that the final cuts guide the tree safely to the ground. Remember, while DIY tree removal can be a cost-saving endeavor, it also carries risks.

Always wear protective gear, work with sharp and well-maintained tools, and never hesitate to consult professionals if the task seems beyond your capability or the tree’s condition poses unforeseen challenges. This cautious approach will help you manage the risks and ensure a safe removal process.

DIY Tree Removal in 5 Steps

For smaller trees under 7 inches in diameter trunk width, homeowners can often safely remove them using the proper technique:

Step One: Clear the area and plan an escape route in case the tree falls unpredictably

Step Two: Determine the desired fall direction, typically the tree’s lean direction

Step Three: For trees under 7 inches, one straight cut through the trunk is sufficient.

For slightly larger trees:

  • Make an initial cut one-quarter of the way through the trunk on the intended fall side.
  • Make a second cut 2 inches above the first, angling down 45 degrees to create a wedge.
  • Perform a back-cut on the opposite side of the trunk, leaving about 10% of the diameter uncut.
  • If the tree does not fall, use a felling wedge and tools to initiate the fall.

    Step Four: Fell the tree toward the notch using wedges if needed

    Step Five: Quickly move away as it falls using your escape route.

    The tree can then be cut up for firewood, chipped into mulch, or fully removed. Small stumps may be dug out by hand.

    Hiring Professionals for Large Trees

    For large trees over 15-30 feet tall, it’s best to use professional tree removal services with proper training, experience, and equipment.

    Arborists will safely take down the tree piece-by-piece using these professional techniques:

    • Set rigging ropes and climb to cut off branches/top first
    • Cut the trunk into sections and control the drop direction
    • Use cranes to efficiently lift away larger trunk/limb sections

    This systematic approach from skilled pros, often using specialized rigging and cranes, provides maximum safety and prevention of property damage that DIY removals on large trees risks.

    Using an arborist’s crane to remove sections of the tree makes the job faster, safer, and less damaging to the surrounding landscape. The time and labor saved mean this method is often cheaper than traditional methods that involve setting rigging and climbing. Few tree removal services own cranes, though, so if you’re interested in this method, you might need to call around.

    To take advantage of crane-assisted tree removal, you’ll need a level space of around 200 to 430 square feet to accommodate the crane. For medium and large trees, this space should be within 90 feet of the tree, although it can be farther for small trees.

    At the start of the job, the crane lifts the arborist to the top of the tree where they’ll tie a rope or cable. The arborist then moves down the tree and cuts the top section, which the crane operator will lift out of the way and down to the ground. The crew repeats this process until the whole tree is removed.

    Once the whole tree is down, you or your tree removal service team can turn the debris into something you can use. Thicker sections of wood can be cut into logs for firewood or woodworking projects. Branches and thinner sections can be run through a wood chipper to create mulch. If you don’t want these materials, the tree removal service can remove them for you, or you can take them to an organic waste dump if requested.

    Whether pruning a small tree yourself or contracting arborists for professional large tree removal, prioritize safety and the right techniques tailored to the tree’s size. With proper practices, hazardous trees can be brought down without incident.


    For more, listen to Today’s Homeowner Podcast episode on yard debris:

    Don’t Put It Off, Remove Hazardous Trees Safely Today

    If you have trees on your property showing signs of disease, severe damage, or instability, don’t wait until it’s too late. Prioritize your family’s safety and protect your home by removing hazardous trees promptly. For smaller trees, follow the proper DIY removal tips, but for larger trees, hire a reputable professional tree removal service in your area.

    Research local arborists, check reviews, get quotes, and make arrangements for timely and affordable tree takedown before dangerously compromised trees cause injuries or costly property damage. A professional tree removal now is a small investment compared to dealing with fallen trees harming your home or loved ones later. Take action today for a safer, sustainable landscape.

    Trees are always welcome in a home landscape, but when a tree becomes diseased or severely damaged, sometimes removal is the only option. Due to the high risk of injury and property damage, tree removal is not a job to take lightly. While you can safely remove small trees yourself, for large ones, it’s best to call in a pro. Professional tree removal services have the skills and equipment necessary to remove even large, badly decayed trees with minimal risk.

    Editorial Contributors
    avatar for Henry Parker

    Henry Parker

    Henry Parker is a home improvement enthusiast who loves to share his passion and expertise with others. He writes on a variety of topics, such as painting, flooring, windows, and lawn care, to help homeowners make informed decisions and achieve their desired results. Henry strives to write high quality guides and reviews that are easy to understand and practical to follow. Whether you are looking for the best electric riding lawn mower, the easiest way to remove paint from flooring, or the signs of a bad tile job, Henry has you covered with his insightful and honest articles. Henry lives in Florida with his wife and two kids, and enjoys spending his free time on DIY projects around the house. You can find some of his work on Today’s Homeowner, where he is a regular contributor.

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