Unless you’re a certified arborist or a dendrologist, you may not know the right reasons to cut down a tree on your property. Some situations – such as a tree potentially falling on your home or its occupants – make tree removal an obvious necessity, but other reasons for cutting down a tree can be more subtle.
When in doubt, consult with a certified arborist or an experienced tree service company. We asked tree service experts and certified arborists from across the country for the most common reasons to remove a tree – and a few reasons why you should reconsider unnecessarily removing a tree.
1. The tree poses a danger to people or property
“This is the first criteria in removing a tree,” says Tim Young of Tim Young Tree Service in Charlotte, N.C. “If the tree is dangerous in any way, and trimming the branches does not reduce the risk of person, animal or building being hit [by a falling tree], then chances are you have to remove it.”
2. The tree is infected by disease or pests
“There are diseases that affect certain trees like oak wilt,” says Tim B. Pruett, Sr. of American Tree Service in Austin. “It can spread to other trees and sometimes there’s no way to stop it unless you take out the affected tree.”
Pruett also notes that other tree diseases such as hypoxylon canker, a tree fungus commonly found in East Texas and the southern U.S., can affect multiple tree types such as hardwoods, but the symptoms in each species may differ.
Invasive pests such as the emerald ash borer, an invasive insect that infests ash trees and first arrived in the Northeast and Midwest after 2002, can also threaten trees’ health.
“If you have a diseased tree, depending on the location and what may happen, it’s usually best to get it removed,” Pruett says.
3. The tree is dying or dead
Diseases or pests can hasten a tree’s demise, but like all living things, trees have natural life spans and do eventually die. Young says spotting a tree that’s dead or dying takes an experienced eye. “The rule of thumb is if the tree has lost 25 percent of its foliage, it’s dead,” he says. “A tree can be dead but still produce some foliage because it’s living off of stored carbohydrates.”
Under some circumstances the tree can be saved by treating diseases or pests, or providing fertilization, but waiting too long to remove a dead or dying tree can make the service much more expensive. If a larger dead or dying tree becomes too rotted and weak for a tree service professional to safely climb – particularly in tight spaces near houses or other structures - more expensive equipment like cranes may be needed to remove the tree.
4. The tree is too close to the house or other improvements
“I’m astonished at the people that plant a Bradford pear or a river birch or some other medium- to large-sized tree only feet from their home,” Young says. “On the tag from the nursery, it states how large the tree will grow.”
The roots of medium to large trees, such as a river birch that grows to 70 feet tall and 35 feet wide, will eventually exert pressure on the home’s foundation, which can cause extensive - and expensive - damage. “Trees that are too close to the house can cause foundation problems [that can] cost thousands of dollars to repair," says Lorenzo Romero of RF Tree Service in Houston. "They can also make driveways crack and fall apart."
Other areas that can be damaged by tree growth and root intrusion include overhead or underground power lines and sewer pipes.
Trevor March, a ISA-certified arborist with Northwest Tree Specialists in Hillsboro, Ore., says trees that allow debris to accumulate on the house can be candidates for removal, as well. “When trees are tall and hang over a structure, falling leaves, needles or other debris can clog gutters or damage the roof if water backs up,” he says.
Next: 5 reasons to reconsider tree removal