A customer that I had worked for previously called me to come see if I could remove a large Maple tree that had fallen onto his roof during a recent snowstorm. The snow turned out to just be the last straw, as the trunk near the base was quite decayed and the tree had already developed a lean searching for sunlight over the driveway.
A number of factors allowed me to do this job. His home has a roof pitch of 3:12 in the back and 4:12 in the front and the drop off to the ground if just a few feet into soft ground on the rear and not much more in the front. The tree was also supported on the edge of the roof at a few points, so all the branches on the roof could be cleared off before removing the tree from the roof. There was still some snow on the roof when I started, so I brought a broom up with me to clear out a walkway ahead wherever I cleared branches.
The tree was secured with a rope to prevent it from sliding off the front of the roof. Sliding like this could have caused more damage to the roof and smaller branches could clip parts of the building under the roof line. A second rope was placed to take a little of the weight off the roof, but the acute angle minimized the help.
Once all the branches had been reduced to their contact points on the edge of the roof, the work started from the ground. The pressure was taken off to leave the main branch on the roof at last, getting down everything else to prevent damage to the fence. The main trunk had a second trunk of some size. I cut it off near the base of the tree and then cut off sections from that end, working the limb down in size. Eventually, I was able to carry off the branch from the roof.
To get enough weight off the final piece, a 4×4 was hammered in place, the end cut most of the way through by the roof, the trunk cut most of the way through closer to the stump end like the previous limb, and then the end on the roof was cut off and the piece resting on the 4×4 pulled forward.
The customer requested the wood be bucked so he could split it and burn it, so that was the last part. Once finished, he graciously offered to blow off the roof and driveway for me so I was able to clean up my equipment and go.
I recommend tree removal where there is (or will be) a poor match between the tree and the site it is growing on. What is a poor match? First, consider your land, all the structures on it, and what you desire from your land. Do you want a wooded lot? A large lawn? A vegetable garden? Are the trees you have part of enhancing or protecting those structures and implementing your vision for your land or will they interfere with it? If they interfere, you have a poor match. Do something now to take advantage of Just Small Trees, LLC services, not in 5 or 10 years when the problems are much more expensive to fix.
Remember, well-matched trees increase your enjoyment of your property and your property’s value, while poorly-matched trees do the opposite.
First Glance at Your Trees
Take a walk around your home and property. For trees near your house, look at each tree individually and consider the potential problems below. If you have a large number of trees elsewhere on your property, you can look at them in groups to save time.
Poor Site Problems
Poorly Located (Damaging): The tree threatens or will threaten structures such as a foundation, patio, or deck due to root flare and trunk growth.
Poorly Located (Annoying): The tree produces messy fruit, flowers, or leaves that are problem in the current location. Examples are gumballs from sweet gum (Liquidambar styraciflua) in a lawn or fruit from red mulberry (Morus rubra) staining a deck.
Site Use Interference: The tree shades or will shade a lawn, garden, or other plants. Roots of such a tree will also reduce water available to other plants.
Construction: The tree’s roots have been destroyed due to soil grading or extensive digging.
Poor Tree Problems
Diseased or Damaged: The tree is diseased or damaged now and not worth saving or can’t be saved.
Ugly: Some trees you just don’t like. Remove them now, get relief, and save money in the long run.
Poor Adaptability: I often cut down black cherry (Prunus serotina) trees from the Wake County area. Why? Despite being a good tree in the NC mountains, this tree grows poorly in the local heat and humidity. Add in eastern tent caterpillars during the summer and you end up with a tree having bad foliage, bad form, and numerous health issues.
Potential Breakage: Bradford pear (Pyrus calleryana) has ugly, poor branch structure that is prone to ripping the trunk when branches break due to wind or ice. Why wait? Cut it down and replace it with something better.
Removal vs Pruning
If you have a good tree species but the site match is just so-so, pruning is a good option. The most important thing with pruning is to start early in the tree’s life. It is impossible to turn a large, healthy, mature tree into a small, healthy, mature tree. Attempt to do so and you will get a tree that will decline and die over the next several years.
Pruning a good tree is worthwhile. For example, my parents have a large willow oak (Quercus phellos) about 20 feet from their house. At close to 70 feet tall and with a trunk diameter of 3 feet it requires pruning every several years to get branches off the house and roof. Regular pruning, starting years ago, is the only reason this beautiful specimen has been able to safely coexist with their house.
Overall, I don’t recommend pruning to make a tree stay smaller unless you are prepared to invest in yearly pruning of the tree for the entire life of the tree. An example would be an apple tree grown for fruit, a more extreme example a bonsai tree. If you don’t want to prune so often, remove the tree when it’s small and put something better in it’s place.
A customer contacted me about a Mulberry that had fallen down due to the heavy rains received in the previous days. In one of the established neighborhoods in the North Hills area of Raleigh, the Mulberry had been growing for a long time and providing privacy along a rear fence. And had it ever!
Mulberries are tremendous growers that put up multiple trunks and produce a lot of wood. Unlike a Bradford Pear, the wood is quite strong and so the Mulberry grows easily to an unbalanced shape as it seeks light. This tree was probably under 40 feet tall when standing, but nearly as wide, and was close to 2 feet in diameter at waist height.
The thing with storm fallen trees is that they are over, but they are not down. So the work is nearly as much, and in many cases more, than cutting a tree down from a standing position. The tree was pieced down carefully from the tips, working back, making sure to be careful of the shifting and rotating weight that is released from storm fallen wood.
In the end, the trunk was cut back close to the root mound and left as shown per the customer’s request. It measured over 24 inches at this point. You can also see the yellow wood and white sap that are hallmarks of Mulberry.
Disposal went well, the location wasn’t close to the street, but the land sloped down – a welcome relief. Because I don’t use heavy equipment and I work carefully, the yard was left in great condition despite moving a couple tons of tree across it.
The oak was dead. 45 feet tall, 11 inches wide, leaves and bark all. Before Hurricane Matthew came through NC, I received a call to take this dead oak down in its fenced-in yard. Get it down under control, not under the heavy winds and rain of Matthew.
The homeowner advised there was one corner of the yard where the tree would fit, correctly so. In addition, the yard was well gardened with flower beds and plenty of hardscape – overall a beautiful yard you don’t want to damage. Moving blankets protected the pavers, a tarp the fence.
Why was the tree dead? Lightning was one possibility as the tree seemed to suddenly die. Lightning strikes can go without visual damage for seasons, too, so when it happened was hard to say. When I dug around the base of the oak to inspect the root collar, I dug over 8 inches and still didn’t reach the roots. Suffocation may have killed this oak as tree roots need oxygen too. Construction is often the cause even though years pass before the tree suddenly dies.
I sounded the tree with a 3 lb. hammer. Dry but solid. The outer phloem was completely dead, the leaves totally dry.
I used a rope to control the oak with a rope puller, then the usual notch, back-cut, and wedges. Look at the stump and you can see two patterns on the back-cut, the obscured portion with a dull chain, and the clear portion a sharp one.
The tree landed right on the spot. The homeowner chose “downing” only, so I cut up and stacked the oak into a few portions and cleaned up. No damage to the hardscape and minimal damage to the tender salvias and torenias around the base of tree. The wood was dead heavy, each section 100 pounds easy. Only the top fifteen feet were completely rotten.
Earlier this year I cut down and disposed of a 32 foot hickory (Carya sp.) tree with a 12 inch base growing on the side of a customer’s house in Raleigh. Not only was this tree rubbing against the flashing and shingles of the roof, it had also grown so large the fuse box for the A/C unit could no longer be opened. I love hickories and pecans, but this one was totally out of place.
The tree was a simple removal because there was a favorable window in the yard to lay it down. I cut away branches to the roof line with a pole saw to get them out of the way. Rope installation followed and then a standard open-face notch with back-cut. I pulled down the hickory nice & easy by leaving the hinge wood a bit thicker. “Nice & easy” is the best way when dealing with hundreds of pounds of wood and many targets – house, A/C unit, and patio.
Tight control on the chainsaw was critical when finishing the downing phase by cutting the trunk away from the A/C unit. It was right on top of the fuse box with the large power cable going to the condenser only inches from the nose of the chainsaw’s bar.
After that, it was a simple job to load and clean up.
I picked up a tree work request recently that led me to downtown Raleigh. The pictures the owner sent me caught my eye: during a recent storm a 30 foot Mulberry (Morus rubra) trunk had split off from its larger partner and fell across the roof of his shed and the fences on three properties. Amazingly, there was minimal damage to all the structures from the initial fall. My task was to get this piece down without additional damage. The split was 8 feet off the ground and Mulberry is dense wood so this took some planning.
My overall course was to rig the trunk, suspending it off the remaining trunk with a line about 25 feet up that connected back to a monster of a Black Walnut (Juglans nigra) with a two high-strength slings and a rope puller. This way I could reduce the pressure the piece put on all the structures and have control over how the piece would drop.
I started by removing everything from the fences and cutting back so the trunk ended at the peak of the shed. A key here was to use moving blankets in between the limbs and fences before cutting to prevent additional damage. I also used multiple blankets to protect the shed roof. I reached the halfway point when the trunk was down to 10 feet long and off the shed.
At this point it was hanging by the rigging line on the right side and the split on the left. It was still over one fence, so I couldn’t just drop it. I cut off sections and lowered them instead. This prevented damage to the hard surfacing beside the shed. Then I used the rigging to pull the remaining stub up and back over the fence, took a short walk around the neighborhood to get into the other yard, and cut the last piece off.
It was one of those NC summer days when the temperature and humidity were the same number, probably 90, and I was fairly soaked at this point. But the finish line was in sight. I bucked up the logs for firewood, removed all the small limbs and leaves from the property, and raked & blew up the saw dust for a clean look.
Work sites like this are complicated with three properties, three owners, and fences in between them all. I was grateful that all involved were easy to work with. I’ve even been back since this job to do additional tree downing and disposal. One of my favorite jobs so far.
The sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua) I often hear negative comments about. “To many seedlings.” “They drop gumballs everywhere and I step on the damn things.” I like the tree. The smell of crushed sweetgum leaves takes me back decades. Of course, don’t use it as a lawn tree unless you purchase a non-fruiting cultivar, but in the woods or in large natural areas the sweetgum is a fine tree. Good fall coloration, good lumber, and it burns well.
This customer called me and said he wanted the tree down because he didn’t like it. That’s almost always enough reason for me, unless you have a beauty of a tree. Arriving at his home you could see the tree was in poor shape with a ton of new growth mid-trunk. Once the tree was down I could see that the top was dead as well. Likely when the house was built this tree was saved. Being only 10 feet from the foundation, roots were cut and heavy equipment compacted the soil. Large branches could no longer be hydrated, died, and the tree produced new branches everywhere. This was a tree with no future.
That hardest part of this job was using a pole saw to cut out a large number of these small branches so I could get my rope high into the tree. It had a 5-10 degree lean towards the backyard and I needed it to fall towards the road. My initial rope location about 15 feet up wasn’t enough leverage, so I moved it up another 10 feet before getting started. I used a rope puller attached to a noticeably large pine tree on the edge of the property and with a proper face cut and wedges, this tree came down just right.
The customer ordered log bucking to use the wood for burning. This generally costs 20-30% of what it costs to take the tree down, whereas disposal is 75-150% of the cost. If you’ve got a tree that burns well and like to use your fireplace or firepit, get it bucked, save money, and have wood to burn.
I encountered a large, very dead oak tree when a man I ran into on another job called me out to his home. He said when I met him that someone walking the neighborhood looking for tree work had passed on it. I visited in person after he sent a picture that showed a favorable crotch for a rope.
The tree was about 60 feet tall, 20-22 inches in diameter, full of dead wood up top, and rotten bark all the way to the roots. Even the root flare was rotting. There was some firmer wood inside. It had a favorable lean into a clearing backed by strong trees that could hold a rope. I told the man that if he wanted a precision job, bring in a cherry picker to bring it down piece-by-piece; I didn’t think anyone would climb this tree.
After my visit I sent a quote. I described what I would do: put a rope on the tree about 30 feet up and use a rope puller. I wanted the entire tree to come over like it was blown down. I gave three prices: lowest if it came down on one pull, middle if it required multiple pulls, and highest if I had to cut it down. I also asked him to be present with his own chain saw in case things went wrong. And a dead, rotten tree can go very wrong. I could be hit by falling branches, a collapsing shell, a trunk broken mid-point, or even the entire tree falling over.
I didn’t hear back from the man.
That is until a month later, when he asked me to come out and do the work that Wednesday. It had rained recently and I thought the conditions favorable for pulling the tree over. I was shocked when I arrived and found a new shed built in the exact spot where I had planned on felling the tree!
I went over options with the man. There was a good spot about 90 degrees from the lean. He assured me multiple times that, because the shed was free and although he didn’t want the shed hit by the tree, it was okay if the tree did hit it. He wanted that dead, rotten tree down. He also said the same thing about any ornamental trees, shrubs, or other plants. All damage in that area was waived.
I set up the area. Coned off a restricted area, got my rope in place, and got all my equipment out. In the video, you can see I didn’t use a running bowline to set the rope on the crotch. Instead, I ran the rope down to the base of the tree and attached it with a timber hitch. I wanted to get my rope back for another plan if things didn’t go well. I also used a zepplin bend on two ropes to get the length I needed.
Story short. The tree would not go over with the puller alone. I had to cut. I gave a hand signal to the man so he could tell me if he saw the tree moving and I made my notch while looking up as often as possible. On the back cut I noticed one side cut much easier than the other. I ignored this clue at the time because I wanted to clear the tree as soon as possible.
Back on the rope puller, the tree came over. It landed perfectly, not hitting the shed at all. In fact, the only thing it hit was another tree the man will remove later.
But it didn’t go as planned and I don’t like that. Two things showed why the tree fell it as it did. First, I wanted the tree to land 90 degree from the lean. Second, I noticed one side cutting more easily than the other. The result was the tree landed at 45 degrees from the intended lay. Jeff Jepson in “To Fell A Tree” states that trees felled perpendicular to the lean often result “…in a tree landing 45 degrees away from the intended lay.” One reason is “hinge wood [that] could not support the tree (weak, decayed)…” You can see that almost 50% of the hinge has either rotted away or is decayed, punky wood. This was the side that cut more easily.
The tree was felled safely. The only way to get better odds on property damage would have been to use a bucket truck and that would have been 3 to 4 times more expensive. I laid out the facts for the man and he decided. That is how I treat my customers.
Here are several videos a customer took in April of a tree downing and disposal job in Apex. This is the second of two bradford pears, Pyrus calleryana. It was 38 feet tall with a 12 inch diameter. A bull rope was attached approximately in line with the eventual lay and tied off on the base of a similar size pine near the edge of the property. The first tree was heavily off-center in a favorable direction due to branch breakage in previous years, but this tree was balanced and closer to the house. Wedges may have been enough, but a rope made the job far safer. Plus it’s always a pleasure to put a rope to work.
Bradford pear, particularly, is like glass as it’s quite strong until it isn’t. I’ve yet to meet a customer who regretted removing a bradford pear and sooner is always better than later with trees you don’t want. If you’ve got a tree you’d like out, take a few pictures and send them to me.