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Tree Removal for Do-It-Yourselfers: Get Referrals and Call a Pro


[Updated: May 14, 2020 ] Apr 05, 2020 by Marc Rapport
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Paying someone to remove trees from your yard can be expensive, but so is a trip to the emergency room. Chain saws, ladders, gravity. What could go wrong?

That said, there is some advice out there for do-it-yourselfers determined to rid their property of a dead, dying, or just, in their eyes, distasteful piece of tall, woody vegetation.

Ladder not required

First, determine whether the tree is one you can, indeed, remove safely on your own. A piece of advice worth considering, albeit from a company that wants to do it for you, is this: "If the tree is small enough that you could remove it without climbing a ladder, it's likely OK if you remove it yourself."

That's according to Davey Tree, an Ohio-based firm that's been coming between chain saws and do-it-yourselfers since 1880, before there even were chain saws or middle-class suburban homesteads by the millions.

A tree that small, of course, can be easily toppled and limbed up for disposal. As for the trunk and stump, here are three steps to consider according to the company:

  1. Water the day before the planned removal so the soil will be easier to dig.
  2. Measure your tree trunk's circumference in inches. Plan to dig six inches deep for every inch to reach the entire root system. Dig around the tree's roots, which likely extend out to the outer edge of the tree's canopy.
  3. Wiggle the root ball out. If the roots are intact, you can transplant the tree. Or, if you plan to dispose of it, cut it up with a chain saw. Wear protective eyeglasses, earplugs, and gloves.

Now, to remove larger trees, there are plenty of places on the internet that can show you how, and it feels almost irresponsible to link to them. I looked at a few, and each included disclaimers along the lines of: The bigger the tree is, the more you need to leave it to a pro.

Trees can easily weigh 20,000 pounds or more. Property damage and personal injury can easily occur, especially if a tree is near a building or other structure. Like a house. Or a fence. Or an amateur.

The job is dangerous even for professionals. A Rutgers University study in 2018 found that each year, about 80 tree workers are killed and at least 23,000 chain saw accidents send people to emergency rooms. "Many of those injuries result from inadequate training and equipment," the study found.

Cost and considerations

So, if we've convinced you to have someone else do the deed, let's consider the cost. HomeAdvisor (NASDAQ: ANGI) says the average cost to remove a tree is $400 to $2,000, with type, size, condition, and location on the property all being factors.

That rings true, at least to me. In my neck of the woods, central South Carolina, tallish pine trees dominate, and the rule of thumb is generally about $600 a pop. Stump grinding is extra, and the price varies widely. It's worth getting estimates.

Also, inquire ahead of time about disposal, including whether the tree removal includes debris removal and what your local rules are for leaving debris on the curb. Some areas allow that with conditions, such as length of limbs and branches. Some don't accommodate that at all.

It's also worth the effort to check referrals, get recommendations, and make sure you're using experienced contractors who are properly insured. There are multiple tree services around, ranging from national operations with franchises and thousands of employees to self-employed single operators with a flatbed and little to no overhead.

After all, chain saws, ropes, cleats, and a lot of nerve are all that's really needed to limb and down a tree. The tree removal business can be attractive to fly-by-nighters, unfortunately, especially after big storms, so it's best, also, to stay local, since these folks have more incentive to do the job right and do business fairly.

After all, the consequences of a job poorly done can be costly to the provider and the customer. Before committing, it's worth the time to explore hiring a certified professional. A good way to start would be by checking out the Tree Care Industry Association and International Society of Arboriculture.

They're very different organizations. The first is a trade group; the second is an advocacy group for tree care and management. But they both can help you determine whether a tree needs to go, and how to proceed from there.

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Marc Rapport has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.