Get ready to shout “timber!”
Taking down a tree in your yard isn’t always an easy decision, but it can give you a better view or extra space for your lawn, garden, or pool. Removing a tree can also help prevent damage to your property and other trees if the tree is towards the end of its life.
Depending on the size, you may be able to tackle DIY tree removal—but you need the proper technique, tools, and safety gear to do it. This job can be extremely dangerous, so only take it on if you know what you’re doing. Follow our guide to learn how to remove a small tree yourself and when to call in an expert.
Why Remove Small Trees?
Getting rid of some small trees from your yard can:
Open up space for a garden, patio, pool, or more lawn
Contain overgrowth or a disruptive root system
Improve the aesthetics of your outdoor space
Prevent the spread of infestations and disease if the tree is infected
Although it can be a major decision that affects the look of your home and yard, if you have any of the above goals in mind, removing a small tree might be the right decision for you.
How Much Does It Cost to Remove Small Trees?
The cost to remove a tree ranges from $200 to $2,000 or more, with the average price landing around $750. Smaller, shorter trees fall on the lower end, while tall trees are more complex and can cost $2,000 or more. Expenses depend on how hard it is to access the tree and the cost of labor in your area.
How to Prep for Safe DIY Tree Removal
The most crucial step for tree removal prep is to decide if you can safely remove the tree yourself. Uprooting small trees can be hazardous to you, your property, vehicles, electrical lines, and more. If you do decide that you can do the work safely, ensuring you have the proper protective gear is imperative.
Determine if You Should Remove the Tree Yourself
Not every tree is a good candidate for your next DIY project. Tree removal can be complex and cause serious repercussions if something goes awry, including personal injury, harm to your property, damage to electrical wires, and fines.
Here are a few ways to tell if you should remove the tree yourself:
If you have to climb a ladder to remove a tree or any of its limbs, it's too large and complex to do as a DIY project.
If you have to buy tree removal tools that you don't have experience with, such as a chainsaw, then it's unlikely that you should attempt tree removal.
If there's not enough space to fell the tree, such as if a house or power line prevents the tree from falling directly to the ground, contact a tree expert.
If your local ordinances don't allow you to remove the tree or you're unable to secure the proper permit, then you should definitely hire a pro.
If the tree is too large for you to safely and easily dispose of once it’s on the ground, you may consider hiring a crew to take care of the entire removal process. Consider how heavy the tree might be and if you have the towing power to get rid of it.
You can tackle many landscaping projects yourself and save money, but tree removal can get tricky and poses risks. Contact a local tree service if the project is out of your comfort zone or to get a professional opinion. While saving money is tempting, expensive house repairs or medical bills after an injury can outweigh any savings.
Secure a Permit
Depending on where you live and your local ordinances, you may need to get a permit to remove a tree. Check with your city or township’s rules and apply for the permit in advance.
Clear the Area
Be sure to remove outdoor furniture, vehicles, fire pits, or other lawn accessories before removing any trees. Keep people and pets out of the area and at least as far away as double the distance of the tree's height. Make sure that nothing and no one can be harmed in the process when limbs, branches, or trees fall.
Ready Your Tools
Depending on the size and type of the tree, you may need a chainsaw, handsaw, or ax. You may also need a pole saw, loppers, felling wedges, hatchet, stump grinder, or shovel. If you don’t have experience using any of these tools, you should strongly consider hiring a pro or, at the very least, asking for help when you purchase or rent the tool at the hardware store.
Put On Your Safety Gear
Because of flying debris, loose tree limbs, and sharp saw blades, it’s important to protect yourself. You need work gloves, safety goggles, long sleeves and pants, steel-toed leather boots, a hard hat or helmet, chainsaw chaps, and ear protection. Chainsaw chaps are especially important because if the chainsaw cuts through the tree and near your body, the fabric in the chaps jams the chainsaw and stops its movement.
Recruit a Partner
You should always have at least one other adult working with you when removing a tree. They can assist with everything from assessing the tree, cutting the brush, helping to ease down falling limbs, or calling 911 in case of an emergency. You should never cut with a chainsaw alone.
How to Remove Small Trees
Removing small trees involves careful planning and execution. With your safety gear on, here’s how to tackle DIY tree removal.
1. Determine the Direction You Want the Tree to Fall
Assessing the tree and deciding what direction to make it fall impacts how you chop it. Aim for the direction that is more natural for the tree. Look at the way the trunk and crown lean. If the tree has a heavy crown or trunk that leans in one direction, opt for the tree to fall in that direction.
Be sure to circle the tree and look at it from all directions. The tree might appear straight from one angle, but from a different side, you can more clearly see a lean. Ensure that the direction you plan to have the tree fall will not hit a home, vehicle, fence, pool, electrical line, or anything else.
If you feel uncertain that the tree can fall freely to the ground, contact a pro. They can ensure no property damage occurs when taking down the tree.
2. Plan and Prepare 2 Escape Routes
Decide on a primary and secondary escape path to take after you cut the tree. Sometimes a tree doesn't fall how we expect. Wind and other elements can alter the fall, and you want to be prepared.
Your routes should be opposite of where the tree falls. The primary path is the direction you will run if the tree falls in its intended direction. The secondary path is a backup route if the tree falls in a direction you don't intend. Aim to have the second path about 45 degrees away from the primary.
Clear away any hazards on both routes within the tree's radius, such as cutting down brush or vegetation, moving a garden bench, and tidying up your tools. You want a clean path with no obstructions so you can exit the area quickly and safely once the tree falls.
3. Remove Smaller Limbs
Cut off any low limbs of the tree to make for an easier, more streamlined fall. Use a pole saw to take the limbs off the tree, but don't climb the tree or a ladder to remove limbs, as this can be dangerous. Leave any higher-up limbs in place.
4. Make an Angled Notch Cut in the Trunk
Your notch cut should face the direction that you want the tree to fall and take up about 1/4 of the tree’s diameter.
Stand against the tree with your left shoulder touching the tree. Create a 70-degree upper cut with a saw or ax. Where the bottom of your upper cut ends, cut a horizontal line in the tree to meet it. The bottom line should be parallel to the ground. The part of the tree that you remove should look like an acute triangle or slanted L.
5. Make Your Felling Cut and Hinge
Note that the tree will likely fall during or shortly after this step, so be ready. Move to the opposite side of the tree and cut a final horizontal line in the tree. This felling cut should align with the bottom cut of your notch.
Cut at a flat angle to allow the tree to fall as evenly as possible. Stop cutting to leave 10% of the tree's diameter in the middle—a critical piece called the hinge—between your felling cut and the notch. The hinge is more important than your cut because it allows the tree to fall over in its intended direction instead of falling to the side. A strong hinge prevents the tree from falling without your control.
6. Escape the Area Quickly
As you finish your felling cut and the tree is about to fall, take one of your escape routes. Wait until the tree has fallen to the ground before you approach the tree.
7. Dispose of the Tree
Depending on your plans for disposal and how big the tree is, you may want to cut the tree into smaller pieces. You may need to drag the tree into the driveway or a clear, level space for chopping.
Cut off any limbs that are free of pressure first, then work your way to those that have pressure. Clear the limbs and branches from the area as you go to prevent tripping hazards and becoming entangled in the brush.
Chop the trunk into logs for easy transportation or to keep on your property for firewood.
8. Take Care of the Stump
Stumps can be very tricky to get rid of, so you may opt to leave the stump in, or hire a pro, depending on how big it is and where it's located. But you can also try to remove the stump or prevent regrowth through these methods. Tree stumps that are over 2 inches in diameter are almost impossible to get out by digging.
Burn the Stump
Trim the stump down as low as you can to the ground. Then drill 5/8th holes about 3 inches deep in the stump with a power drill. Fill the holes with vegetable oil. Let it sit for 24 to 48 hours so the stump absorbs the oil. Pour more vegetable oil into the holes, then put charcoal bricks on the stump, light the charcoal, and let the stump burn out.
Attend the fire at all times and have a fire extinguisher on hand in case of an emergency. Be sure to check with your local ordinances or fire department to see if burning a stump is permitted.
Pour on Chemical Stump Remover
Drill four to eight holes in the stump and pour a chemical stump remover into the holes. You may be able to dig out the stump after, but oftentimes chemicals only kill regrowth. Keep in mind that this method will likely take weeks.
Use a Stump Grinder
The quickest method for removing a stump is with a stump grinder, which you can often rent from a home improvement store.
While you should do your research to learn everything you need to know about stump grinding, here is a quick run-down: Put on protective eyewear, earplugs, and gloves before handling the machine. Place the grinder over the stump and turn it on. Move the grinder around the perimeter of the stump. Dig out any grindings with a shovel, then fill the hole with dirt.
But be sure you don't harm underground utility lines while grinding. It's best to have a licensed tree removal professional tackle stump grinding for you, due to the risk of utility damage and the cost of the rental.
Tips for Removing Small Trees
Cutting down small trees can be gratifying, but safety precautions must be in place. Follow these tips for smooth and safe DIY tree removal.
Determine if the tree is small enough to remove yourself without damaging nearby property.
Ensure you have two escape plans with clear routes, in case the tree doesn't fall in the intended direction.
Wear protective safety gear, including chainsaw chaps, protective glasses, earplugs, leather boots, long pants, and a long-sleeved shirt.
Always have a neighbor or partner assist you when felling a tree or working with a chainsaw.
Consider transplanting a tiny tree if you’d like to move it to a different location.
Contact a tree service if you have any doubt that you won't be able to safely fell a tree to avoid irreparable damage to you or your home.
If you do go that route, be sure to hire a local tree service that's reputable and has the proper certifications and insurance to avoid unnecessary expenses. Look for a tree service that's certified by the Internal Society of Arboriculture (ISA).
DIY vs. Hire a Pro
You can remove small trees yourself if you have the proper equipment, safety precautions, and a clear plan of action. But if you have any doubt about removing the tree safely, or you have a medium or large tree on your property, it’s best to hire a tree service company. Tree removal can be extremely technical and complex and poses a significant risk of personal injury and property damage. Tree removal is one of the landscaping projects that might be best left to the experts.
Frequently Asked Questions
You can remove a small tree from your yard if there’s space for the tree to fall, you have the right tools and safety equipment, and you follow a clear plan of action. You’ll just want to follow the steps above carefully, and ideally, you will have experience doing similar tasks. If you have any doubts that you can do this project safely, though, you should hire a pro.
You may need permission to take a tree down. Check with your local ordinances about rules regarding tree removal and to gain any necessary permits. Check with your local ordinances or the fire department if you plan to burn the stump. Make sure you have all the steps in place before removing the tree, or contact a local tree removal service.
A chainsaw is the best tool to cut down a tree, but you may also use a handsaw or ax. You may also want to use a lopper or pole saw to remove limbs before cutting down the tree. Wear chainsaw chaps and protective gear, including eyewear and earplugs if you use a chainsaw. Again, if you’re unsure about how to use this tool, this project may be one to skip.