8 Efficient Tree Removal Tips

Katy Willis
Written by Katy Willis
Updated March 25, 2022
A tree next to a hosue’s driveway during autumn
Photo: nikitsin / iStock / Getty Images Plus / Getty Images

Get rid of that troublesome tree the right way with our top tree removal tips

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Trees are heavier than you'd think and taller than they seem when you're standing underneath them, so removing them is a challenge. Getting it wrong puts you at risk of injury and, if a tree is close to your home or truck and you fell it the wrong way, it can cause significant damage there, too. Our top tree removal tips will help to keep yourself and your property safe.

1. Check Local Tree Removal Regulations

Before you hire an arborist or start hacking away at that big old tree in your yard, you need to check local guidelines. In some states, there are no requirements, but in others, tree removal is tightly controlled, particularly for large trees and native species. 

When you hire a local pro, they should already be familiar with the guidelines in your municipality, but it's still worth checking to see if any permits are necessary or rules apply in your state.

2. Get Stump Removal Prices

Some, but not all, arborists include stump removal in the price of tree felling. And, unless you want to keep the tree stump as a garden landscape feature, you'll want your pro to get rid of it. So, when getting quotes, make sure they include the cost of tree stump removal.

3. Hire a Professional Arborist

Unless you have the right tools and skills, for all but the smallest trees, you really should hire a local arborist. These professionals have appropriate safety equipment, including straps for holding large limbs while cutting them away so they don't fall and damage your property.

Using an arborist is the only safe option if the tree you want to remove is close to your home. Imagine you're felling an 80-foot maple tree yourself. This tree, surprisingly, weighs 20,000 pounds, and it accidentally falls on your house. The cost of repairing that damage would far outweigh the cost of having an arborist cut down the tree.

4. Know How Tall Is Too Tall

A tudor house with a large tree in the garden
Photo: quackersnaps / iStock / Getty Images Plus / Getty Images

You can technically remove smaller trees yourself, but you should know where to draw the line. If you need to use a ladder to reach and remove the tree's limbs, it's too tall for DIY removal, and you should hire a pro.

5. Purchase a Stump Grinding Service

If the stump does get left behind, whether it's because you felled the tree yourself or you only paid for felling, and you want the stump gone, stump grinding is a good choice. It's a cost-effective and efficient option that gets rid of the stump above ground and eventually kills off the roots, as there's no trunk left to generate new foliage growth, so the tree can't photosynthesize. 

Tree stump grinding costs around $320 depending on the stump's size, the difficulty of the job, and where you live.

6. DIY the Cleanup to Save Money

If you need a pro to fell the tree because it's simply too big for DIY removal, but you want to save money, it's possible to DIY the cleanup. If you're handy with a chainsaw and have a use for the wood—like curing it to use as firewood—then removing the limbs, stripping, and composting or hauling away the foliage, and cutting up the trunk into logs would save you money. Doing the cleanup yourself reduces the arborist's time and the cost of hauling away the debris.

7. Don't Use Your Truck to Remove a Stump

However tempted you are, never try to use your truck to pull out a tree stump. Tree stumps are heavy, and you'd be pulling against the grip the roots have deep in the ground, too. Most pickups have a load capacity of between 5,000 and 13,000, and a moderately sized tree stump can easily exceed this weight. 

This can put a huge amount of strain on your truck. The chains could break, the truck could sustain significant and expensive damage, or the stump could come free and damage the truck or a nearby building.

8. Try These DIY Small Tree Removal Steps

A backyard of a house with small trees
Photo: Westend61 / Westend61 / Getty Images

If the tree is small enough, you've got the right skills and equipment, and you've decided to handle the job yourself, then you need to know how to do it safely and effectively. These DIY tree removal tips will help.

Use Safety Gear

Safety gear is crucial, even if you're removing a fairly small tree. You need:

  • Safety goggles to protect your eyes from sawdust

  • Logger's helmet to protect yourself from falling branches

  • Earmuffs to protect your ears from the intense sound of the chainsaw

  • Face screen to protect your face from flying debris

  • Kevlar chaps to protect your legs from serious injury from the chainsaw.

Water the Day Before You Plan to Cut

This makes it easier to dig down into the soil to remove the root ball and stump. Make sure you thoroughly soak the area, watering enough to penetrate deep into the ground. As well as making digging easier, it also helps to loosen the root ball slightly, and every little helps when it comes to tree removal.

Measure the Girth

Measure the girth of the tree trunk. For every inch of trunk diameter, you'll need to dig down 6 inches to get the roots out. 

Estimate Root Spread

You can't just dig around the base of the trunk and hope to remove the stump efficiently. Trees have extensive root systems that extend to roughly the same diameter as the canopy. Use string, flour, or environmentally safe spray paint to mark the diameter of the canopy and roots on the ground before you begin cutting.

Use Felling Wedges

Use felling wedges to stop the blade of your ax, or you’ll risk getting nipped while making your first cut. These tough little wedges also help ensure the tree falls in the direction you want.

Use leverage on the Root Ball

Removing the root ball is hard work, but using leverage and a wiggling motion makes the task faster and easier. If the tree is small enough and you want to transplant it rather than kill it, digging far away from the root ball and then getting underneath it and applying leverage and wiggling it back and forth lets you loosen and remove the root ball. This method limits damage to the root system and makes it possible to transplant the tree elsewhere, which, with a bit of TLC, should eventually recover.

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