To Remove a Dead Tree

Sooner or later, the time comes, to all property owners, when a tree on their property must be removed.  Bruce Springsteen has sung to us, “Everything dies, baby, that’s a fact—,” and when a tree dies you need to deal with it both on a practical and, sometimes, emotional level.  In this article, we’ll examine what’s involved in the removal of a tree.

First of all, if you’re going to remove a tree, because it’s dead, you need to make sure that it is, in fact, dead.  How should this be done?  If you have any doubt, at all, as to the tree’s state of existence, you should contact a Certified Arborist to check the tree out.  At times, certain tree species exhibit symptoms that can mislead a casual observer.  Such symptoms can give the appearance of death when, in reality, the tree is alive.  In the Austin area, Red Oaks sometimes experience rapid leaf browning, even though the tree is still very much alive, and will bounce back with a full green canopy the following Spring.  This browning can be caused by drought, excessive high wind conditions in hot, dry air, and other factors.  The brown leaves can remain attached until very late into the Winter.  While other trees in our area can exhibit this same phenomenon, Red Oaks are a special case:  Rapid leaf browning and tree death is a hallmark of Oak Wilt.  In this case, the tree dies, quickly, and must be removed to prevent the spread of this terrible disease.   With the preceding in mind, you can understand that it is important that the death of a given tree be ascertained.

There are a few things you can do to try and determine if your tree is dead.  As mentioned above, calling a Certified Arborist, like the one we have on staff, here at Happy Tree, will take much of the guess work out of the diagnosis.  If you wish to make a determination on your own, though, you can try the following:  Snapping twigs can reveal a great deal, if you know what you’re looking for.  Dead trees have dry twigs that snap with a fairly distinct sound, to the trained ear.  Live twigs will bend far more readily, as opposed to snapping with gentle pressure.  Once a twig is broken in two, you can examine the cross sections revealed:  Is there any green wood observed?  Does sap exude from the side still attached to the tree?  If so, the tree is still alive, most likely, or has just died very recently.  Can you see conks, growths that look like half mushrooms, growing all over the tree?  Observing the same may indicate that a systemic fungal infection has killed the tree and/or decomposer fungi are at work on a dead tree.  Does the tree have a peculiar smell at its base, indicating root rot?  Such rot usually indicates a tree that has recently died or is on the way out, in fairly short order.  Again, when in doubt, call us to arrange for our Certified Arborist to drop by.

OK, so now, unfortunately, your tree has been pronounced dead. All that’s left is to quickly cut it down, right?  Wrong!  If you live in Austin, or its surrounding communities, there may be tree ordinances in place that dictate what you must do before you can begin removing a tree.  In fact, there are even HOA rules in some cities, Austin included, that further limit how you can go about removing a tree.

Size guidelines are the first thing to consider.  In Austin, any residential tree over 19” in diameter, measured at 4.5’ from grade, must have a Tree Ordinance Review Application (TORA) filled out before it can be removed, even if it’s dead.  In some cases, you will have to pay a filing fee.  Where a tree is dead, and a hazard to life and property below it, the fee is usually waived.  Here, again, our Certified Arborist can assist you, when it comes to filling out and filing the permit.  If your tree is over 24” in diameter, you may have to supply an additional document, a Tree Risk Assessment Evaluation.  Our Certified Arborist is ISA TRAQ qualified, which means he has special training in filling out this more detailed document.

Keep in mind that different ruling bodies have different criterion for tree removals.  Things are also different for commercial sites.  Happy Tree can determine exactly what needs to happen, what forms need to be filed, before a tree is removed from a given location.

Now you have the paperwork done.  It’s time to remove the tree.  This is the most dangerous time, for you and your property.  Each month, in the professional trade journals for our business, you can read accounts of homeowners who are killed trying to remove their own trees.  Unfortunately, this is not a rare occurrence:  Two to five homeowners are killed trying to remove their own trees, every month.  Trees are the heaviest living organisms in the world.  For example, a cubic foot of Live Oak wood weighs about seventy-five pounds.  A sizeable Live Oak branch can weigh thousands of pounds.  Trust me, you do NOT want to deal with this type of weight, unless you know exactly what you’re doing.  That is why you want to hire a professional tree company, like Happy Tree, for your removal.

When you consider hiring a tree company, you must make sure that it has liability insurance to cover possible damages to your property and the property of your neighbors.  One to two million dollars worth of general liability coverage is the standard.  Ask for a Certificate of Insurance, and call the company listed.  Many times, unscrupulous tree companies have forged documents.

You need to ask how the tree is going to be removed.  Professional tree service companies never “bomb” your property by cutting large limbs and letting them simply fall.  Large limbs should be rigged gently down by the use of rigging ropes.

Once the tree is removed, it should be loaded up and hauled off, unless you want the wood.  You also need to consider what will be done to the stump that remains.  If you like the look of stumps, and some people do because they use them to place potted plants, statues, other objects of art, etc., then no further work is required.  If you don’t want the stump to remain and/or want to plant a new tree in place of the one that has been removed, you will need to have a stump grinder brought in to reduce the stump to sawdust.

We at Happy Tree sincerely hope that all of your trees stay happy and healthy for a good, long time.  In the event of an unfortunate tree demise, though, we encourage you to give us a call at: 512-212-0010.  We will help you do whatever needs to be done to get your tree removed and work towards assisting you in replacing it, if that is what you decide to do.  We look forward to working with you!


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