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How to Safely Remove a Tree Branch

A tree in your yard may have looked handsome and healthy for many years, but if a limb on a tree is damaged, dying, diseased or interfering with surrounding structures, you should remove it. How do you know when this is a task you can handle alone, and when to call in a professional?

The short answer is this: If you can reach the branch in question from a ladder, as opposed to having to climb into the tree, you should be able to do the job yourself. If you would have to climb up into the tree to reach the branch, call a professional who has the right equipment to do the job safely.

Best Done in Winter

Winter months are the best time to remove a large branch from almost any tree, except trees with large amounts of sap, like maple and birches. If you need to remove branches from these types of trees, do so in the summer, when the sap is not running.

Here are the basics:

  • Your ladder should rest securely on the ground in order to perform this job.
  • If the soil is soft, place a board under the feet of the ladder for stabilization.
  • Tie the ladder to the tree to further secure your position, and if possible, have someone hold the base of the ladder.
  • Be sure to anticipate where the branch will fall after you sever it, so that it falls in a safe, clear area.
  • If the limb is particularly large, tie a rope around the branch and loop it over a higher limb on the tree.
  • Then, you can safely lower the cut branch to the ground.

What Diameter Requires a Saw?

If a limb has a diameter greater than one inch, it should be sawed off, as opposed to cut with shears. Here’s how to handle the job:

  • For a limb that is two inches (or greater) in diameter, a curved pruning saw is the appropriate tool.
  • This saw also works well on limbs that are very close together, since it cuts by using a pushing motion, rather than a pulling motion.
  • A straight pruning saw with teeth on both sides of the blade can be used to cut branches of large diameter, however, a bow saw is a wiser purchase for "do-it-yourselfers" since it can be used for jobs besides pruning.

Having the right tool for the job is very important, and using the wrong tool can be deadly.

NOTE: NEVER use a chain saw if you are balancing on a ladder. The instability of the ladder combined with the cutting ability of the chain saw makes for a dangerous situation. Cutting a branch from your tree is something you can do yourself, as long as you take the necessary precautions, and know when to call in the professionals.