Should You Remove a Dead Tree?

We’re often asked what to do about a dead or dying tree. Should you cut down a dead tree, or is it okay to leave it? Should a dying tree be removed, or is it worthwhile trying to save it? If you decide that the dead tree should come down, can you cut it down yourself or is it too dangerous for a DIY’er?

In this article, we answer those questions and more, including:

  • Why you should have an expert assess a tree’s condition before starting tree removal work (there’s “dead” and then there’s “dead and dangerous” – it’s important to know the difference!)
  • Why cutting down a dead tree isn’t the same as removing a living tree
  • Why some dead trees removals are never a DIY job

Part of a dead tree is removed by American Climbers using a crane to lift heavy limbs and branches

Should you remove a dead tree?

First, make sure that the tree is really dead! Some trees just leaf out late in spring but are perfectly healthy, others could be in decline and will likely die, while others might be revived with a little TLC. If in doubt, have a tree service professional inspect your tree.

If your tree is dead or clearly dying, it’s a good idea to remove it. A dead tree is not just an eyesore, it’s a hazard (particularly in dense urban or suburban neighborhoods). We recommend having it cut down as soon as possible, especially if it’s near buildings or areas where people gather, walk, or drive.

Why should you remove a dead tree?

A dead tree is often structurally unsound and can fail without warning. Anything that’s within reach of the tree when it falls over or drops branches can be severely damaged or injured. Given the number of heavy snowfalls and nor’easters we get in Massachusetts, there’s a good chance that your lifeless tree will become deadly.

Did you know? If you have a tree on your property that you know is dead, many insurance policies won’t cover damage to your home or car if the tree falls during a storm.

Dead trees stand out with their bare branches against leafed-out deciduous trees in the background as an American Climbers crew member works to remove the large tree.

Can I cut down a dead tree myself?

Removing a dead tree takes much more than simply borrowing a chainsaw and cutting it down. To do it safely, dead tree removal requires planning and organization, skill and experience, and the right equipment.

Even if you’ve cut down a tree before, you’ll quickly find out that chopping down a dead tree is nothing like removing a living tree. Before you consider doing it yourself, learn about the complexities involved and why it’s best to have a professional tree service company do the work.

What to do if you plan to remove a dead tree from your property

When you remove a dead tree, you need to plan ahead; assessing the tree itself is just one part of the job. Where a tree is located determines how it will be removed, and also determines how much and what kind of equipment to use, and how big a crew is required.

See How to Prepare for a Tree Removal

Before you do any work on a dead tree, it’s important to assess its condition and any potential safety hazards. Not all dead or dying trees are the same; some are relatively safe to work on or around while others are extremely dangerous.

Trees That Died From ‘Old Age’

An American Climbers crew member watches from the ground as a crane removes part of a tree.

Here are the things to evaluate if you plan to remove a tree that has reached the end of its life without being weakened from disease and decay:

  • Overall size (trunk diameter, height, and crown spread) – This will help you decide which equipment you’ll need and how much debris (wood, branches, leaves) you’ll need to dispose of.
  • Structural branching pattern – This will affect plans for climbing and rigging.
  • Stability – A tree that’s leaning, has an unbalanced crown, or has large, oversized branches will be removed differently than one that’s stable. In an unstable dead tree, branches will be removed to first redistribute the tree’s weight and prevent further leaning when crews are working in the crown.
  • How long the tree has been dead – The moisture level of wood drops after a tree dies. The longer it has been dead, the harder, less flexible, and more brittle the wood becomes. A tree that’s been dead for a while is much more dangerous to cut down than one that has only recently died. And any dead tree is more dangerous to remove than a living one.

Trees That Died From Decay or Insect Damage

If you plan to remove a dead tree that has decayed or died from insect damage, such as the Emerald Ash Borer (EAB), it’s important to also investigate the tree’s internal structure.

Tree wood that has decayed or been destroyed by insect damage is more brittle and dangerous to cut. Plus, the tree’s trunk may not be sound enough to climb or rig with ropes and blocks.

Internal wood decay lessens or eliminates wood’s natural strength and flexibility by destroying its lignin (the strong fibers in wood). Without lignin, the wood becomes weak and can break unpredictably.

Where a climber might rig a sound tree and use its crown structure to move from branch to branch, it’s not safe to do that with a brittle, decaying tree. Instead, removing a decayed tree requires specific equipment that is not tethered to the tree, such as a bucket truck or crane.

Dead Ash Trees Are Particularly Dangerous

Ash trees killed by EAB are particularly brittle because of how quickly the trees die after infestation. When the tree’s interior wood dries out very quickly, it develops many internal cracks and becomes ever more brittle and unstable.

This makes dead ash trees extremely dangerous to remove. It’s definitely NOT a DIY job!

NOTE: Many tree service companies choose not to remove dead ash trees because they don’t have the specialized equipment and training to do it safely. That’s where an experienced tree service like American Climbers comes in – we have the heavy equipment and safety training needed to confidently remove dead ash trees.

American Climbers equipment is useful for removals in tight spaces near homes and buildings.

Need Help With Tree Removal?

If you have a dead tree that needs to be removed or if you’d like an evaluation of your existing trees, give us a call. Our crews are highly skilled, trained, and professional tree removal experts who can safely take down any tree on your property.

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