Removing a pine tree is a big job. If you have pines that you need to take out, especially large or mature pines, the cost of removing them might be higher than you’d anticipated. While every tree can be removed, no matter its size, not all tree removals are the same.
Cutting down a pine tree requires extra work (and sometimes a few extra headaches) that removing a deciduous tree or a non-coniferous evergreen tree doesn’t. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t plant pines – it just means you should understand what makes their removal different from other types of trees and how to maintain a pine tree to avoid the need for tree removal.
In this article, we cover:
- which types of pine trees are found in Massachusetts and how large they typically are,
- the many benefits of pine trees,
- 9 reasons to remove a pine tree,
- what the pine tree removal process involves, and
- the issues that make removing a large pine tree a job that should be done only by tree removal professionals.
Pine Trees in Massachusetts
The three most common pine trees in Massachusetts are:
- Eastern White Pine (Pinus strobus L.) – The tallest native conifer in the Northeast, the Eastern White Pine typically grows up to 100 feet tall (up to 150 feet in optimal growing conditions) with a 2 to 4-foot diameter trunk.
- Pitch Pine (Pinus rigida) – A somewhat smaller tree, the Pitch Pine reaches heights of 50-80 feet with a 1 to 2-foot trunk.
- Red Pine (Pinus resinosa) – Also called Norway Pine, this tree has a dense, oval crown and grows up to 200 feet tall, although it’s usually closer to 75 to 80 feet. Trunk diameter is typically between 2 to 3 feet.
As you can see, our native pine trees are TALL. They also grow rapidly, quickly reaching heights that are well beyond the ability of a homeowner to cut down.
The Benefits of Pine Trees
First, a little praise for pines.
Evergreens, including pines (Pinus species), have both practical and aesthetic benefits. Winters in Massachusetts can be harsh, with Nor’easters bringing cold, snow, ice, and rain. Conifers, such as pine trees, provide welcome and necessary protection from these forces.
Pines, with their year-round crown of dark green needles, intercept freezing winds and hold snow in their boughs, making them a good winter windbreak. Pines give us green in our gardens and landscapes during the time of year when color and foliage are scarce. Plus, their evergreen branches provide shelter and hiding places for overwintering wildlife.
So, before you cut down your pine tree, consider whether judicious pruning could be enough to solve any issues you may be having with it.
Reasons to Remove a Pine Tree
Not all pine tree problems can be solved with pruning. Common reasons why people cut down a pine include the following:
- The roots have grown above ground and are a tripping hazard
- The tree is too big – We’ve seen pines well over 150 feet tall.
- It’s casting too much shade – Many pine trees have a dense canopy that blocks out all sunlight.
- Nothing will grow beneath it – The dense canopy not only blocks sunlight, it also blocks rainfall, creating an area of shady dry soil in which very little will grow. Contrary to popular belief, pine needles do not make the soil more acidic; you can safely use them as mulch.
- The branches are blocking your view – It’s not unusual for pines to grow 20 to 40 feet wide and, unlike deciduous trees, the branches start just above ground level.
- The tree is dripping sap (resin or pitch) onto surfaces and items below – This sticky substance is incredibly difficult to remove and can cause permanent stains.
- The tree has many broken branches, extensive storm damage, or has been hit by lightning – Pines have fairly soft yet brittle wood that is easily damaged. Plus, given their height and wet needles during thunderstorms, pines are struck by lightning more often than many other trees.
- You don’t like all that pine pollen – Pine trees put out a lot of pollen, which is blown everywhere and coats cars, walkways, homes, decks, and more with a layer of yellow powder.
- The tree has become a hazard – Of course, any tree that has decayed or been damaged to the point of being a hazard should always be removed. And remember that not all dead trees need to be removed.
Having said all that, pines still make a wonderful addition to the landscape. The key is to plant them where they have plenty of space to grow so the issues listed above don’t become a problem.
Pine Tree Removal
Before starting a pine tree removal job, whether you’re tackling it yourself (which we don’t recommend) or hiring a tree service, be sure that you’ve properly prepared the site.
When a pine has to be cut down, crews will first cut off all the branches where they meet the trunk – and that’s a lot of branches! After the branches are all removed, the trunk is then cut down into sections. Depending on a tree’s size and location, a crane may be used to remove the branches and/or trunk.
Branches, needles, and pieces of the tree trunk are then fed through a chipper and turned into wood chips. Larger logs are carted away on a log truck. And, if desired, the tree stump is removed with a stump grinder,
Why Cutting Down a Pine Tree Is Not a DIY Job
All of the steps described above are pretty standard tree removal techniques. However, pine tree removal involves a few quirks that make it more difficult than cutting down other types of trees.
Pine Tree Branch Structure
The way that pine trees grow is different from other types of trees such as deciduous hardwoods. Young pines already have a strong central leader and develop neat ranks of branches that are often held horizontally. Each rank, or layer, of branches, grows around the circumference of the pine’s trunk like a ring.
This type of growth pattern is called “whorled” and is one way that conifers are classified. In addition to pines, whorled-growth conifer species include:
- Fir (Abies)
- Spruce (Picea)
- Cedar (Cedrus).
There’s nothing inherently wrong with this branch structure but it does make it much more difficult to climb a pine tree. Often, the climber has to work their way through a maze of branches and make many more pruning cuts than on other trees.
Cutting pine trees and pine branches means pine sap. You may call it sap, or resin, or gum – whatever its name, it’s sticky, persistent, and tough to get rid of. While pine sap flow fluctuates by season, any tree wound (including good pruning cuts) creates a sap-flow response. During the growing season, the sap is plentiful and fast-flowing; it’s slower and thicker during other periods of the year.
That sticky pine sap gets on the blades of saws and pruners, and in the chains of chainsaws. It can collect and gum up the cutting blades, making them difficult to use and less effective, or even render them useless. Cleaning tools or replacing a gummed-up chain costs time and money and slows the tree removal process. Sap’s stickiness attracts sawdust and debris, and it can be easily transferred to surfaces, including:
- Hardscapes, such as concrete and wood
- Harnesses, ropes, and rigging connectors
- Boots and clothing
- Protective gear such as eye protection, gloves, vests, and hardhats.
Large, powerful chippers and shredders can chew up pine branches but may need to be regularly cleaned of sap; small chippers may get wholly clogged with sap and stop working.
You can always tell when a tree service company has been removing pine trees – everyone is covered in a mess of pine resin!
NOTE: Pine sap isn’t poisonous or dangerous, but it gets everywhere and it’s difficult to get off. You’ll need rubbing alcohol, nail polish remover, or vegetable oil to remove it, depending on the surface type.
Hauling Heavy Branches
The best way to minimize stick sap when removing a pine tree is to make fewer thinning cuts and to cut limbs off whole where they attach to the trunk. This allows the tree to be shorn of branches faster, but once those large branches have fallen you’ll quickly find out how very heavy they are. Pine needles are full of moisture and weigh more than you’d expect. The large branches need to be dragged off (usually by hand) to be cut into smaller pieces and loaded into a truck bed or fed into a chipper.
Soft, Brittle Wood
When a crane cannot be used to take down a pine, the tree will need to be climbed. Professional tree climbers use climbing spikes attached to their boots to help them quickly climb trees that are being removed (a professional will never use spikes on a tree that isn’t being cut down!).
The softwood on pine trees makes it relatively easy to spike your way up the tree. However, it’s a double-edged sword – the softwood also means that spikes can easily tear through the bark or slip down the trunk.
The brittle wood can also break easily when a climber puts their weight on a branch. And pine branches tend to snap or tear while being cut, putting the climber at risk of being struck by a heavy branch.
Overall, climbing pine trees during a removal job is a tricky and dangerous process.
Let Us Help
If you decide that removal is the best option for dealing with your pine tree, please call a professional tree removal company. This is definitely one tree removal job you do not want to handle yourself! The tree removal crews at American Climbers are highly experienced in taking down pines of all types, sizes, and conditions. We do it safely, efficiently, and with a smile (even though we may be covered in sap by the time the job is done!).
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