Dear PoP – Tree Trimming

Photo of my former Mulberry tree with a cracked branch

“Dear PoP,

We have a large elm tree that is in need of some tlc, and wanted to see if your readers have any insights into what we should do. We got some arborists to come look at it, and most of them said that there’s nothing really wrong with it, and it just needs to have the dead and unhealthy branches trimmed. The estimate for that alone ran around 1200-1300 dollars. We think a plain old tree trimmer might be cheaper, but probably wouldn’t do as good a job and would probably just take off the clearly dead branches. So we were wondering if anyone knows, does thorough pruning help increase the health and life of the tree, or would it be fine to get a tree trimmer to come and take off the clearly dead branches. Also, does that estimate sound reasonable?”

From personal experience I know that tree maintenance is very expensive. But the shade and comfort the trees bring is worth it. Any amateur arborists care to take a crack at this one? For those who’ve had their trees trimmed – how much did it cost?

19 Comment

  • Where is this offending tree? If it’s on city property (not in your yard, but in the treebox in front of your yard), the city must trim it free of charge. we have an on-going battle to have a tree trimmed as it is hanging dangerously over our roof (right over where my toddler son sleeps!). the city told us it was fine, but it’s definitely not in regulation and needs to be trimmed. this was one reason we voted AGAINST fenty. city services are NOT better. but that’s a different rant.

    • City Services “not” better? “Sigh…” You are clearly a recent arrival. Let me guess, you’ve been here less than 5 or 6 years?

      Until you’ve lived through decades where weeks would go by without trash pickup, streets would go years without repairs and when there was no “mayors call center” or any other centralized complaint structure. Having DPW or DDOT answer the phone, let alone come out and address your problem? Yeah right. In terms of City Services, DC is Nirvana with whipcream on top compared to what it was even 10-12 years ago.

      To the original question, just have the branches trimmed. Since the arborest said the tree was healthy there is no need to cut it down or anything, but if you pay $1,200 bucks then I have awesome ocean front property in Arizona I’d love to sell you. I suggest you troll around CL or Angies list. That kind of job shouldn’t cost you more than $400 bucks.

    • Voted against Fenty b/c a tree wasn’t trimmed? Eff you. Your selfish vote also torpedoed school reform…all because a branch was hanging over your roof. You have successfully ensured our future tax dollars will continued to be wasted at DCPS.

  • Slightly off topic:

    What about trees in the alley? There is one on the property line between myself and my neighbor right where our properties intersect the alley roadway. It’s 2/3 dead. I know (well, assume) that my neighbor can’t even afford a 50% share of $1500 to remove it.

    The branches also extent up through the Verizon, Comcast and Pepco lines. Maybe Pepco trims/cuts trees that grow up through their lines?

    Any thoughts? Others must have been in this situation too.

  • Having had to remove three trees from my property I know it can be very expensive. There are many factors that influence the price of tree trimming and removal. Location is important. If the tree is not located where they can drive a bucket truck up to it the cost goes up. If the tree is dead, they can’t climb it and the price goes up. If there are wires/buildings/vehicles/etc. nearby the price goes up.

    But if you’re not concerned about having an expert do it you can probably get someone off of craigslist to do it for $200-400.

  • I live with the (very attractive) question poster, and I want to add that the arborist thought that the tree was a little sick, but thought it was mostly due to the rough weather, and that maybe it could use some fertilizer. (By some, I mean 190 gallons.) He said that some of the leaves have a fungal infection, but that we did not have Dutch Elm. The tree does need some TLC, but does NOT need any medicine or other intensive treatment.

  • I should also add that the tree is about three or four stories tall, and about 36′ in diameter in the crown.

  • Adirondack Tree Services does my trees every year, and it usually runs about $500.

  • Go with a licensed, bonded company. Significant tree work should be handled by professionals. Have used and can recommend Care of Trees.

  • We just had a very, very sick elm, bigger than that, completely removed and hauled away for $1500, so I think that price quote may be a bit high for just a trim.

  • If you would like to prune the canopy of a 3-4 story tall tree I would go with a professional arborist or someone licensed and bonded (as v said) for this type of work. It can’t be done without someone climbing the tree and is quite dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing (a 17 year old in Fairfax died this summer after accidentally being electrocuted while trimming a tree). On the flip side there have been many studies done that show a beautiful old shade tree can add significantly to the value of you home, so consider it an investment.

    For smaller trees that don’t require climbing you’d be fine with more casual labor…but this doesn’t sound like that type of job.

  • We paid $2000 over the winter to have one small dead tree removed and 3 other large ones trimmed and elevated. Figure that it usually takes a truck and 3 man crew to handle just one large tree, $1000 seems to be about the entry point. On a per tree basis it costs a lot less to have them handle more than one at once; I think it was $200-300 per tree extra, the biggest cost was the upfront service call.

    This is definitely something left to licensed and bonded pros. If there is any chance that anything you could do would damage property it’s just not worth tackling yourself. Think of it as expensive entertainment watching these dudes work, it’s pretty cool!

    FWIW we used Takoma Tree Experts and was very happy with their service

  • Considering that the second most dangerous occupation in the U.S. is logging–and tree trimming and tree removal is a type of logging–the service can be expensive. Lots of falling, chain-saw incidents and electrocutions. I’d bet most Craigslist trimmers don’t understand the dangers they’re dealing with.

  • Call Capitol Tree Care in DC. They just removed a large tree from our yard for under $1k. 202-234-0577

  • I second Capitol Tree Care. We used them to take down 2 large trees and 3 stumps for only $1600. They did a great job.

  • Save that elm!

  • Regular pruning DOES help the health of the tree, by allowing air and light into all areas of the canopy, and by removing crossing branches that may rub against each other and open wounds in the tree that can invite disease. Professionals can spot these kind of problems that an average person wouldn’t see.

    Go with a professional. That tree took 40 years to get the way it is, and you don’t want one mistake by an amateur to undo all that.

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