The Q&A Archives: Palm tree removal

Question: There is a 15 foot palm tree growing in my backyard that I want to remove. I have heard that they are difficult to get out. I just recently moved into this home from an apartment so I have very little garden experience. I also have no idea what the root structure of a palm tree is like so I have no idea how to start.

Answer: Tree removal is not as overwhelming as it seems, but certain steps must be followed in order to achieve a safe and successful removal. Palms typically have fibrous root systems that extend out about 12-18 inches from the trunk and down 24-36 inches on a 15 foot tall palm.

First, check the surrounding area for obstacles that may be in the way; another tree, a fence, overhead wires, the pride and joy perennial garden, cars, etc.

Establish two escape routes that can be used while tree if falling, one on each side of the tree leading away from the expected fall line.

Your tool of choice will depend on the size of tree - a chainsaw for larger trees and a hand saw for smaller ones. If you are not comfortable using a chainsaw, be sure to have someone with you who is.

Remember that removing a tree is a time-consuming effort. Plan to spend most of the day - don't be in a big hurry to finish the job. Rushing can cause serious injury when using tools that you may not be completely familiar and comfortable with.

A proper undercut is essential to safely removing larger trees. It serves as the guide or aim slot for the tree. It is a V-shaped notch cut into the side of the tree in the direction you want it to fall. The best V-shape is a 90 degree cut rather than the typical 45 degree cut. The 90 degree cut allows the tree additional room to fall before the top and bottom of the undercut comes together. The undercut should be about one-fourth of the tree's diameter in depth. Although trees up to 6 inches diameter can be cut clear through, I do not recommend it as the tree may fall upon itself and not move. To try to push it by hand may not guarantee that the tree will fall where you want it to.

Then make a backcut. The backcut is made about 2 inches higher than the hinge part of undercut and on the opposite side. This backcut releases the stresses on the back of the tree allowing the tree to fall. NEVER make the backcut lower than the undercut. That reverses the role of the two cuts. NEVER cut through the undercut because you will lose all control of the tree at that point. The direction a tree falls can be closely controller with properly made undercuts and backcuts.

Once the tree starts to fall, shut off your chain saw and move down your chosen escape path. Do not stand at the base and admire your handiwork. Falling trees can bounce backward over the stump.

We are now assuming that your tree has fallen where you wanted it to and that it is laying solidly on the ground. Remove all the fronds.

You are now left with the bare log. Cut into suitable lengths for disposal and bundled, as dictated by your local collection bylaw.

When the tree is gone and you are left with the stump, you have numerous choices.
Here are several suggestions:

1. Dig the stump up with a sharp spade, pick and a pruning saw for the roots that just won't give. This method works effectively, but is time and labour intensive. Depends mostly upon enthusiasm of the crew. Tools required: spade, pick, pruning saw.

2. Call an arborist or tree service. The cost for this service varies with the size and placement of the stump. Tools required: none

3. Drill holes into the stump and pour chemicals into the holes. When the stump is dead, it will eventually decompose. Tools required: drill, chemicals

4. Leave it alone to decay naturally. Remove all new sucker growth before it reaches 8 inches in height to gradually deplete the stored food. This can take 5-10 years but is easy, inexpensive and chemical free. Tools required: none

Hope this information is helpful!

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