Topping off Pine trees

paul2007_gardnerAugust 30, 2007

I have seven fully grown pine trees (30') in my backyard. They are very mature and nice looking trees. They provide very good privacy to the house. The problem is that there is a high tension power line going behind my house that is above these trees. The power line company wants to remove these trees so that they don't have to worry about trimming them periodically.

I asked the power line co. if it is possible to top off the trees and not remove them. They are instead offering me to replace them with shorted ornamental trees (max height of 20').

What I need to know is if pine trees are topped off, do they grow vertically? If they only grow sideways the power company doesn't need to worry.

If these trees are topped off, are they likely to be disfigured or die?

I would really hate to lose these trees and wants to do everything possible to keep them. Any advice would be much appreciated.

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alexander3_gw(6 Pennsylvania)

Just to clarify, are these bona fide pine trees? I ask because many people describe any kind of needle bearing tree as a "pine tree", even if they are fir or spruce or hemlock etc.

White pine trees will definitely grow vertically after topping. An existing branch or new shoot will turn into a new leader, and grow pretty fast. You will need to top these trees every couple years, depending on how much clearance there is.

>If these trees are topped off, are they likely to be disfigured or die?

Many people here will consider them disfigured the moment they are topped, although I think a topped pine doesn't look nearly as ridiculous as a topped broadleaf tree, like a maple or oak.
They will not die from such a cut, at least not for a long time. The cut will create a site for possible infection. I'm not aware of any pine diseases that will enter the cut and kill the tree outright, but maybe someone else will chime in. If rot sets in at the site of the cut, that may eventually do the tree in, but I think that would take decades. A more immediate problem is that the new leader will be anchored at or near the site of the rot, and so may be prone to breaking off. Not a huge deal if you don't let the new leaders get too long.

Any idea what "ornamentals" they would use?

Depending on how much room you have, you could top the pines to avoid an immediate problem, plant new trees in front of the pines this fall, then in a couple years, when the new trees are larger, remove the pines altogether.


    Bookmark   August 30, 2007 at 12:56PM
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greenlarry(UK 8/9)

You say they are fully mature,then do you mean 30 metres rather than 30 feet? I think a pine of that size would stil be quite young!

    Bookmark   August 30, 2007 at 2:37PM
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pinetree30(Sierra Westside)

Many power companies are satisfied to remove some branches, opening a "window" for their lines to traverse the tree's crown instead of removing or topping the tree. If your situation allows for that, you might be able to talk them into it.

    Bookmark   August 30, 2007 at 3:04PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

let me get this straight .. they are offering to remove them for free.. and offering you replacements .. for free ...

for plants illegally planted in the easement for the power lines ...

frankly .. they have the right to go in and remove them completely .. without your consent.. that is why it is called an easement ... i find it hard to believe that there is NOT an easement under ALL powerlines ...

its not your property ... you have no rights ...

so i would take them up on the offer.. since it will cost you thousands to remove them your self ...

if topped.. within one year.. the leader will be back and growing 3 to 5 feet per year ... there is no magic topping which stops all vertical growth .. this is why they want them gone.. since they will have to come back every year ... please ... NEVER TOP A TREE ... its just bad ...

i hate to tell you.. but you don't have many options.... you can try to fight.. i suspect you will lose...

i recommend you work with them, while they are willing to be nice about it ...

good luck ...ken

    Bookmark   August 30, 2007 at 4:03PM
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waplummer(Z5 NY)

My white pine trees are 100 feet tall and still growing.

    Bookmark   August 30, 2007 at 4:04PM
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terrene(5b MA)

What kind of pine trees are these? I have two common pines in my yard, White pine (Pinus strobus) and Red pine (Pinus resinosa). If they are either of these, then 30 feet in height is no way near mature height for these species.

Topping White pine would probably be fine. There is a pine weevil that attacks terminal shoots of some White pines and effectively tops them. They can also be topped and sheared when younger to keep them smaller and bushier.

I'm doing exactly this with about a dozen White pines in a mixed partly shady border acting as a privacy and wind screen, and a wildlife corrider. I have topped all of them, and also pruned back their lateral branches and their growing tips to make them more compact and bushy. I plan to thin some of them out when they get much bigger after some other plantings fill in.

In any case, most pines lose their lower branches as they age, so you might want to consider planting other shrubs or small trees in front of or amongst the pines, in the event that the power company insists on taking them down, or when they eventually lose their lower branches.

    Bookmark   August 30, 2007 at 4:23PM
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"There is a pine weevil that attacks terminal shoots of some White pines and effectively tops them"

Not the same at all - the weevils only kill the top one year's shoot, and a side shoot can easily straighten up to replace it. Topping with a saw is cutting a thick stem of many years' growth, and a side branch can't do anywhere near such a good repair job. The large cut top will also let decay into the trunk (resulting in dangerously weak branch attachments), which weevil damage doesn't.


    Bookmark   August 30, 2007 at 4:36PM
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terrene(5b MA)

Thanks for the explanation Pineresin. Don't get me wrong I think topping trees is generally a horrible idea. But in this case, if it is a choice between topping or drastic pruning of the trees vs. cutting down the trees then what is there to lose?

Of course, the root of the problem is that somebody planted trees that get very large at maturity underneath power lines! (What were they thinking??)

    Bookmark   August 30, 2007 at 5:19PM
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Fledgeling_(4b SD)

Take the offer.

    Bookmark   August 30, 2007 at 8:48PM
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Re-route the power line so that it doesn't go over the trees?

    Bookmark   August 31, 2007 at 12:15PM
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Take the offer. I have the same situation with power lines & trees planted by the former owners. Take it from me, topped pines are truly hideous. About 5 years ago, the power company removed 1 of the Austrian pines for free. Since then, they've come & topped the other 2, but refuse to remove them. I had to pay to have 1 cut down, & DH thinks he can handle the 3d (it's smaller & was recently topped by the power company). Replacements? I'm on my own there.

    Bookmark   August 31, 2007 at 2:51PM
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Well, really, the trees probably aren't "planted illegally";
they're just subject to removal by the power company that has an easement.

& it is the OP's property;
if it weren't, the power company wouldn't be talking to OP.

"Easements" don't involve transfer of title to the easement holder;
they just grant that person or entity certain rights.

The easement remains your property.
(you have to mow it.)

I'd take the offer:

topped trees are more vulnerable to storm damage & insect invasion.

If wind or insects kill the trees a year or so after you've insisted on the power company merely topping them, the removal cost is going to be *all yours*, & you still won't have replacement trees.

    Bookmark   September 2, 2007 at 7:29PM
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gottagarden(z5 western NY)

Since there is no response from Paul, I suspect he doesn't like your answers. Sorry Paul, wishing things were different won't make it so. The trees have to go.

    Bookmark   September 3, 2007 at 8:58AM
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bhrost(zone 5 NY)

What I get from the original post is that the trees are still below the power line, so that pruning would be a necessity eventually, and the power company doesn't want to do it. If you aren't willing to do the pruning yourself, which might just mean clipping back the leader shoot for that year (problematic at 30 feet from the ground) you might as well take their offer of planting something else. You will lose what you say is an excellent screen, but if you are unable and the power company is unwilling to cut back, it doesn't really matter whether you are talking about pruning shears for clipping or slicing through wood with a saw.

The more ideal situation in hindsight is to start pruning and shaping at the maximal height you can still work with, maximizing your screening and keeping it off the power company's radar screen. Where I live if it isn't in someones backyard they periodically drop poisons along the lines. It seems a shame that something couldn't be planted that would either stay low or could be harvested. In a few places people do start Christmas tree plantations along the power line corridor.

    Bookmark   September 3, 2007 at 7:42PM
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I guess I don't feel so bad, well...really I do, because I had the same thing happen to our pines. They were 35 years old and we HAD 38 of them, when the power company said they were going to remove them, we convinced them to only top them because they were our entire wind block from the north wind. So they agreed to do this, but came back a year later (last year) and said they have to remove them entirely to install new power lines. We had no way to fight this because it was written into our abstract that they have an easement (which I guess our title company when we bought this home, overlooked).
What really gets my goat is; I watched them through this whole process, and they would have only had to remove a matter of two to four trees maximum, to successfully acomplish this project. As it was, the new lines they installed went higher and the distance they extended horizontally was narrowed, to the point the trees would have never even been in the path of their lines, but I guess if you don't have money to fight big business, you are basically screwed. They also made more work for themselves unnecessarily, because they had to remove all brush, grind every stump down, and cut the main part of every tree into 3 foot sections and pile them for our use. But that is the least they could do for ruining our property value, and northerly wind block. Not to mention the cost to replace those trees (which we could never afford to do) because to replace 38 Pine trees of that size would have cost us a fortune. Anyway, thanks for reading my sob story, it's done with, and life moves on.

    Bookmark   August 1, 2009 at 5:39PM
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