Tree Pruning — Answers to Frequently Asked Questions

Find out why pruning is necessary, how Austin Energy works with homeowners, tree removal, free replacement trees, and more.


Why Prune?

Why does Austin Energy prune my trees?

We prune your trees to help prevent power outages and personal injury. Adequate pruning helps comply with the National Electric Safety Code.

Pruning a Property

How does Austin Energy decide to prune trees?

  • We use “best practices” — We follow guidelines for tree pruning set forth by the American National Standard Institute (ANSI) and endorsed by the National Arbor Day Foundation and the International Society of Arboriculture.
  • We prune by circuit — Austin Energy’s service area comprises roughly 300 distribution circuits, which are shorter lengths of line that deliver power to specific areas. We prune a circuit from beginning to end because a single problem tree limb can take down an entire circuit.
  • We prune along bulk transmission lines — To ensure code-regulated reliability and safety levels, Austin Energy prunes along more than 600 miles of high-voltage, bulk transmission lines. (Generally, bulk transmission lines are the thicker power lines strung between tall towers; they deliver bulk power to a section of the city.)
    This pruning is essential. Remember, in August, 2003, damage to bulk transmission lines from a single tree left 50 million people in the dark in the Northeastern United States and Canada.
  • We consider Oak Wilt and bird habitat — Austin Energy tries to avoid pruning in neighborhoods with red oaks and live oaks between mid-February and June, when Oak Wilt is more likely to spread. We do not schedule routine maintenance in Golden-cheeked Warbler and Black-capped Vireo habitat preserves between March and September.
    During these periods, we prune only to prevent imminent outages, restore power, and ensure public safety.
  • We prune in emergency situations — Branches can break off or sag and damage power lines, especially during storms with heavy winds, hail, sleet, and ice. Often, our crews must trim away damaged tree limbs before safely repairing the electric system.
    Always report power outages or emergency safety issues to Austin Energy at 512-322-9100 — 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The more calls we receive, the more quickly our systems can locate and identify the issue.

If you are concerned about trees near power lines on your property, submit a tree pruning request online or call Austin Energy at 512-494-9400.

Note: Austin Energy usually does not prune tree limbs that impact the lower lines on the pole (telephone and cable) — electric lines are at the top and middle of the pole.

How often will you prune my trees?

Our goal is to prune your trees every four to five years.

Our four-to-five year pruning cycle protects the health of your trees and keeps expenses manageable. Each year, we schedule pruning along 470 to 580 miles of our 2,345 miles of power distribution lines at a cost of several million dollars. This means pruning trees on 9,000 to 12,000 properties a year.

Tree before pruning   Through-pruned tree   side-pruned tree

Who cleans up my property after you prune?

Our contractors remove all pruned brush and tree limbs from your property. If requested, they cut and stack limbs for firewood. You may also request wood chips from your trees to use as mulch.

Working with Homeowners

How does Austin Energy work with homeowners?

In short, we work with homeowners in every way we can.

  • We notify your neighborhood leaders — We send your neighborhood association an early notification letter announcing planned pruning in your area.
  • We come to your door — About two weeks after notifying your neighborhood association, we visit each property to assess pruning needs. A designated work planner discusses these needs with you, prepares a work plan, and marks affected trees with green (pruning) or pink (removal) ribbons with the Austin Energy logo.
  • We leave information — If you are not home for the assessment, our designated work planner leaves the work plan on your door. If you wish to discuss the plan, call the number on the door hanger to schedule a visit. If you are not the property owner, please notify the owner.
  • If we don’t hear from you, we’ll try to reach you — If all efforts to reach you fail, we send you a copy of the work plan by certified mail.

Austin Energy aims to meet with each property owner, discuss planned work, reach agreement, and obtain signatures on the work plan.

What if I don’t agree with the work plan?

If you are not satisfied with the work plan, you can request a meeting with an Austin Energy staff member who will work with you to try to reach a solution.

If you are still not satisfied after all discussions, and Austin Energy exhausts its options, we send you a certified letter indicating when we will perform the necessary work on your property.

Out of 9,000 to 12,000 affected properties, Austin Energy usually receives fewer than 50 refusals each year.

Removing Trees

When does Austin Energy recommend tree removal?

We usually recommend removing fast growing trees such as hackberries or chinaberries, diseased and decaying trees, or trees at risk of falling on power lines. Occasionally, we recommend removing a tree that might not survive necessary pruning or may become hazardous as a result.

What is the process for tree removal?

Under the City of Austin’s Tree Protection Ordinance, the Watershed Protection and Development Review Department must issue a permit for the removal of trees with a diameter of 19 inches or greater. Additionally, the Department must authorize the removal of trees with a diameter of between 8 and 19 inches.

Do you offer replacement trees?

Yes. Subject to availability, we offer a variety of replacement trees from 5- to 15-gallon sizes, but we advise planting 5 gallon trees because their roots are more adaptable. See our Tree Replacement List Web page. You may also want to see our Tree Replacement List flyer (pdf).

Planting Replacement Trees

How do I plan shade for my property?

Deciduous trees on the south and southwest sides of your home help save energy by shading it in the hot summer and allowing the sun to warm it in the winter. If you have no room to plant a tree, you can plant vines and shrubs near your wall to help insulate it from the summer heat. Shaded air conditioners operate more efficiently.

Where should I plant my replacement tree?

It is important to select the right tree and plant it in the right place.

  • Plant away from hazards — Trees within 20 feet of power lines should be smaller — less than 25 feet high fully grown. You must also observe a right-of-way easement of six feet from a power pole and keep trees and shrubs clear of the opening to a pad-mounted transformer.
  • Allow room to grow — Make sure a new tree has adequate room to grow.
  • Locate underground utilities — Electric, water, sewer, and telephone lines may run through the area where you plan to plant. At least three days before you plant, visit Call Before You Dig, or call 8-1-1.

How should I plant my tree?

Plant from October through February, when the weather is cool and the roots have the chance to establish themselves. The City of Austin arborists use these guidelines:

  • Dig wide enough — A hole at least two to three times the width of the root ball gives new roots room to expand.
  • Plant at the correct depth — The hole should be as deep as the root ball and no deeper. The place where the trunk flares into the roots should be partially visible once the tree is planted.
  • Keep it natural — Once the tree is in the hole, straighten it and backfill with the same soil you dug from the hole. Avoid adding fertilizer or other materials because they can slow the tree’s adaptation to its surroundings.

How should I water my tree?

Give your tree 15 to 20 gallons of water every seven to ten days. Place the end of a hose at its base and allow water to trickle slowly for about half an hour. This helps the water soak deep into the roots. Set a timer for 30 minutes so you remember to stop watering.

Are there other ways to help my tree?

Remove nursery ties and tags which can harm your tree; protect the area around its base from lawn chemicals, particularly weed and feed mixtures; mulch around its base to hold moisture; and prevent grass from growing too close.

How do I prune my new tree?

Fall or winter pruning with sharp, sterilized cutting tools within the first five years of planting helps a tree establish a strong trunk with sturdy, well-spaced branches.

Collar cut pruning

Start by removing dead, dying, and diseased branches. Identify one dominant trunk and prune with it in mind. Prune branches that cross or rub against other branches, and eliminate branches that create narrow v-shaped angles.

Important: Trees need time to establish a root system before pruning; when you prune, leave at least 75 percent of the tree intact; leave the branch collar — the bulge at the base of a branch — intact when pruning; treat oaks with pruning paint after pruning.

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Last Updated: 6/29/18

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