Tree Pruning and Vegetation Management

Browse through these FAQs to find answers to the questions we get asked the most by customers.

If you have a question that you can't find the answer to, please email the Austin Energy Forestry Division.


Pruning with a Purpose

Why does Austin Energy prune my trees?

We prune your trees to help prevent power outages, personal injury, and fires. Adequate pruning maintains compliance with the National Electric Safety Code. Tree limbs that rub against power lines can cause voltage fluctuations or outages, and damage the power lines and limbs. Pruning also provides a safer environment around the power lines.

How does Austin Energy decide to prune trees?

  • We use "best practices" — We follow guidelines for tree pruning established by the American National Standard Institute and endorsed by the International Society of Arboriculture and the National Arbor Day Foundation.
  • We prune by circuit — Our service area comprises roughly 300 distribution circuits, which are isolated sections of line that deliver power to specific areas. We perform maintenance pruning by circuit from beginning to end because a single problem tree limb can create an entire circuit outage.
  • We prune specific areas — We prune trees along a line fuse section or area identified in a customer ticket request. If a portion of the circuit or line fuse is not pruned and a tree limb falls on the line, the entire area may experience a power outage.
  • We manage trees along bulk transmission lines — To ensure customer satisfaction, code-regulated reliability and safety levels, Austin Energy prunes and removes trees along more than 600 miles of high-voltage, bulk transmission lines. Generally, bulk transmission lines are the thicker cables lines strung between tall towers. They deliver high-voltage power to a section of the city. This pruning is essential. Remember, in August 2003, damage to high-voltage transmission lines from a single tree left 50 million people in the dark in the Northeastern United States and Canada.
  • 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 prune away damaged tree limbs before safely repairing the electric system. 
    • During widespread storm events, power restoration is our priority, and brush resulting from power restoration will not be removed by Austin Energy or our contractors. Check the Austin Resource Recovery residential brush collection schedule and guidelines for curbside collection.
  • We consider oak wilt and bird habitat — We make every effort to avoid pruning red oak and live oak trees between February through June when oak wilt is more likely to spread. To protect Golden-cheeked Warbler and Black-capped Vireo habitat areas (applies to undeveloped areas west of MoPac), when possible, we avoid pruning from March to September.

See table below regarding our general maintenance pruning schedule, which takes into account local environmental constraints. During these periods, we prune all areas as necessary to prevent imminent outages, restore power, and ensure public safety.

General Maintenance Pruning Schedule
Month West of MOPAC West of I-35 East of I-35
January Prune Prune Prune
February Prune Oak Wilt Prune
March Bird Habitat Oak Wilt Prune
April Bird Habitat Oak Wilt Prune
May Bird Habitat Oak Wilt Prune
June Bird Habitat Oak Wilt Prune
July Bird Habitat July 1st Prune
August Bird Habitat Prune Prune
September Sept 1st Prune Prune
October Prune Prune Prune
November Prune Prune Prune
December Prune Prune Prune

How often will you prune my trees?

Ideally, maintenance prunes are performed every 4 to 5 years. This pruning cycle protects the health of your trees and keeps expenses manageable. This means pruning trees on 9,000 to 12,000 properties a year along more than 2,400 miles of utility distribution lines.

How much of the tree does Austin Energy prune?

The pruning clearance is dependent on the type of tree. 

  • Fast-growing species (e.g., Ligustrum, China Berry, Hackberry, and Pecan): 11-15 ft.
  • Slow-growing species (e.g., Cedar, Cedar Elm, and Juniper): 7-10 ft.
  • Along high-voltage transmission cables: minimum clearance is 25 ft.
  • To ensure pruning cuts follow best practices additional clearances may be required.

These clearances were established in a 2008 Utility Tree Re-Growth Study

How are trees pruned?

Two types of pruning methods are generally used to remove tree limbs growing too close to power lines. A "side" pruning removes all limbs on one side of the tree near the power line.

A "through" pruning removes limbs in the center of the tree, allowing the power lines to pass through the middle.

Tree before pruning   Through-pruned tree   side-pruned tree

What do the colored ribbons on my trees mean?

These ribbons all have the Austin Energy logo on them if they're part of our vegetation management plan.

  • Trees marked with a green ribbon are slated for pruning.
  • Trees marked with a pink ribbon are slated for removal.

Who cleans up the vegetation debris?

Typically, our contractors remove all pruned brush and tree limbs from your property.

During trouble calls, it might take our contractors a few days to come back for the debris. If it has been more than a week, please contact our Forestry Division.

During widespread storm events, power restoration is our priority and brush resulting from power restoration will not be removed by Austin Energy or our contractors. Check the Austin Resource Recovery residential brush collection schedule and guidelines for curbside collection. 

It is the customer's responsibility to dispose of any debris that is leftover from a ‘make-ready’ prune. See the answer to the next question below for details. 

In normal conditions, if requested, contractors can cut and stack limbs for firewood. You may also request wood chips from your trees to use as mulch from the contractor on-site.

What if my tree service can’t safely perform work on my tree because of the proximity to power lines?

Customers can submit a request for a "make-ready" prune or call our Forestry Division at 512-322-6771.

This allows us to prune or remove vegetation that is within 10 feet of the primary and secondary wires that are not safe for a private contractor or property owner to remove. In this scenario, all brush will be left behind and is the customer's responsibility to dispose.

Who makes up the Austin Energy Forestry Division?

We have a team of ISA Certified Arborists on our Forestry Division. They are knowledgeable and care about the health of your trees as much as you do. 

An ISA Certified Arborist is trained and knowledgeable in all aspects of arboriculture. ISA Certified Arborists must also adhere to the Code of Ethics that strengthens the credibility and reliability of the workforce. 

Notification Process

How does Austin Energy work with homeowners?

Austin Energy is available to meet with each property owner to discuss work plans.

  • We notify your neighborhood leaders — We send your neighborhood association an early notification letter or email 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 proceed with the pruning plan.

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

If you are not satisfied with the work plan, call the number on the door hanger to request a meeting with an Austin Energy representative who will explain the work and answer your questions.

If you are still not satisfied after all discussions, and Austin Energy exhausts its options, we will send you a certified letter detailing the work necessary on your property. After sending this letter, all necessary work will be performed to ensure safety and reliability of the system.

Out of 9,000 to 12,000 affected properties, Austin Energy usually sends fewer than 50 certified letters in response to customer refusals each year.

Removing and Planting Trees

When does Austin Energy recommend tree removal?

We recommend removing fast-growing and/or invasive species trees such as Hackberry, Ligustrum, China Berry, diseased and decaying trees, or trees at risk of contacting power lines. We will recommend removing a tree that might not survive necessary pruning or may become risk as a result of pruning.

What is the process for tree removal?

Under the City of Austin Tree Protection Ordinance, the Development Services Department must issue a permit for the removal of trees with a diameter of 19 inches or greater. Additionally, the Development Services 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).

  • If utility work required a tree to be removed, customers should consult their work plan and contact the Austin Energy representative listed on the work plan to receive a replacement tree.
  • If you are a customer who does not have a work plan, email the Austin Energy Forestry Division or call 512-322-6771 for more information.

We also work with TreeFolks to deliver 4,500 trees every year through their NeighborWoods program. TreeFolks has 4 give-away events a year where you can get a free tree.

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 energized infrastructure — 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 6 feet from a utility 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. The tree must be clear of power and utility lines and poles, roofs and gutters, and underground electric and water lines.
  • Locate underground utilities — Electric, water, sewer, and telephone lines may run through the area where you plan to plant. At least 3 days before you plant, visit Call Before You Dig or call 8-1-1.
  • Firewise home — Try to plant trees far enough away from your home so that they won't grow into the eaves. Learn more about creating defensible spaces.

What about vines on utility poles and power lines?

We will cut and apply an EPA-approved herbicide to the base of the vine and remove several feet along the pole. Austin Energy and our contractors will not remove the remaining dead vines that may stretch out along a fence or into surrounding flora. 

Trees in the Right of Way

Which city department is in charge of pruning which trees?

Issues by City Department
Vegetation/Tree Issue City Department
Trees/Limbs near power lines Austin Energy
Trees on street light facilities Austin Energy
Trees on creeks Watershed Department
Trees (public) on sidewalks, low-hanging branches over road, right-of-way roads Public Works Department
Tree limbs bundled and left on curb for pick-up Austin Resource Recovery
Tree limbs on traffic signals, stop signs, alleys Austin Transportation Department
Trees in greenbelts and parks Austin Parks and Recreation Department
Tree issues on private property not related to any of the issues listed above Property owner’s responsibility

Contact 3-1-1 or use the 311 app by submitting 'Other' to report concerns about trees and vegetation in the public right of way. Learn more about right-of-way management.

How are property owners responsible for maintaining their trees and other vegetation?

Streets, sidewalks, and other public rights of way are for everyone's use. Property owners are responsible for their private trees and all other vegetation in the public right-of-way next to their property. Overgrown vegetation is a safety hazard and limits the use of sidewalks, trails, streets, and alleys. It further threatens public safety when vegetation blocks street light illumination, the view of traffic signs, signals, vehicles, or cyclists. 

Prune your trees and trim or remove any vegetation that obstructs or grows into sidewalks, streets or alleys. Visit the Public Works Department for guidelines to help keep the right-of-way clear.

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Date last reviewed or modified: 10/13/20


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