FAQs

Tree Trimming 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.

FAQs

Trimming with a Purpose

Why does Austin Energy trim my trees?

We trim your trees to help prevent power outages, personal injury, and fires.

Adequate trimming maintains compliance with the National Electric Safety Code and provides a safer environment around power lines. Tree limbs that rub against power lines can cause voltage fluctuations or outages and damage the power lines and limbs. 

How does Austin Energy decide to trim trees?

  • We use "best practices" — We follow guidelines for tree trimming established by the American National Standard Institute and endorsed by the International Society of Arboriculture and the National Arbor Day Foundation.
  • We trim by circuit — Our service area comprises roughly 250 distribution circuits, which are isolated sections of line that deliver power to specific areas. We perform maintenance trimming by circuit from beginning to end because a single problem tree limb can create an entire circuit outage.
  • We trim specific areas — We trim 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 trimmed 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 trims 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. 
  • We trim 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. 
  • We consider oak wilt and bird habitat — We make every effort to avoid trimming red oak and live oak trees between February through June when oak wilt is more likely to spread. When possible, we avoid trimming from March to September to protect Golden-cheeked Warbler and Black-capped Vireo habitat areas (applies to undeveloped areas west of MoPac). However, we conduct limited trimming on oak trees during the oak wilt window in areas that are experiencing frequent vegetation-related outages or emergency situations.

See table below regarding our general maintenance trimming schedule, which takes into account local environmental constraints. During these periods, we trim 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 trim my trees?

Ideally, we perform maintenance trimming every seven years. Doing so protects the health of your trees and keeps expenses manageable. This schedule adds up to trimming trees on 9,000 to 12,000 properties per year along more than 2,400 miles of utility distribution lines.

We also make mid-cycle visits (about every three to four years) to asses vegetation growth and keep your power lines clear of vegetation.

How much of the tree does Austin Energy trim?

The trimming clearance is dependent on the type of tree. 

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

Austin Energy's Forestry Division follows industry best practices for utility trimming.

What are you doing to keep the service area on a regular trimming schedule?

Austin Energy established a seven-year trimming sustainability plan. In 2019, Austin City Council increased trimming line clearances. In 2021, Council doubled our budget and we added a third contracting company. We are working diligently to get caught up from the past several years of tree growth and trimming backlog.

To improve the customer experience, we have also streamlined our customer notification process for scheduled trimming. See the Notification Process FAQs for more information.

We primarily aim to trim oak trees outside of oak wilt season (August - January). Our tree experts continue to prepare workplans so crews are ready to begin trimming oaks as soon as oak wilt season has closed. 

In areas dense with oak trees, however, we conduct limited trimming during oak wilt season. We consider all factors of tree health when doing so.

Austin Energy conducts ongoing collaborative meetings with neighborhoods and residents to discuss work plans and timelines for utility tree trimming.

How are trees trimmed?

Two types of trimming methods are generally used to remove tree limbs growing too close to power lines:

  • A "through" trimming removes limbs in the center of the tree, allowing the power lines to pass through the middle.
  • A "side" trimming removes all limbs on one side of the tree near the power line.

Example of through-trimmed and side-trimmed trees

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

Who cleans up the vegetation debris?

Typically, our contractors remove all trimmed 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’ trim. 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" trim or call our Forestry Division at 512-322-6771.

This allows us to trim 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.

Austin Energy's Forestry Division also uses three contractors to assist with trimming projects. These contractors are: Asplundh, Davey Tree, and Wright.

Electric Reliability and Trees

Why am I experiencing frequent outages?

Power outages can happen for many reasons. The most common reasons for outages include: vegetation (trees and branches), weather, animals, construction, equipment failure and other objects that interfere with power lines, such as car crashes and balloons.

Trees and other vegetation growing near power lines can have an impact on these common reasons. For example:

  • If vegetation touches the power line in any way, this contact can create a power outage for anyone connected to this circuit.
  • Existing trees and branches that encroach upon a power line can fall or be blown into power lines during storms. They can even scrape across power lines during slight breezes on "blue sky days."
  • Trees provide better access for animals to make contact with power lines which may lead to outages.
  • Construction accidents may cause outages — either by damaging buried power lines while digging, or by bumping or damaging trees near power lines. Make sure you call 8-1-1 before you dig.
  • Trees can cause energy equipment failure or damage when branches fall and take down power lines, or when branches scape across lines and cause faults.

Read more about the types of outages 

What is being done in areas with frequent tree-related outages?

Austin Energy is working to address these outages as quickly and safely as we can. We have to balance proper trimming with environmental limitations such as oak wilt management and bird habitat.

Additionally, in 2019, we increased trimming line clearances to prevent trees from encroaching too quickly on power lines. Austin City Council also approved increased funding and resources so that we can address areas with dense vegetation more routinely.

To improve the customer experience, we have also streamlined our customer notification process for scheduled trimming. See the Notification Process FAQs for more information.

Why am I experiencing an outage when there are no storms in the area?

Outages that happen outside of storms are called "blue sky outages" in the utility industry. Animals, construction, and equipment failures can also cause outages.

In many of these cases, trees can also be a secondary cause of the outage. For example, an overgrown tree limb making continuous contact with a power line can cause the transformer to malfunction. Overgrown trees also give animals access to utility infrastructure and cause outages.

Read more about the types of outages

How do trees cause outage events?

If a tree touches the power line in any way, this contact can create a power outage for anyone connected to this circuit. An outage event on the mainline will cause power loss to all customers on the circuit. In some cases, a tree causing an additional outage closer to the home may not be detected until power is restored to the main line.

How do my neighbor's trees have an impact on electric reliability?

You share a circuit with thousands of customers. Whatever happens on the circuit can happen to you.

For example, while your home might be served by underground cables, there are other sections of the circuit that have above ground distribution lines. If a tree limb falls onto those above ground distribution lines, you could lose power as well because you're on the same circuit.

How do I report trees near power lines?

If you have trees on your property that are within 10 feet of power lines, please do not attempt to trim these limbs on your own.

Instead, submit a Tree Trimming Request Form. An inspector will evaluate your request within 2-4 weeks from the date of request.

If the tree is not on your property, please report the incident to 3-1-1.

If there are sparks and/or a limb pulling the line from a pole or the house, please call 512-322-9100 to report the utility emergency.

How long does it take for a trimming request to be completed?

An inspector will evaluate your request within 2-4 weeks from the date of request. Dependent on the work needed and current workload, the trimming itself could take several more weeks.

What can I do to prevent my trees from creating an electrical hazard?

Even though Austin Energy trims trees around electrical infrastructure to maintain safety and reliability, homeowners should maintain their trees to help prevent hazards to power lines and their home.

Simple maintenance can keep trees from falling onto power lines or your house.

  • You can trim trees that are outside the 10 feet safety zone of a power line. Keep the branches clipped back to keep them from reaching the power lines themselves. Proper trimming also decreases the chances of fallen limbs during storms.
  • If the tree limb is within 10 feet of power lines, please do not trim it yourself. Instead, submit a Tree Trimming Request Form.
  • Remove dead branches since they can fly onto power lines with strong winds.
  • Plant the right tree in the right place. See the Removing and Planting Trees FAQs for more information. 

Notification Process

How does Austin Energy work with homeowners?

Austin Energy is available to meet with each property owner to discuss work plans. To improve your customer experience, we have also streamlined our customer notification process for scheduled trimming:

  • We notify your neighborhood leaders — We send your neighborhood association an early notification letter or email announcing planned trimming in your area.
  • We come to your door — About two weeks after notifying your neighborhood association, our contractors will visit each property to assess trimming needs. A designated work planner discusses these needs with you, prepares a work plan, and marks affected trees with green (trimming) 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 trimming 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 has exhausted 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 electric 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 trimming or may become risk as a result of trimming.

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. You may also want to download our Tree Replacement List flyer (pdf).

  • If utility work requires 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 trimming 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. 

Trim 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

Who handles trees that are blocking streetlights?

For safety reasons, Austin Energy works to ensure roads are illuminated and streetlights are not impeded by trees.

When Austin Energy plans line clearance work on energized circuits, we also inspect streetlights along those circuits. We identify if any trees are blocking illumination or touching streetlights or their wires. This inspection applies to streetlights with either underground or overhead lines.

Because circuits will not be inspected again for 3-4 years, our planners capture any tree trimming required for these devices until the next patrol occurs.

Austin Energy will work with property owners who have any concerns.

Expand All
Date last reviewed or modified: 10/13/20

Twitter


Follow Us