A customer asked us if his pine should be removed since it outgrew its space and is now entangled in power lines. Selective pruning is usually possible to give clearance to power lines while keeping the tree. However, making the tree pleasing to the eye isn’t always possible, depending on how much needs to be pruned.

Topping a tree isn’t recommended except for reasons like power line clearance. Topping a tree means reducing the height of the entire crown or top of the tree. Shade is preserved, but topping can:

  • accelerate branch growth at the top
  • make the tree look disfigured
  • cause it to rot more quickly

So, removing the tree and planting a better species for the spot will be a better option for many.

utility tree trimming

Utility tree trimming can get ugly

A skilled tree trimmer will know the best way to preserve the tree. Only trimming those branches which affect the power lines can allow the tree to grow away from those power lines, according to Asplundh tree service.

However, doing it yourself is not an option. It’s dangerous, sometimes illegal, and climbing utility poles to do it is prohibited. The last tree trimming fatality we heard about in Denver happened while the trimmer was on the ground using a pole tool. The branch gave way, and the saw fell right on the line. Again: it’s not an option to work around power lines yourself.

What is your responsibility in keeping power lines clear

For pole to pole lines, you can call the utility, in Denver’s case usually Xcel. Service lines, or the lines that go from the pole to your electric meter, are your responsibility.

But why is power line clearance done? There are two main reasons.

1. Trees are a major factor in power outages throughout Colorado.


2. Trees are electrical conductors and can ignite, causing fires.

Tree catches fire from power line

Tree catches fire from power line

If a tree’s branches can’t be cleared ten feet from power lines (14 feet for cottonwood and other fast growing trees) then the utility may remove the tree instead.

Utilities have vegetation management programs. They define strict maintenance pruning schedules in rounds and need to be able to trim away enough so the tree stays clear until the next round of utility trimming.

Your Options

If you have a tree that is encroaching on power lines or will be in the coming years, you do have some options.

  1. You can call Xcel or your energy company to alert them to a tree interfering with power lines. They will assess the risk and trim or remove the tree. It won’t always be quick and they only service pole to pole lines. When Xcel or their tree trimming contractors trim or remove a tree for utility line clearance, they will take away small branches and debris. Larger logs will be cut into manageable pieces and “left for your use.” Nice way of saying you need to get rid of the logs yourself.
  2. If you want to control the tree trimming as much as possible, you should hire your own tree trimmer who is certified to work with trees in power lines. Xcel Energy may eventually cut it back in their routine trimming cycles, but they are not paid to make it attractive. Or, they may see the need to remove it. Since a tree service can come by more frequently, a tree that grows too fast for Xcel to manage can be preserved by your tree company.

What about a tree that you think may grow into power lines? To control growth, there is a growth regulator called Cambistat that can be applied to slow the growth of the tree.  And of course, careful tree planting will help avoid the problem in the first place.

Choosing a tree that won’t get too big is a key way for homeowners to preserve a well-manicured tree.  It also helps prevent power outages.  A rule of thumb is: before planting a tree, look up!

– David Merriman

Tree trimming Denver.


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