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How Far Should Tree Branches Be From a House?

A house surrounded by oak trees that have been trimmed back

Surrounding your house with trees can lend visual appeal to your entire property. Unfortunately, this gorgeous greenery can spell disaster. When trees are too close to your home, the roots can destroy your foundation, and branches hanging over your roof can cause a whole range of problems.

As a general rule, trees should be at least 10 to 20 feet from your home, but the exact distance depends on the size of the tree, its canopy and its root system. Ideally, no part of a tree should touch your home, and branches that hang over your roofline should be trimmed regularly. These limbs can be responsible for serious damage if they break and fall. Not only can your roof or other property surrounding your house be impacted, but your family or houseguests could be put at risk for injury.

At the very least, any branches that hang over the house should be high enough up so that air can pass between the limbs and your roof or the siding of your home. Otherwise, branches of trees or bushes that physically touch your house can scrape the outside walls, damage your roof and potentially break windows.

Additionally, branches and vines that are too close to your home also make the structure more vulnerable to pests and water damage. These limbs provide an easy entryway for carpenter ants, rodents, beetles, termites, wasps and other pests that can chew through your roof and the wood surrounding your home, build nests and get inside your home, which is one way infestations get started.

Tree branches that touch the house might also cause moisture to build up, leading to mold or mildew growth that can decay your roof and walls. Leaves, twigs and other debris can also clog your gutters, leading to an overflow of water that can rot your siding and foundation.

It’s also essential to keep tree limbs away from utility lines to help prevent branches from rubbing or breaking power lines and causing fires and power outages. This also helps reduce the risk that squirrels or other rodents might jump from a tree to a utility line and cause additional outages by chewing through the line.

Generally, branches should be at least six feet from all utility poles and lines. It’s also best to avoid planting trees directly beneath power lines because they might block the utility company’s access to power lines or grow tall enough to reach the utility line. If you’re planting new trees, it’s critical to pay attention to the type of tree and the maximum height it might reach. While smaller trees might only grow to be 10 feet tall, many larger trees like oaks and pecans can reach a mature height of 70 to 100 feet, with their roots and canopy extending out 100 feet as well.

It’s often difficult for homeowners to know how large a younger tree will grow or how long their trees’ underground roots are. In some cases where it’s impossible to trim a tree enough to prevent the branches from causing problems, homeowners may be faced with the difficult decision to remove a tree. If you have questions about the limbs on your existing trees or you’re considering planting new foliage around your home, a certified arborist or tree professional can advise you on your best options. These specialists can also help you protect your home by trimming your tree branches so they are a safe distance from your house and utility lines.

If you find your tree branches are too close to your home and you want to learn more about what to do next, keep reading to learn how to cut tree limbs that are hanging over your home and what you can do to slow the growth of freshly trimmed tree branches.

A homeowner cutting through a branch after learning how to cut tree limbs over house

How To Cut Tree Limbs Over Your House

If you have tree limbs that extend over the roofline of your home, you should know that it’s often a good idea to call an experienced tree professional instead of trying to take this project on yourself. This is especially important if you are trimming large trees or if you have trees near a power line.

Trimming trees typically involves using dangerous machinery to try to reach branches at hazardous heights, where it’s easy for people to fall or otherwise seriously injure themselves. Additionally, tree limbs are often much heavier and sturdier than many people realize. Homeowners often get hurt when they try to cut through branches that are too thick for their equipment to handle, plus they can damage their property if a heavy limb falls unexpectedly after they start cutting it.

Certified arborists have the training and equipment needed to maintain the health of your tree, while also having the experience to keep themselves and your house protected from any potential damage. When you call in a tree professional, you can benefit from having a second opinion on whether the tree is in poor health or is growing too close to your home. These specialists can also advise you on whether pruning the tree branches is sufficient or if you should consider removing the tree altogether to protect your house and belongings.

If you decide to attempt to trim your trees on your own and you have the proper tools and experience, you can follow these steps to take the appropriate safety precautions and reduce the risk that you’ll harm your trees.

Research Your Tree

Which type of trees you have will determine when and how to trim them in order to prevent harming the health of your trees.

Arborists generally say the best time to trim oak trees, as well as some other varieties, is during the coldest months of the year (typically around January or February) to reduce the risk of insect infestation and disease. It’s also important to note that certain areas have ordinances that regulate what homeowners can do with trees on their property. For instance, you may need to get approval from the city before you can excessively prune or remove selected species of trees that are classified as protected or heritage trees.

Gather Your Tools

After you determine when to prune your trees, you’ll need to purchase or borrow a stable ladder that will safely hold your weight and will allow you to reach the full range of the tree’s branches without having to stand on the uppermost steps. Also, you’ll need to get the trimming tools you would like to use. Arborists typically bring pole saws, pull cutters, chainsaws, clippers and pruning shears to tree trimming jobs, so you’ll likely need to get several different tools depending on the thickness of your branches you need to cut.

Whichever tool you use, make sure it’s in good working condition and has a sharp edge, plus ensure you are very comfortable using it before you take it up a ladder with you. It’s also critical to clean the blade before and after using it to reduce the chance of spreading devastating diseases, such as oak wilt, between your trees.

Grab A Helping Hand

No matter how great your ladder is, it’s easy for homeowners to lose their balance and fall while trimming trees. If you work alongside another adult, that person can help keep you safe by holding the ladder, helping you clear debris and preventing kids and animals from walking too close to your workspace. Having another person there can also allow you to call for backup if something goes wrong.

Evaluate the Job

Inspect your tree and its branches to determine which limbs you need to trim back and which you should cut off completely. If you see any diseased, dead or dying branches, these will likely be some of the first ones you’ll remove. You should also thin out any limbs that are rubbing or crossing other branches.

Work In Sections

Begin by tying a rope to the branch you’d like to cut. If your work buddy holds the rope while you cut, it can help prevent the limb from falling and damaging your roof. To trim the branch, use a series of cuts moving from the end of the limb towards the trunk. Follow these steps for the best pruning job:

  • Make your first cut about a foot away from the branch collar. Make the cut from the underside of the branch, about a third of the way through the wood.
  •  Next, move about an inch further out on the branch and cut through the top until the limb breaks off. If done correctly, the branch should split cleanly between the two cuts.
  • Finally, make the last cut by placing your trimming tool beside the branch bark ridge and cutting downward just outside of the branch collar. If it is a thinner branch and the angle is very narrow, cut upward from the bottom so you don’t do any damage to the branch collar.

These are the basic steps involved in trimming trees. One of the benefits of having a tree specialist do this work for you is that you can avoid making common mistakes, including topping (cutting off too much of your tree), leaving branch stubs that don’t properly heal, cutting too close branch collar and ripping bark.

Whether you hire someone to help with trimming tree limbs, or if you do it yourself, you likely want to know what you can do to prevent the branches from growing back quickly.

An oak tree with small limbs

How to Stop Tree Branches from Growing Back Quickly

When you use proper pruning techniques, you can prevent tree branches from growing back quickly while also protecting the health of your tree. To do this, you’ll need to use a slightly different strategy than if you were trying to promote new growth.

For one, use straight cuts on the branch instead of cutting at an angle, which helps encourage regrowth. Additionally, cut the tree limb just before the leaf node. Otherwise, if you cut after the leaf node, this leaves behind vegetation at the end of the branch that can quickly turn into new growth.

It’s also helpful to use latex paint or a sucker growth inhibitor after you finish pruning. Applying black latex paint on the cuts can help deter pests, plus it can help prevent regrowth by blocking sunlight from the cut ends. Similarly, sucker growth inhibitors are lawn and garden chemicals that contain a plant hormone. When you spread this substance on a newly cut branch, it can typically inhibit new growth at that site for at least six months without hurting the overall tree.

If you have any questions or concerns about pruning or want to know more about the benefits of pruning, you can always reach out to a tree expert. No matter how careful you are, it’s easy to mistakenly damage your trees while pruning if you don’t have a good understanding of tree care. However, if you contact a certified arborist or an experienced tree professional, you don’t have to worry. They can take care of all of your pruning and tree care needs for you, including fertilization and aeration. They can also help determine if tree removal would be a better option than repeatedly trimming back your tree branches.

ABC Can Care For Your Trees

Trees can add great value to a home, but taking care of them is a daunting chore for most. If a tree was planted too close to your home, it could result in significant damage. Whether your tree branches are brushing against your house, you want to remove a tree or you just want help with general tree care, ABC Home & Commercial Services can help. Our certified arborists can provide any tree service you need, including tree trimming, tree removal and even tree air excavation.

J Zambo

J Zambo joined ABC in 2023 with over 20 years of experience. He is the Lawn & Tree Division Manager, overseeing Lawn Maintenance and Care, Landscaping, Tree and Holiday Lighting for all ABC Austin branches. Before ABC, he was the Vice President of Aloha Arbor Care and Hawaii Landscape Services. J is an ISA Certified Arborist and ISA Qualified Tree Risk Assessor. His favorite quote is “So shines a good deed in a weary world” by Willie Wonka.

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