The Essential Guide to Safely Removing Trees in San Diego County

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  • Post last modified:February 4, 2024
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Removing or trimming large trees in San Diego can be hazardous to the person doing the trimming, especially if they do not have the experience or a mentor to help them through the tough spots.

Most of the time, it is the larger trees that get people in trouble, Ladders, pole pruners and power tools coupled with these items often land a beginner in the hospital or worse.

My rule of thumb is, if you don’t know what to do, don’t attempt it.  Large specimen trees require climbing belts for safety, climbing lines and rappelling lines for security and the proper sharp gear for cutting and climbing up thick bark that comes off the tree easily.

Using a ladder on a tree is typically not the professional choice.  There should always be someone at the base of the ladder holding the rails to prevent a spinning   movement of the ladder by the climber at the top.  In many cases, a ladder is only used to get in a tall palm tree without gouging large holes in its trunk at a low elevation.

Taking down a large tree requires patience, persistence and a practiced eye.  Trying to take down a large tree quickly is where many people get in trouble.  Slow is pro, don’t try to move quickly in a large tree, many times that tree will bite you…

When limbing a tree or cutting off some large branches, it is always best to take the lightest of the branches off near the end of the tree branch.  Trying to remove the entire branch all at once causes more problems than not and it is very difficult to see what will happen to the branch as it falls earthward bouncing off the lower portion of the tree or becoming an uncalculated hanger that is difficult to remove safely.

Large brush is unwieldy and hard to predict.  Sometimes, it is a good practice to cut a small limb or portion of the tree down below to see how fast the saw gets through the wood and whether or not you can control the saw as you go through the wood at different angles.

Dead or very hard wood is extremely dangerous to deal with.  Being very brittle and easy to snap, dry wood always requires careful consideration before cutting to avoid stiff pieces from splintering or rotating because of the weight involved and Barber Poling or splitting halfway up the tree trunk and then allowing the entire length of wood to fall straight down on the arborist.

These scenarios are for the more advanced tree climbers but it should be made clear, the less dangerous a tree seems, the more problems can arise.  Sometimes standing of a large branch 20-30 ft up can seem safe when cutting another branch just as big above it but the weight of the branch can easily take out the branch you are standing on unless you are tied into the tree as a precaution.

The most dangerous aspect of pruning and cutting branches can come from using a boom lift.  This aide to the neophyte costs a bit more to run or rent precluding the very poor or impatient   but it can create more problems that it solves.

Gravity has the bad habit of bringing everything that’s let loose to coming straight down no matter what is underneath.  It takes lots of practice to be above the predestined branch, or to cut only small material as you work or to do it in tandem with a helper inside the confines of a small basket.

Sometimes, the branch will come down on the lift itself and compromise it’s functioning leaving the arborist stuck high in the boom itself or tied into the tree with it’s own weight. This occurs more often than not when someone thinks they know the parameters of their lift without consideration for the things that can happen in the blink of an eye.

Some climbers eschew the safety of a boom lift for the hook of a crane.  This takes nerves of steel but the true climber never cuts on the tree he is in before the crane driver knows what he is doing.

The climber is responsible for the crane and the crane driver is responsible for the climber in a symbiotic relationship that if performed correctly will eventually lead to the tree coming down quickly and safely.

Weight and length of limbs can make this dance a difficult one.  That is why, most climbers and crane drivers usually cut from above the tree and are lowered into the canopy not far from the location they wish to cut.  This is best facilitated using a whip line or single hook for the climber and a snatch block or four-part block attached to a large hook down below.

A strap is attached to the tree or branch and then hooked to the crane as needed.  The whip line is reserved for the climber depending on his needs at the time.

All branches must either be picked up and away from the crane using a boom up technique or lowered through the canopy to the waiting brush men below who undo the brush from the four-part line and send it back up into the canopy as needed.

Cable up and cable down are words that everyone on the team knows and a spinning finger pointing up or down is all that a good crane driver needs to know.


Taking down big wood, three to four ft. in diameter next to a house with a crane requires wedge cuts into the wood to lock the straps in place.  A good rigger will put two straps on a piece of wood in both of these wedges to lock them in place and then pick the piece off the column of wood as a climber cuts it loose from just below.

A sharp saw is imperative to this work and not only are the teeth filed back to create a good cutting edge on the chainsaw, but the rakers which ride on the wood between saw blades must be lowered a bit as well so that they don’t take to big of a bite with the blades or let the wood ride too high above them above the meat of the branch as they spin around the bar of the chainsaw.

Small trees compared to this type of wood don’t usually need this type of equipment, but be forewarned.  A small tree can be just as dangerous to a good climber as a large one.  Slipping, spinning and coming back to the main trunk under the force of gravity is always a consideration for the veteran climber.

This is why leaving small stubs sticking out from the main trunk of a tree as you takeoff weight or remove brush is not recommended.   For the very advanced climber, taking down a tree with a zip line can save hours and hours of time but it requires the work of two men who can work together well.

A zip line is a system in which a climber can take down a tall thin tree in a confined space with small pieces and get them closer to the chipper or hauling truck.  Usually, a heavy 4-wheel drive vehicle will be tied to the main trunk up above and the brush will be clipped to this line with a carabiner.

As the carabiner captures the load of the cut brush, the four wheeled vehicle backs away from the main trunk until it is at a 45-degree angle.  The brush slides down on the tag line away from the buildings and windows until it contacts the dirt and stops near the chipper or hauling vehicle.

This zip line technique helps the climber to lower brush quickly and safely away from a structure.  The problem with it is that there must be good communication between the ground man and the cutter or things can go awry.

Once a person learns the type of wood he is cutting and uses the correct implements to prune the tree he is working on, only a few simple other techniques can keep him safe.

Never use the tip of the bar to cut wood.  The speed of the chain is so great at that point that it can cause the tip of the bar to fly backward into the unsuspecting cutter and cause major damage.

For cutting wood, the bottom of the chainsaw bar is the best place to rest the saw on going at full speed and is easily controlled in this position. Sometimes sawdust or material can get up into the eye.

To dislodge material from an eye, place your finger or a pen on your top eyelid, grab your upper lash with the other hand and snap the lid down and out with a quick flick of the wrist. This dislodges the offensive material and frees up your eye.

If you’re looking for professional tree service company in San Diego, contact us today for your free estimate at (760) 846-2200