How to remove a dead oak tree
I have a large dead oak tree that needs to be removed. What types of issues should I consider while organizing a tree removal?
— Alberto Gonzalez, Haywood
Winter is a good time to remove trees to reduce the impact on other plants in your garden. The frozen ground provides additional protection for dormant perennials. You may be able to secure better rates if the work is done in the winter. My neighbor cut down a large oak tree in his backyard. Any branches that fall into the garden and the crew goes around doing the work will damage perennials if the removal is done during the growing season. Most perennials will not suffer permanent damage, but this can ruin the appearance of part of the garden for the rest of the gardening season. Do not describe where the tree is located on your property because that can have a significant impact on the cost. Laying down plywood before driving in large equipment and avoiding working when the ground is wet are important. There will be less soil compaction if the ground is dry or frozen when the work is finished.
Shrubs, ground covers and perennials located within a foot or so of the trunk will likely be destroyed or damaged when ground down, so you may want to move them temporarily. You may still be able to plant perennials since the winter has been relatively warm so far. If the trunk is 2 feet or more in diameter, it would be a good idea to clear a space 2 to 3 feet away from the trunk. The stem should be mulched at least 12 inches deep if you want to plant new perennials in the same location. The deeper the soil, the better for new perennials. You will likely need to plant new trees and shrubs with large roots next to the old trunk, and you will likely need to cut old roots from the tree during planting. A sharp ax works well for cutting large roots.
The grinding process will leave a large pile of chips mixed with the soil which must be removed and replaced with topsoil. Make sure to remove the wood slice and soil mixture down to the bottom of the hole left by the milling process. Stump grinding can be stacked in the back corner of the yard to decompose over the course of two years, leaving you with topsoil to reuse in your garden.
Losing a large shade tree will increase the amount of sunlight in your garden, which will affect the performance of existing plants. If other nearby trees provide shade for the beds, the impact will be less. It is a good idea to identify the need to move plants that may end up getting too much sun next year and replace them with more sun-loving plants. Trees and shrubs in gardens grow over time and gradually increase shade. As light decreases over time, some plants can begin to struggle, and when the tree is removed, light levels return to levels more ideal for the plants. If you’re unsure about the impact of removing trees, observe how plants respond to this change in your garden during the growing season and adjust their locations when you see problems with too much sun. Hostas are popular shade plants, and when they grow in too much sun they can fade, bleach and burn.
For more tips on plants, contact the Chicago Botanic Garden’s Plant Information Service at firstname.lastname@example.org. Tim Johnson is Senior Director of Horticulture at the Chicago Botanic Garden.