How much pruning and cutting can a mature tree take?

I live in a townhouse in an older neighborhood. We have a tree that is on our property, bur overhangs the house next to us. The person next to us hates the tree with a passion, enough to where she has asked us if we were planning on cutting it down. The tree is old and very tall, I’d guess 60-70 feet.

Last summer our neighbor had some people come in and cut down every branch over her house, which was around 1/4 of the tree. I’m almost positive that she did not bring in an arborist, which is required here to cut large sections. Nor were the people she brought in insured as I asked.

This past week someone went into the rest of the tree and began to prune 50 or more of the smaller branches, maybe a lot more as they didn’t clean them up and many are still in the tree. I’ve been told by the HOA that they do not prune trees except in the common areas, and I know it wasn’t me.

Now there are a few dead branches, and one of the larger branches makes a lot of noises in even the slightest breeze. We are starting to worry that the tree might have been badly damaged.

What I’d like to know is:
How much trimming can a tree take?
What should I look for to see if the tree is dying?
Will the tree give any signs if it’s going to fall? The tree is at least 10 feet round, if not a lot bigger.

You don’t say which tree it is, but a form of woodland management entails the drastic pruning of trees which they can take in their stride. The technique is called Coppicing and Pollarding

I don’t know what kind of tree it is. But if you take the picture in your link, then hack off 1/4 of it on the right that’s what my tree will look like now. It wasn’t cut except she doesn’t like leaves in her yard. Which she still gets.

Is the tree now unbalanced?

I’m not sure exactly what that means, but all of the large branches were cut from one side. I will see if I can take a picture later tonight.

The timing of pruning can be critical, depending on what kind of tree it is. Same with the volume removed. Also, some trees have trunks that will scald, actually sunburn, if too much canopy is removed. Really need to know what it is before we can say with any certainty if she’s seriously damaged yours.

If the tree is not balanced, it means that the tree is much more likely to fall as the centre of gravity of the tree has significantly shifted. Having the major masses cut off one side without equal masses being removed from around the tree can do this. It might be worth pointing out to your neighbour that if they did prune your tree and it does fall then they - or their agent (hint hint) - could well be liable.

I found out it’s some sort of oak tree, though I can’t remember exactly what the HOA woman said. I have a picture, but the sun was right behind the tree so it’s not that great. It’s also the best shot I could get as I was up against the house across the street.

Well, I’m not an expert but I’ve seen power companies trim more off trees (to keep them away from power lines) than that and they’re fine. Cutting branches from a tree that close to a house can be problematic, though. They can swig around unpredictably and hit roofs. I’ve seen that happen with a professional tree trimming company.

Your neighbor, by the way, sounds like a psychotic old bitch. Who would damage a gorgeous tree like that?

I agree, it’s pretty dumb to drastically trim a healthy appearing beautiful oak like that. It is not as tho it has weak wood like a willow or silver maple, both of which are prone to dropping branches, and you might not wish hanging over your house. And I can imagine it being a hassle if the leaves really piled up in her gutters, but as you observed, she’s still gonna get plenty of leaves.

The good news is the damage as photoed doesn’t look nearly as bad as you described. I’ve got little doubt that the tree will survive this drastic pruning. In a couple of years you might want to strategically remove a limb or 2 from your side to balance it out.

As I understand it, the law is not absolutely clear in issues like this. On the one hand, your neighbor has a perfect right to trim any branches that overhang her property. On the other hand, I believe she is not allowed to trim the tree in a manner that kills it. Of course, any money damages you might be able to receive would be infinitesimal compared to the value of a mature oak.

When I talked to the HOA last night I was informed that they would do nothing and she could trim as much as she wanted. They also said that she would only be lible for the amount it costs to take it down.

I was able to get a hold of the Arborist for the city today, he said he would look at it, but he isn’t allowed on private property. I hope he can look at it to see if it’s ok or not.

I don’t know why she wants the tree down so bad, it helps with the indoor temps a lot. It’s been in the mid to upper 90s here and the house stays in the mid to upper 70s. Plus it keeps the sun off of the cars. I’m still pissed that someone, though I will not point too many fingers next door, trimed my tree without asking me, then makes me clean it up. I have already filled up one bag full and there’s more in the tree.

I would be very surprised if you surrendered your legal rights to seek damages by joining a HOA, but I have never belonged to one. Assuming the tree trunk is entirely on your property, I’d be very surprised to learn of any situation in which she would be free to enter your property without permission and cut the tree down.

When you say the arborist isn’t allowed on private property, I assume you are referring to her property without your permission? Because I would be very surprised if he were not allowed on your property after you gave your express permission.

I dunno why she would be so opposed to the tree. How long have you lived next to her? Really makes you long for some nice quiet neighbors who just mided their own business and cared for their property.

Practically, as distasteful as it might seem, it is probably appropriate to try to have a conversation with her, and figure out what her concerns and intentions are. If you are still concerned after that, you may wish to spend a couple hundred bucks to have a lawyer write her a letter, just informing her of the fact that the tree is your property, and that she does not have your permission to enter your property or interefere with the tree in any way. And you’ll probably want to take a bunch of photos of the tree from various angles (while staying off her property). Later on, when the leaves fall, take more pics as the structure will be more visible.

Sorry, I meant that when I called the HOA they wouldn’t get involved at all.

He told me out right he is not allowed to enter anyones property. I don’t know why, but that’s what he said. I thought it was odd too. Maybe they don’t want people calling the city and getting free advice on cutting down trees.

We have talked to her. We’ve been there for almost two years. She told us that the owners before us told her they were cutting down the tree. Then one day I was trimming some of the branches that were on the roof and she came out and asked me to cut down the larger branches. She’s insisted that she doesn’t like the tree, but I have no idea why she would move in next to it.

I don’t know if getting a lawer to send a letter would help. When I saw the branches she first told us that the storm must have blown them down. Then she said the HOA must have done it. She’s out right said she didn’t have it done. Then again she is a bit of a loon, she hates leaves so much that she goes out at 9pm to use her leaf blower.

I’m mostly worried that she will really try and harm the tree. When she trimed last year the first day it was only a couple of branches and it looked ok, then the next day it was more, then even more. I was worried that the tree was dead this spring as it was the last tree to get leaves.

From a quick look at your picture, it seems your tree was radically pruned several years ago. It was probably reduced to the robust trunk and a few stubs. All the smaller limbs above that have grown since then. Your tree was strong enough to thrive after such brutal treatment, so the recent pruning is unlikely to kill it.

It saddens me to see folks amputate most of a mighty shade tree. The regrown tree never looks as beautiful as the part that was lopped off.

You don’t need a lawyer to write a letter, but some people take such letters more seriously. Writing a letter and sending it certified mail documents that you expressed your position at a certain time. Bolsters your position should additional unpleasantness occur in the future.

You could also call the cops. In most places, they will come out and talk to a neighbor concerning disagreements. Just tell her to not come on your property to trim the tree in the future.

Funny that the HOA won’t get involved. Like I said, I have no experience, but I’d think they would be interested in avoiding/ameliorating disputes. I would probably send them a letter as well - or copy them the version you send your neighbor, informing them that you are not authorizing any work on the tree.

If you know the folks who did her trimming last year, you might send them a copy of the letter as well. Have you asked her if she had the most recent “50 branches” trimmed? If so, what did she say? If not, why not?

If you are worried that she will have work done on the tree when you are at work or out of town, you might want to ask all of your other neighbors to give you a call any time they see any activity going on involving your tree. This would also be an area where you could tell the cops that someone has been harming your tree, you do not authorize it, and they could keep an eye out while on patrol. Or you could look into the hassle/expense of a security camera.

A “No Trespassing” sign might be appropriate as well. In my experience scrupulous contractors are generally unwilling to trespass when they haven’t been given permission.

Depending on how big a deal you want to make out of this, you could contact the local media to see if they might be interested. Maybe they have a “problem solver”.

You could check with the court and see if an injunction were appropriate. Or perhaps your local courts provide mediation services.

Given the size of the tree, I doubt there is much you can really do to help it out. But you might wish to contact a tree service and inquire about a fertilization schedule. And maybe run the hose on it in any period of excessive drought.

Oaks are pretty tough, They generally have wide, shallow root systems, and in my (limited) experience can often be damaged more by soil compaction or root damage, than severe pruning.

Lots of good advice here. Most important you need to document events as they occur. Trees don’t die overnight, but improper pruning can expose the tree to “infection”. A police report would be a good thing to have, as well as pictures and copies of all correspondence.
Put this woman on notice that she is to leave the tree alone and follow up everytime she messes w/ it. I think I would talk to an atty., consults are often free or only cost 20-30 bucks. Then you’ll have a better idea where you stand legally.

Herein lies the problem. When she was having the work done last year she refused to tell me who the workers were. They wouldn’t answer questions either and had no company name on the truck. We did take a couple of pictures and got the license plate. We did ask her if she knew anything about the recent trimming and she said she knew nothing of it. She then tried to tell me the HOA had done it since they do it all the time. I’m not sure if a letter would do any good since she would just say she didn’t do it.

As I said I’m sure whoever cut the branches this time wouldn’t care for a sign. I’d be willing to bet that she hired some day laborers to do the work.

I hope that the tree is ok, I don’t want to wake up in the middle of the night with a tree through the roof.