Slicing 2 inches off a tree- deadly to the tree?

OK- this is an odd one, and Google isn’t helping.

I’m rebuilding a fence that was neglected for years. The fence runs just outside a line of trees. One of the trees has encroached about two inches into the fence line (where a panel was badly broken). It’s a bit too much to flex the panel around, and besides the tree will continue to grow. The encroachment is from the ground to a height of about 8 inches. Since the tree tapers (and leans a bit) above that point it’s clear of the fence line.

I’m wondering: If I took my chainsaw and sliced just a couple of inches off (it’s an Oak, about two feet across) I could run the fence right up to it. But what is likely to happen? Certainly fatal for the tree? Maybe fatal? I see lots of trees that have suffered damage and seem fine, so is that a possible or likely outcome?

I’m not that concerned about saving the tree, but given the somewhat tight quarters where it is I would have to hire someone to take it down. If this were to ultimately kill the tree, say over a couple of years, that wouldn’t be the end of the world to me. I’m just not in a position right now where I want to spend the money to have it removed (we just bought the house and are spending like drunken sailors as it is)

And yes, option 2 is to notch the fence above the encroaching area, but I don’t really like how that looks.


I’d either notch the fence (artfully) around the tree or cut the tree down to the ground and grind the stump. Shaving two inches off the tree’s girth is asking for trouble.

It’d probably survive, unless some fungal infection sets in, but if I understand you correctly, you mean chopping right into the base of the tree, by the roots? You’re going to get lumpy, twiggy regrowth from there if it lives, and the tree is likely to widen where you cut it (forming callus as a protective layer), so it’d be pushing on the fence pretty soon unless you’re very careful where you cut, plus you’d need to keep an eye on growth from the base, especially in the first year or two.

If you want to try, to maximise the chances of it surviving, do it with clean tools on a dry day to minimise the chances of infection.

Notching the fence is the best approach.

Depends on what two inches. Taken from the bottom certainly fatal.

I’m so sorry, I couldn’t resist.

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It IS taken from the bottom, and most people so far say it is NOT likely to be immediately fatal.

So, Joke failed.

No, it is taken from the side, so tppppht. :smiley:

Around here it’s illegal to cut into oaks. First I’d check with the city.

As long as you don’t girdle the tree, taking 2” off of one side should be fine.

I would incorporate the tree into the fence. Damaging a healthy tree for some aesthetic reason goes against all my instincts. The world needs more trees not fewer.

What is the ultimate job of the fence? Is it to keep pets in (dogs) or is it more for personal privacy? Both?

It may take an extra post or two, but what about going around it? You say you are using ‘panels’. Not sure what type of fencing your are using, but perhaps incorporate a wire/mesh fence section that can be more flexible. I’ve used Wild Hog fencing, and the stuff is very strong. Your local building supply store may carry it.

Cutting 2 inches off the girth is indeed asking for trouble.

Notching the fence would be OK but remember the tree will continue to grow. You would eventually need to make the fence notch larger.

In my area, making a wound like that on an oak while temperatures are above freezing would definitely kill the tree within a year, due to Oak wilt. I lost two mature oaks due to spring storm damage to upper branches in this way. They were more than two feet across at the base, too. One died before the end of the summer; the other made it to the next spring but died then.

The only scenario in which cutting into the tree rather than altering the fence makes sense to me is the one in which you definitely want to have the tree removed anyway, but are waiting to do that because of other financial considerations. And you find a dead tree in the yard, that you killed, less aesthetically unpleasant than a notched fence.

You are removing the bark. Either you are going to kill the tree, or it is going to live, and do what someone suggested, and develop a callous that will end up damaging your fence. The only thing I can think of, which I remember from someone saving a tree that was vandalized, is to replace the bark in the cut area. You are going to have to do something like prune green branches from the top, and then cut them to wedge into the spot where you have removed part of the trunk. They will carry sap over the cut place, and protect the spot from the elements and fungi as much as possible. You probably are also going to want to use pruning tar, or the “bandages” (I’m not sure what the proper term is) that people wrap around grafted limbs until they heal.

I know someone who had a tree that was vandalized by someone cutting chunks out of it, and he saved it by wedging green twigs from the top into the cut parts. Eventually new bark grew in the places between the twigs, and callouses formed, but it still had indentations.

This sounds like a lot of work to me.

I’d either get rid of the tree, or do something else with the fence. If you really want to try cutting a chunk out of the tree, I’d consult a tree surgeon, rather then just taking a chain saw to it.

If it dies, and it dies sideways, so to speak, rotting where you cut it, but still being half alive, it will fall over, and may fall onto your fence, or your house. That’s the last thing you want.

Another thing you might want to think about is that if you are putting a fence that close to a tree, you are going to have to deal with the roots. You really might be better off getting someone professional to remove the tree, and the larger roots, so they won’t interfere with the fence.

When I had a house, the well had been dug 20 feet from a tree, which was probably a sapling when the well was dug, but it was a huge tree when I moved in (as a renter before I bought it), and the roots of the tree were starting to grow into the well house (one side was badly cracked). The landlords had to remove it before it got big enough either to destroy the well house, or interfere with the pump and the pipes. The people who had lived there before me were chronically late with the rent, so they had not reported things that were wrong with the house, and in the first six months I was there, I was constantly finding things overdue for repairs. The landlords actually ended up giving me a month’s free rent to vacate for two weeks (I could leave my stuff there) while they did some major repairs. They put in central air, among other things, and resunk the well. New pipes. Reshingled.

Anyway, you really don’t want to leave a tree that is already a problem, because they keep growing. If it’s in your way now, it is going to be MORE in your way next year.

Can’t you move the entire fence line itself 5 or 6 inches away from the tree?

The tree was there first. It has standing. Leave it alone.
Modify your fence and leave the tree alone.

This might sound crazy. Probably is. Use an oscillating saw to cut the section of bark off where you need the notch to be. Just cut around the area you need to remove. Leave the patch of bark in one piece. Then pry the bark off in one slab.
Cut the notch you need for your fence. Cut it deeper by the thickness of the bark and some extra for growth. Now replace the bark making sure the edge near the ground is making good contact with the uncut bark. Trim any excess so it lays flat over the wound. Use the trimmed parts to fill the gap at the top. Now seal up the cracks with wax to keep bugs out and moisture in. With some luck the tree will heal and continue to grow. You will also have a nice fence. I know probably crazy.