How to Climb a Tree to Cut Branches

If a branch or limb on your tree has died, become sick or damaged, or is growing in such a way that it has endangered your property, chances are your only option is to cut it off. You’ll also need to cut limbs and branches that have grown beyond the bounds of your property, not to mention the regular pruning that most trees require. However, cutting the branches off a tree is not as simple as scurrying up into it like a squirrel armed with a set of pruning shears. You have to take safety into consideration: both yours and the tree’s. Here is how to safely climb a tree to cut branches.

Before You Climb

Before you even consider attempting to climb a tree to cut branches, you should take a few things into consideration. First, how difficult will it be to climb this tree? Are there plenty of branches for you to stand on? Can you easily place a ladder up against this tree without worrying about it falling down? Do you have all the necessary equipment, such as pruning shears or, for large limbs, a chainsaw? Are you comfortable with using that equipment? Do you even have time to climb into a tree and cut the branches off?

If you answered no to any of these questions, you may want to consider hiring a professional tree service to do the job for you. An arborist from Mr. Tree will come highly trained and certified in the use of the tools of the trade. Often, people worry about the costs of hiring a professional, but a reputable arborist doesn’t actually charge too much (and will certainly be cheaper than repairing the damage caused by an improperly done job).

If you have weighed all your options and decided you wish to proceed on your own, read on.

Safety First

How to Climb a Tree to Cut Branches

Needless to say, safety needs to be your top priority when attempting to climb a tree with sharp or heavy equipment in your hands. Exactly what steps you need to take will depend a bit on the height of the tree you’re climbing and its location and other factors, however, you’ll want to have a spotter no matter what the height. Get a friend or neighbor to come and assist you with the job. They can hold ladders and be your eyes and ears on the ground to ensure you are doing the job safely.

Your next step should be to put on a climbing harness. You’ll be able to get a fall-arrest harness at your local hardware store or online. Make sure the one you have is of good quality and that you’re wearing it correctly. You’ll secure one end of the line to the trunk of the tree and another to your harness.

It’s a good idea to have a lanyard for any equipment you bring with you. Eye protection is a must, especially if you’re using any powered equipment, such as a chainsaw. Wear long, heavy-duty pants, such as work jeans, protective chaps, ear protection (if you’re using power tools), and a pair of gloves.

Protecting Your Tree

One common way people will climb a tree to cut branches is by wearing climbing spikes. This can certainly make the job easier, as the spikes will hook into the tree and serve as anchors while you work your way up. However, more likely than not, they’ll damage the tree along the way. Climbing spikes leave heavy gouges all along the trunk of the tree. These gouges will leak sap and can easily become infected or attract pests. Eventually, your tree could become sick or even die as a result of the damage done to it by these spikes.

Instead of spikes, you should use a series of ropes to climb your tree. Start with what’s known as a “throw line,” which is a long, thin length of paracord connected to a sandbag. You’ll toss the sandbag upwards, where it will loop itself around a high branch. Then you’ll connect that line to a thicker climbing line and pull on the thinner line until your climbing line has looped around that first support branch.

Another note on the safety of the tree itself: you’ll want to attach friction-saver tubes to your lines so that they don’t cause rope burn damage on the tree. Taking the proper steps will keep you from harming a beloved tree as you attempt to prune it.

Making the Climb

Take the climb slowly. You should start it off on a ladder, and eventually, once you reach the correct height, you’ll need to make your way into the branches. You’ll now be held entirely by the ropes. That’s why you need to take great care not to put your weight on any dead branches. Work slowly, making sure to check any limb or branch for stability before you trust it to hold your body weight. If your tree is very tall, you may need to reattach your lines to higher limbs once you get to the lower branches.

Before you begin cutting anything, make sure you have two points of contact from your climbing lines. That is, make sure you are secured by (at least) two lines while you are up in the tree canopy. The reason for this is because it is easily possible to accidentally cut one of your lines with your pruning shears or an errant slip of your chainsaw.

Cutting the Branches

With smaller branches, you can simply clip them off with a pair of pruning shears. However, you should make sure you don’t remove too much of the branch. Do not attempt to cut the tree branch flush with the trunk! If you do that, you’ll damage the branch collar, which is what allows the tree to heal after it has been cut. If you injure the branch collar, you’ll prevent the tree from healing properly and leave it susceptible to attacks from pests, as well as bacterial and fungal infections.

For larger branches, you should make your cuts little by little. Start with a small notch on the farthest part of the limb, then do a smaller one closer to the trunk. Finally, make your last cut just about where the branch collar transitions into the bark itself. Needless to say, do not cut anything, especially heavy limbs, unless you are totally certain no one is standing underneath the tree.

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