Trees and Utility Lines: A Battle to Avoid - Indiana Yard and Garden - Purdue Consumer Horticulture

Trees and Utility Lines: A Battle to Avoid

The conflict between trees and utility lines is fresh on my mind, having just experienced the power company removing a significant number of limbs from two lovely old pine trees in the right-of-way behind my property. And I’m in good company with many homeowners who have experienced either the loss of a tree or a significant portion of a tree due to the need to keep the limbs from taking out power to the neighborhood.

I can certainly understand both sides of the issue. I hate to see the symmetry of a beautiful old tree destroyed in minutes by a chain saw, but yet, I certainly don’t want my power supply to be hindered. In this particular case, the pine trees were already way above the lines when I bought my home, so there’s no sentimental value attached. But for many homeowners, some of these trees might be planted in someone’s memory or be where their children played happily during an earlier time.

The bad news is that it is not uncommon for large species of trees to be inappropriately planted near utility lines. They were pretty small when they were planted, and perhaps it was never even imagined that these little saplings would eventually tower and spread to connect with those power lines. Sadly, the only options for these trees are either repeated prunings that may leave them disfigured or complete removal of the tree.

The good news is that you do not need to remain completely treeless near utility lines. There are a number of reliable tree species that remain small enough that they should not pose a threat, even when they are mature.

Whether planning to replace an existing tree or starting from scratch, the following list of species will give you plenty of options to chose from at your local nursery or garden center. These species are generally less than 20 feet tall at maturity. Keep in mind that some utility lines are only 12 feet high, such as those that connect directly to a home. Avoid planting directly below utility lines; maintain a distance of at least 10 feet.

Common Name Scientific Name
Amur Maple** Acer ginnala
Japanese Maple* Acer palmatum
Tartarian Maple** Acer tataricum
Red Buckeye Aesculus pavia
Serviceberry* Amelanchier sp.
Siberian Peashrub Caragana arborescens
White Fringetree Chionanthus virginicus
Flowering Dogwood Cornus florida
Filbert (Hazelnut) Corylus sp.
Smoketree Cotinus coggygeria
English Hawthorn Crataegus laevigata
Burning Bush** Euonymus alatus
Yeddo Euonymus Euonymus hamiltonianus var. sieboldianus
Franklinia Franklinia alatamaha
Goldenchain Tree Laburnum x waterei
Star Magnolia Magnolia stellata
Crabapple* Malus sp.
Cherry Plum* (Pissard or Purpleleaf Plum) Prunus cerasifera
Higan Cherry * Prunus subhirtella
Japanese Flowering Cherry Prunus serrulata
Wafer Ash Ptelea trifoliata
Goat Willow Salix caprea
Stewartia Stewartia ovata
Arborvitae* Thuja sp.
Blackhaw Viburnum Viburnum prunifolium
Siebold Viburnum Viburnum sieboldii

* Select short cultivars of these species

** These species are potentially invasive in natural areas.


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