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May 8, 2021

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Energy Adviser: Choose the right tree to avoid future problems

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Spring’s blossoming with cherries and magnolias, plus the many leafy varieties of trees growing new green canopies, are striking enough to inspire even the most reluctant gardener to plant a tree at home; but without careful planning a cute little sapling can turn into a big headache in just a few years.

It’s difficult to quantify the many advantages to having trees on your property. Not only do they enhance curb appeal, but they also reduce noise pollution, improve air quality and offer habitat for wildlife.

Plus, when they’re planted strategically, trees can help lower your energy expenses by acting as windbreaks and shading your house in the summer. Then, when the leaves fall off in winter, they’ll allow rays to shine through and warm your home.

But a tree in the wrong place can turn into trouble, fast.

“When you’re looking at the 6-footers at the nursery it can be hard to wrap your mind around the fact that some species can grow to more than 100 feet tall when fully mature, and, if not planted in the right place, a tree like that could cause some real problems down the road,” said Clark Public Utilities Forestry Maintenance Manager Paul Wienecke. “That’s why it’s so important to think about future growth and mature height when choosing the right tree for your property.”

Just like when eponymous heroine of “Alice in Wonderland” grew so large she burst out of the White Rabbit’s house after nibbling the “EAT ME” cake, some trees can easily outgrow a yard and become a humongous problem for the homeowner — especially if the home is in a newer subdivision.

Trees can easily grow into overhead power lines, which can cause outages or become electrocution hazards for the public as well as utility crews that might have to work near them. But some species have aggressive root systems that can cause less visible problems, such as crushing water and sewer lines or mangling buried utilities.

Fortunately, those issues can be easily avoided, with a little planning and careful selections. Trees come in all shapes and sizes and finding the right fit for your property should be pretty easy.

When you’re ready to put a tree in your yard, call 811 to have underground utilities located —remember: they won’t locate your personal waterline or sewer lines — make sure to take note of any overhead utilities, the size of your yard and the general conditions of your soil. A good nursery will take that information and help you choose the tree that’s right for you.

“In general, trees that grow to 25 feet or less when fully mature are safe to plant near overhead power lines,” Wienecke said. “When you’re at the nursery look for trees that are tagged with the TreeSmart logo.”

Clark Public Utilities also keeps a helpful list of 56 recommended tree varieties at www.clarkpublicutilities.com/treeplanting.

Should your trees need a trim, it’s best to leave the work to a professional. Improper pruning is not only unsightly, but it will cause new growth to grow aggressive and brittle.

“Not to mention how dangerous it can be,” Wienecke said. “A falling limb can easily knock a ladder out from under you, fall on your home, vehicle or worse. This year we’ve already had several reports of overly ambitious DIYers nearly electrocuting themselves when trimming near power lines. It’s best to leave any work at all near electric equipment to an ISA Certified Arborist.”

Customers who are concerned that a tree could affect power lines should call the utility’s customer service line at 360-992-3000. The representative will ask a series of questions and triage the request, sending out tree trimmers if needed. Customers can also report the tree at ClarkPublicUtilities.com.


Energy Adviser is written by Clark Public Utilities. Send questions to ecod@clarkpud.com or to Energy Adviser, c/o Clark Public Utilities, P.O. Box 8900, Vancouver, WA 98668.

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