Whether you planted them yourself or inherited them when you moved in, most of us have a lot of good memories associated with the trees on our property. But a dying tree is a real danger to both you and your neighbors’ property—not to mention your family’s safety. This tree disposal guide will teach you to identify when it’s time to cut down a tree and what to do with that cut down tree once the unhappy job is done.

When to Cut Down a Tree

How To Identify a Dying Tree

There a few tell-tale signs to look for when identifying a dying tree:

Does the tree sport shoots or small branches growing at the base of the trunk?

Trees produce these shoots as a stress response. Their presence indicates that something is wrong with the tree in question.

Is there fungus growing near the base of the tree?

Fungus growing on a tree generally indicates that it is rotting on the inside. Also be on the lookout for mushrooms growing under a tree.  These can often be a sign of root disease.

Identify a dying tree: mushrooms growing under it.

Image source: Tony Willis (CC by SA 3.0)

Has the tree developed a sudden lean?

If a tree suddenly begins leaning, this means that its roots have weakened or broken. Cut down a tree like this immediately before a fall causes injury to people or damage to property.

When to Cut Down a Tree: Is it leaning?

Image source: Walter Baxter (CC by SA 2.0)

When to Cut Down a Tree

Just because a tree is dying doesn’t mean it needs to be removed right away. Trees are hardy lifeforms that can continue to live for years even when sick or damaged. To determine exactly when to cut down a tree, ask yourself these questions:

Is more than 50% of the tree dying?

A tree that’s currently only dead in a few spots can continue to be of environmental benefit for years. But Princess Bride rules don’t apply to your landscaping: a mostly dead tree should be cut down before it becomes a hazard. 

Mostly Dead Tree Shawn Allen CC by SA 2.0

Image source: Shawn Allen (CC by SA 2.0)

Is the trunk damaged?

A damaged trunk puts a dying tree at high risk of falling. If a tree trunk has developed vertical cracks, large seams, and/or large wounds, it’s time to cut it down.

Is more than 1/3 of the tree hollow?

Since a tree’s life support systems are located at the trunk’s outer edges, a tree can continue to live while hollow. But when a significant portion of a dying tree is hollow, it no longer has the structural integrity to prevent it from falling. Cut down a hollow tree before it causes injury or property damage. 

When to cut down a dying tree: is it hollow?

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Tree Disposal: What to Do with a Cut Down Tree

Once you’ve cut down a dying tree, you have a few different options for tree disposal: 

Rent a yard waste dumpster

This is the best tree disposal option if you want to get rid of the mess quickly. The average cost to rent a dumpster also makes it an affordable way to minimize the work you need to do. Just toss everything in and have it hauled away at the end of the day, leaving no unsightly yard waste on your property.

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Use logs as borders

This is a great waste-not-want-not option. Cut lengthwise logs from the tree at an appropriate thickness to sink into the ground as borders around a garden or other area of your yard.

Grind the wood into mulch

This is another useful recycling option. Rent a wood chipper and turn your dying tree into mulch that can be used for both decorative and weed-killing purposes.

What to do with a cut down tree: wood chip mulch

Image source: Rick Kimpel (CC by SA 2.0)

Chop it into firewood

You can approach this option in several different ways: Buy some hot dogs and s’mores fixings and plan a bonfire with your friends. List free firewood on FreeCycle or Craigslist and let somebody else enjoy the fruits of your labor. Donate the firewood to your local Girl Scouts or Boy Scouts troop.  Depending on your area, churches or other charities may collect firewood to donate to people who heat their homes with wood.

What to do with a cut down tree: use it as firewood

Image source: Virginia State Parks Staff (CC by SA 2.0)

Sell it to a saw mill

Depending on the type of wood and how the tree died, a local sawmill might be interested in purchasing the wood from you. If you’re the thrifty type, this is a great way to use tree disposal to make a little extra cash.

When to Cut Down a Dying Tree

Image source: RunningFull (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Knowing when to cut down a dying tree is the best way to ensure the safety of your family and neighbors, plus the continued health of your property. Knowing what to do with a cut down tree is key to keeping your yard clean and unobstructed for your family’s use. If you need a yard waste dumpster to help with tree disposal after the job is done, we’re here to help at 1-866-284-6164.