Archive for Thursday, November 8, 2007

Green thumb

November 8, 2007

The sight of a tree pruned away from an overhead power line stirs emotions within me. I enjoy the comforts of electricity, and I know the importance of trees, but the two do not mix. Consider removing trees that interfere with power lines on your property. Plant a smaller species as a replacement, or select a new site.

There are three ways that trees end up under power lines:

  • The tree was planted there
  • The power line was relocated over the tree
  • The tree grew there.

In any case, we have no one to blame but ourselves. In my own yard, there are two Siberian elms that are beginning to reach into the utility line that runs along the street. I feel sure that the person who planted the trees was thinking about the environment and screening the street. Unfortunately, they did not think about the mature size of the tree.

Don Reinert, manager of vegetation management for Westar Energy, says, "When we plant a tree, we are not planting it for ourselves, but for tomorrow." This means thinking ahead to what the tree will be when it is grown.

One part of responsible tree selection is thinking about what the tree will become. A power line on your property most definitely does not mean you cannot plant a tree, but use a smaller species. Finding information about the mature sizes of different tree species is not difficult. The National Arbor Day Foundation, K-State Research and Extension, Kansas Forest Service, Westar Energy and local nurseries and garden centers can provide guidance on tree size and selection.

A relocated power line may have been moved for a variety of reasons, but most likely the street or road widened. In Lawrence especially, there are streets that have evolved from 20 feet wide to 60 feet wide or more. Conveniences such as turn lanes and stoplights push power lines back even farther into the landscape. As a country, we rely on roads and transportation almost as much as electricity.

If the tree grew under a power line of its own accord, the fault is less defined. Even though we did not plant the tree or move the line, a property owner is responsible for the tree once it grows. A seedling is much easier (and cheaper) to remove than a large tree, and too often trees are left in place until they cause problems.

Trees are not the only cause of power outages, but they are a substantial source of problems when they interfere with overhead lines.

If you have a tree on your property that has extended into the power line and could cause service problems, contact Westar Energy at (866) 562-5121. This is a voicemail system. You should leave your name, address and telephone number, and someone from Westar will return your call. Then a Westar employee and possibly someone from the tree company will meet with you to look at the tree(s) and discuss options. City foresters also are sometimes involved.

Mike Horniman, Westar's vegetation management supervisor, says that if the tree can be removed on the regular line clearance cycle, Westar's contracting company will do so at no charge. If the tree company makes a special trip out, they will cut down the tree and leave the brush for the homeowner to remove. Westar also will come to your property and disconnect the electrical service so that you or a professional can safely remove the tree, and they will reconnect the line when you are finished.

Anytime you are pruning trees, do not work within 10 feet of an overhead power line. Trees can interfere with underground power lines too. Always call (800) DIG-SAFE or visit before you dig.

I plan to call Westar to set up an appointment to look at my elms. Even though the trees are not causing problems right now, I want to get them on the list to be cut down the next time the line clearance crews come through -- it may be several years. Once they are removed, I will plant new trees, but they will be small species that won't reach into the overhead lines.

-- Jennifer Smith is the Douglas County Extension Agent--Horticulture for K-State Research & Extension. She can be reached at 843-7058 or

Commenting has been disabled for this item.