How pruning keeps trees and power lines happily coexisting

“I never saw a discontented tree. They grip the ground as though they liked it, and, though fast rooted, they travel about as far as we do.” ~John Muir, American author and naturalist

My family thinks I am obsessed with trees. Perhaps that’s because I moved them into a home that has a 48-acre arboretum directly behind it. Maybe it’s because they constantly hear me offering little details about bark, or leaves or the branch system. Did you know, for example, that each branch operates independently yet for the common good of the whole – using its leaves to feed itself and then sending reserves to the root system to be used by the rest of the tree? Yes, I love trees.

When I was age 10, a neighbor had to have a tree removed, and I was just mesmerized. I knew from that moment that I’d spend a lifetime with trees. One of the things I love about trees is that they are kind of a freak of nature. They grow up, while gravity pushes everything else down.

By the time I was 15, I started doing ground work (dragging brush) and, since 1987, I’ve been climbing trees in one form or another. I’m fortunate to do it for work. Before joining PSE&G, I was a forester at another utility and also had done municipal  trimming. Believe me when I say that I don’t like excessively trimming trees any more than you like seeing them trimmed unnecessarily.

As a company, we have a responsibility to deliver safe and reliable electricity. Unfortunately, trees get in the way when the wrong type of tree is in the wrong place. That’s why we hold sessions about four times each year to educate municipal workers and others about tree management. Fastidious, fast-growing species like Maples and London planes elongate quickly and constantly need trimming. It’s a necessary evil in order to keep the electricity on.

There is a way for trees and wires to coexist in a friendly manner. Selecting the right tree to plant in the right place minimizes and sometimes even eliminates pruning.

When we must prune, people often ask why we can’t just “flat top” a tree. We use arboricultural, correct practices. Flat topping doesn’t enable the tree to seal over the wound correctly and also contributes to sucker growth – or re-sprouting. When you take too much off, the tree wants to recover quickly so it sends out as many shoots as possible – recreating the original problem.


It may not look as pretty, but our directional pruning is actually safer for the tree –  allowing it to continue to grow and flourish. It’s the placement of the tree in relation to the pole line that helps us determine how to trim the tree to minimize contact.

During storms, trees can become a hazard since a branch on a wire can cause fire damage to our facilities. Trees are a leading cause of power outages. Hence, we are required to perform maintenance on vegetation that is close enough to energized conductors at least once every four years. On the distribution side, we have about 14,236 miles, so we inspect roughly 3,500 miles per year.

On any given day, seven I.S.A. Certified Arborists (International Society of Arboriculture) inspect PSE&G’s distribution lines for vegetation issues.  In addition, on average, there are about 230 people working all across the state to trim trees away from power lines. During the recent March storms, we had about 690 people working in round-the-clock shifts clearing the numerous downed trees and limbs that brought down power lines.

Here are a few more things homeowners should know about trees and power lines:

    • We trim trees year-round and don’t like to surprise people, so we contact property owners directly or leave door hangers to let customers know we’re working.
    • During emergencies, we can’t notify customers in advance of work. Often, the work leaves a lot of debris. Under these conditions, it is the tree owner’s or property owner’s responsibility to clear the debris. If in doubt, customers should check with their local municipality about ownership.
    • Our vegetation team comprises tree experts who all are I.S.A. Certified/Utility Arborists, four are New Jersey Licensed Tree Experts, three are Tree Risk Assessment Qualified individuals as well as a Board Certified Master Arborist, Certified Tree Safety Professional and college educated team members.
    • Our qualified professionals can work up to 2.7 feet away from high voltage power lines, using a 6-foot insulated stick-saw. Non-qualified workers need to stay a minimum of 10 feet away from power lines.
    • If a branch is on an energized power line, it will not always arc, or emit sparks or fire. Every line should be treated as “hot” or carrying electricity.  We check every call of a possible safety hazard, and we want you to call when there is a threat.
    • When we need to use herbicides, such as to treat a stump to prevent regrowth, we only use those approved by appropriate federal and state agencies.
    • Particularly in rural areas, we also clear brush or small trees that have the potential to grow into larger trees.
    • You should contact your utility before planting any trees in or near a right of way.
    • You can check the vegetation management schedule or learn more about tree trimming on the nj.pseg.com website.

Yes, I love trees. And I am proud to be a part of a company that works so that our trees and power lines can happily coexist.

Robert Wolf, Certified Arborist, Licensed Tree Expert and Vegetation Manager, PSE&G Distribution


Leave a Reply

  • Does PSE&G also trim the tree next to power line but in private single family house property? If yes, how to report the trim needed to PSE&G? If not, who is responsible if the tree falls in storm and hits the power line?

    • I think you must be speaking of some ideal tree trimming program that PSEG had once upon a time. But now PSEG subcontracts a lot of its tree trimming to contractors (Asplunhd, etc.) submitting the lowest bid. They are out to get the job done in the faster possible time with a minimum of care or concern. I’ve lived in the same suburban neighborhood for many years & can see how the destructive tree trimming has led to the demise of many many of the beautiful large trees. One branch goes then another & another- until you have essentially a very tall stick 50+feet high with some leaves at the top. Or you see trees that look like they have holes in the middle that you could drive a car through. Once I started noticing this in my neighborhood I do notice in many places within the PSEG coverage area. Of course not all this is contractors, PSEG does enough damage on its own.

  • Hi Robert, Thanks for the sharing such an informative article. You explain it like an expert. Now I understand how can pruning keep trees and power lines happily coexisting. I will keep it in my mind and be going to share this with others. Hope so; you will keep posting like this helpful article.

  • Why butcher the trees? Just remove them or require the property owners to remove all trees that are near the utility lines. It’s terrible what you do to these trees. Just remove them!!

  • I called PSEG because of the imminent danger of a Tree that was close to the road on my property that were dangerously close to PSEG Power Lines but had to cut it away myself even with the Power lines close by and sort of understood that PSEG does not get involved with Tree problems to their lines and that was why I never called them again., I now have a tree that if I push on it one way or the other it can do some interruption to the PSEG lines howeve I will give my email and see what can be done this time.

  • Better to properly trip (“Butcher”) a tree than to have a dangerous, life threatening incident in a storm.

    • Just remove those trees! And anyone who plants a tree near utility lines should be fined.

  • The topic of PSE&G, trees, and power lines is not pleasant to witness. I feel there is no regard or thought given to the co-existence of trees and electrical power lines. The trees aren’t pruned, but rather butchered to such a degree they are literally split down the middle. Is there any justification for that? No thought process goes into destroying the natural beauty of trees. Please improve upon the practice of ‘pruning’ as if the preservation of trees and our enviroment really matters to your organization.

    • Remove the trees! It’s just that simple. And fine the property owners for planting trees near utility lines.

  • The city in which I reside planted the trees on the streets, with no knowledge of the best kind of tree for streetscape – hence we have towering oaks that are quite inappropriate.

  • Nice article. Too bad they don’t cut down the tree in my front yard that is dying and totally in the power lines and up the power pole

  • I have been trying for years to get the vegetation trimmed off the easement utility pole in my backyard! Now its overgrown with poison ivy and when a utility company calls, they ask me questions. Well I don[t have answers! My tree trimmer is not allowed to touch that pole and I’m not worried about who has power, cable or telephone anymore. Every winter they start “triage” when lines go down instead of dealing with the issue beforehand. Buracracy at its best. SMG

    • Agreed. Can’t find a PSE&G phone number to call for the dangerous tree next to power line. Sent an email, no response. Can PSE&G public a phone number for this? and detail the solution for typical situation? like Q&A in its website? Such as tree in private property but planted before power line was there? I would think it’s PSE&G responsibility to take it down or trim it, just get owner signs the paper work and do it. Trees are good, but not good too close to house or power line. Money and energy spent to clean the leaves and trim them. Power consumed to treat trees offset the benefit of the trees bring to us.

  • How can I get someone to check the tree in front of our house? There are branches leaning on the wires.

  • PSE&G needs to get out and cut the branches that threaten the lines – after sandy and rthe ridiculous amount of time without power Id just as soon see any tree that is near the wires be gone

  • I think the best solution is plant trees and keep them pruned at a certain height so they are always kept bellow the utility cables. Note: I have seen this solution in quite a few countries that I was during the war.

    • Thanks, AV.

      PSE&G can educate towns and residents, and provide guidance to them; such as how far away from power lines, and what kind trees not allowed to plant nearby, and recommend best trees or shrubs to plant around.

      • I thing the just above PSE&G is ideal and correct. I saw the recent storm with tornados that occurred in New Fairfield CT how scary
        was and how specially big and tall pine trees that were nocked down and caused lots of damages mainly to houses, power lines and other tings

  • Have reported limbs that need to be taken done that are over the wires. The town wants to take the tree down but can’t until PSE&G trims these branches. Been waiting for months for someone to come. Have called a couple of times and same answer, they don’t know when they will get here. 🤦🏼‍♀️

  • They should start converting all power lines to underground, especially in areas where storm damage is common

  • Yes all these ideas are great but you know as well that this cost money and that a lot of families can’t afford. I’ve been trying to have someone cut my tree ( only 1/2 ) but it cost to much or they won’t do it because of the power lines. Any help with this issue is welcome. Address 101 wisteria ave Cherry Hill. NJ 08002- 856-761-5850 call 1pm only please. Thanks and hope to here from u.

  • It’s such an informative article. By reading this, I gathered a lot of valuable information about pruning. It will help me to do the best use of that.thanks for sharing this.keep posting this type of post.. 🙂

  • pruning keeps trees and power lines happily coexisting but When we must prune, people often ask why we can’t just “flat top” a tree. We use arboricultural, correct practices. Flat topping doesn’t enable the tree to seal over the wound correctly and also contributes to sucker growth – or re-sprouting. When you take too much off, the tree wants to recover quickly so it sends out as many shoots as possible – recreating the original problem.

  • There’s tree trimming or tree hacking! Asplundh Tree Expert Co is far from experts. Living in Charlotte NC and have read of numerous complaints and suffering the consequences myself of a “hack” job done by these tree butcherers. Asplund hacked the entire back side off a diseased 70ft OAK. It now leans approximately 15 inches from my home. Matter of time before I am crashes in on by this monstrosity.
    Their point man, been called many times, always condescinding and unconcerned. A total jerk, says sue Duke Power. Several years ago Asplundh paid a 95 million dollar fine for Osha violations, and employment infractions due to their lawlessness! But. What do I know? I am not one of there Willies that knows nothing, they got paid in their suit against Asplundh!

  • Tree pruning is so important! And often overlooked. Great article to bring awareness, and how we can continue to have both trees and power lines without completely removing the trees.

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