When Not to Feel Guilty About Cutting Down a Tree

When Not to Feel Guilty About Cutting Down a Tree

Michelle Chin
Aug 15, 2011

Trees bring so many benefits to our lives: they clean the air, provide homes for wildlife, cast shade, help your home be more energy efficient, and they can provide food and offer a glimpse of history, depending on how old they are. So when is it okay to chop one down? I never thought I'd be in a spot where this would have to be a decision. When my dad chopped down an (allegedly) diseased tree from the front of our home back in high school, I felt personally wounded. But now I get it.

When I bought my home, there were only two trees on the property. An ill-placed Queen Palm against my foundation (thankfully doesn't seem to be harming anything) and a small, anonymous tree that nicely shaded the back corner of my home 20 months ago, but has since taken on a grim pallor and dropped so many leaves they're mulching themselves in the branches.

After several weeks of searching online and taking leaf samples to local nurseries, no one could figure out what species it was. It didn't fruit, didn't have any flowers, was non-deciduous (evergreen), but not like any other evergreen I had seen. One thing we did know: it was sick. As the weeks progressed, several branches dried-out and the leaves became lacy. As I've finally had a little weekend time to tend to the cleanup and beginnings of a yard transformation, I decided I should cut down this tree and replace it with something that will not only give the benefits of the original tree, but more. A fruit tree will go in its place (actually, one full sized tree and two dwarfs), which will fit into my plan to have as many edible plants as possible on the property.

Of course there are many other reasons to cut down an existing tree: it is a danger to your home and just trimming the limbs won't render it safe or the roots could be tearing apart your plumbing and no other solutions have worked, or perhaps you have a different vision for your garden. I'm definitely not calling for a mass felling of trees, but I think that if it's not working for your situation and you have a better solution in mind, don't let free floating guilt get the best of you. In my case, cleaning up the area where the tree once stood will give me a mini orchard, which will benefit bees, birds, my friends and me.

Further reading: You Grow Girl: Cutting down an inconvenient tree...

(Images: Flickr member Jeffrey Beall used with permission)

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