15 Reasons To Cut Down Your Willow Tree (And When To Do It)

Willow and bench in park

A tree is a remarkable thing— what kind of person would ever want to cut one down? Sadly, real life is a bit more complicated than The Lorax makes it seem. Eventually, trees must come down, especially if it’s looking like it will do so on it’s own. Your willow tree is no exception.

If your willow tree is damaged or at risk of falling, it needs to be cut down. Trees that have fungus, are leaning, have lopsided branches, are hollow, have damaged roots, interfere with traffic, or are too close to houses, other trees and power lines need to be removed for safety purposes.

It can be difficult to know when to make the call to cut down your tree. Here are 15 signs that your willow’s time with you has come to an end.

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Cut Down Willows You’re Tired Of Cleaning Up After

This is a valid reason to cut down your willow tree.

If tree maintenance has become more of a burden than a joy, it’s time to remove your willow.

This is not a lazy choice, either! According to the University of Marylandwillows are sometimes listed as an “undesirable species” of tree due to the high maintenance they require.

Weeping willows, for instance, have stems that grow towards the ground rather than towards the sky. These branches must be pruned every year or else they become a dense, tangled curtain.

Tiny, pointy, willow leaves look beautiful while on the tree, but they can be a nightmare to rake in the fall.

Keep in mind that you might be able to prevent some of the biggest maintenance problems by investing in quality tools. 

This Corona DualLink Tree Saw and Pruner has a built-in 10-foot extension pole. It allows you to cut higher branches (without climbing on a ladder!)

The right tool can make an agonizing task not only tolerable but even somewhat enjoyable.

But perhaps you do not have the time, ability, resources, or desire to care for your trees. If this describes your situation, consider this your permission to take a major chore off of your plate.

The Roots Are Poking Out Of The Ground

Willow tree with exposed roots in a park

Willow trees have a relatively shallow root system. It’s supposed to be that way so that they can better absorb water. 

The roots are intended to be completely underground, fanning away from the tree at a depth of about 4-6 inches. 

But that doesn’t always happen.

Sometimes soil erodes, leaving a bare space around previously buried roots.

As the willow aged, perhaps roots that were previously under the soil grew too large and are now exposed.

Maybe the willow had an inconsistent water source and developed peculiar root patterns as a way to try to accommodate and survive.

Whatever the reason, roots that are above the ground are at risk of experiencing significant damage. 

Many landscapers have shuddered at the tell-tale chopping noise that comes from the lawnmower when you hit a root that was hidden in the grass.

Once the damage is done, there’s not very much you can do about it. 

You also must consider the risk that exposed roots can be to people and animals. If a root is hidden by long grass, it can become a tripping hazard. This is especially true if long grass or other plants are growing around the base of the tree.

Can’t you just cut away the problematic roots? Not exactly. 

According to Purdue University, pruning roots causes serious damage to the tree. Your tree will not be able to replace established roots, causing it to absorb fewer nutrients than the tree demands.

Your choice is to either live with the exposed roots, or to remove the tree.

If the roots are exposed and causing problems, it’s time to cut down your willow.

There’s Damage To The Willow‘s Tree Trunk

Sometimes we forget about the trunk of a tree. But it’s more than just a “branch holder”.

The trunk is a tree’s stem. It takes nutrients from the roots and transports them to the leaves. 

We’re used to seeing wood after a tree has been cut down: it’s dry, hard, and unchanging. But when a tree is alive, the trunk is wet inside. 

The trunk is firm enough to support the weight of the tree, but also flexible enough to transport water through a complex daily cycle.

If there is damage to the trunk, the tree has a reduced ability to transport nutrients.

The size of your willow will determine how much stress the trunk can take. 

An older, mature willow tree trunk might only react to extreme damage, such as getting hit by a car. A younger, fragile willow sapling might sustain serious trunk damage from a bad windstorm or a misplaced step from a human caretaker.

Sometimes a tree can adapt to damage. Just like your body might heal from a wound, the trunk will form a similar scar.

But if the trunk is too damaged to support the tree, you will need to cut it down. Otherwise, you run the risk of the tree falling on its own!

The Majority Of The Willow’s Branches Are Damaged

Detail of a willow trunk with the bark eaten by deers in the cold long winter.

One damaged branch is not a death sentence for a tree. But if there are more damaged branches than there are healthy ones, this is a sign that your tree is in significant distress.

Ideally, dead branches are removed through an annual pruning process. 

Perhaps a particularly strong windstorm or two will knock down a few more sticks throughout the year. 

But aside from this, dead branches should be a rare sight. When you look at your willow, you should see healthy, living branches.

How can you tell if a branch is healthy? In spring or summer, it will be full of green, healthy leaves. 

If it is not autumn or winter and your tree has dead (or absent) leaves, the branches are dead.

If pruning away the dead branches would leave you with little more than an empty trunk, this is a sign that your willow is dying and needs intervention.

The Willow Tree Has A Hollow Trunk

Wild animals may love to live in hollow trunks in the forest, but this is a massively dangerous situation in your yard.

Hollow willow tree trunks are already dead. The stem of the tree has stopped functioning correctly and is not bringing nutrients to the upper parts of the tree.

Decomposition has set in. The tree is empty on the inside because part of the trunk is missing, and the remaining parts are severely weakened. This is a recipe for a collapse.

A hollow tree is not as strong as one with a solid, living trunk. If your willow is hollow, call an arborist as soon as you can!

Hollow trunks can also make great hiding places for pests such as snakes. Read up on the 4 ways you can keep them away from your willow trees!

Large Limbs Aren’t Producing Leaves

Limbs are the main branches of a tree. In large trees, they are very heavy and support many other smaller branches.

If large limbs are losing leaves and drying up this could mean they’re ready to fall.

The limb falling could happen in a major storm, but it could also happen whenever the force of gravity is stronger than the decomposing wood keeping the limb attached to the tree.

At this point, you really don’t want anyone under the tree in these circumstances.

You can choose to prune that bad limb, but this means that a high percentage of the tree will be removed in the process.

When large limbs are reaching their end, it’s better to cut down the tree.

Your Willow Tree Is Lopsided

Broken tree branch. Storm damaged willow tree branch. High quality photo

Maybe you or somebody else have already pruned major limbs on the tree. This may leave it looking lopsided and generally uneven.

While no law says a tree must be “pretty” to earn a spot in your yard, a lopsided tree is undesirable because it indicates that the tree may be structurally unsound.

If a tree is lopsided, it’s always wise to consult with a professional to know why exactly it is growing that way. If something is wrong, you should remove the tree.

There’s Fungus Or Other Issues With The Tree

Unfortunately, fungus can be deadly to willow trees. They can even be more harmful than other sources such as pollution or lack of water.

Watch for signs of fungus or affliction in your willow tree. Mushrooms and mold are very bad signs. Changes in the color, structure, or strength of the bark is another warning sign.

You can purchase Monterey Copper Fungicide for relatively inexpensive prices online and in gardening stores. To protect your tree, spray this at the first sign of fungus and consult a local arborist.

But maybe you didn’t spray it early enough in the fungus’ development. At some point, you just have to accept that your willow tree is too damaged and that it needs to go.

According to researchers at Harvard, the best thing to do with non-healthy trees is to remove them. This also prevents whatever ailment is causing their issues from spreading to other trees.

Your Willow Tree Is Leaning

The Leaning Tower of Pisa draws endless tourists, all visiting to see this wonder of the ancient world with their own eyes. 

If your tree is leaning badly enough that it’s drawing similar attention, that’s a major red flag.

A leaning tree is a sign that there is something wrong with the roots or the soil.

Perhaps, like the famous Leaning Tower, the soil in your yard is too spongy to support the weight of a large willow tree. 

More likely, the roots died and are unable to support the weight of the tree as they decompose.

Whatever the underlying cause might be, consult an arborist as soon as possible to address this issue.

One important thing to note is that sometimes people believe that their willow is leaning when it fact it is a weeping willow. Luckily, there are a few ways that you can distinguish between willows and weeping willows!

The Willow Tree Is Near Some Powerlines

Trees and power lines are not friends! When choosing where to plant a tree, find a spot as far away from overhead electrical lines as you can.

Sometimes, though, it wasn’t your choice. Maybe someone else planted the willow tree twenty years ago and did not think about the power lines. Or perhaps new developments in your area brought power lines in after the tree was already there.

The power company might prune it down for you if it is touching or hanging over the wires, but ultimately it is your responsibility to take care of the tree.

Trees cause issues with power lines in two ways. First, they can touch the wires and cause a fire or electrocution. Second, they can fall into the wires and cause a power outage.

Some people prune their trees by cutting off the top branches, giving it the appearance that a lawn mower came over the top and removed the extra upward growth. This is known as “topping”.

But besides looking ugly, topping a tree can be harmful to its overall lifespan and shorten it significantly.

If your willow tree is too close to a power line, the merciful thing to do might be to cut it down.

The Willow Is Too Close To The House And Other Buildings

Once again, sometimes lack of foresight can cause major issues down the road. 

If your willow is too close to a building, it can cause problems with the roof, plumbing, and foundation.

Willows grow faster than you might expect. They have a 30-year lifespan and can grow up to 10 feet taller every year (before eventually tapering off at a towering 50 feet).

The tree that gently shaded your front door when you planted it might eventually become a monstrosity that will drop roof-breaking limbs in a thunderstorm.

Like many other large trees, willow roots can also wreak havoc with your plumbing in their ever-present search for water.

Willow roots can grow into your underground pipes, causing blockages, plugs, or slow draining.

A plumber can clear this out with a special tool, but they will likely have to do it every year as your willow continues to grow. Not to mention that an annual drain snaking won’t prevent irreparable damage to your pipes.

On a side note, have you ever seen a piece of the sidewalk that has been pushed upward into an uneven edge due to a neighboring tree root? 

Imagine what similar roots can do to the foundation of your home. 

If you are interested, read up on some of the most common trees that damage foundations, and how they do so.

There’s no generally recommended “safe” minimum distance that you should plant a tree from your home – however you should aim for a minimum of 15ft away from where the nearest branch should be. I prefer farther away!

If your willow is causing (or even possibly causing) problems with your home, you need to heavily consider removing it.

Your Willow Interferes With Vehicle Traffic

To fully understand the effect your willow tree has on the surrounding neighborhood, you will need to drive or walk around your property as if you were an outsider.

If someone is in an intersection near your house, are they able to see oncoming traffic at any time of the day or night? Or is your willow blocking the view of everyone trying to safely make a left turn?

Does your willow cast a shadow on the ground near a stop sign, creating hidden black ice patches every winter? 

If a vehicle needed to pull onto the shoulder of the road, is there enough clearance that they could safely do so without hitting your tree?

If fire, police, or medical services had to respond to an emergency at your home, would they be able to see your house number? Or is your willow in the way?

In some areas, the Department of Transportation might decide for you and remove problem trees after informing you. But ultimately you are responsible for your property and the trees that grow on it. 

Don’t defer important decisions such as this to a government bureaucracy. 

The Willow Tree Is Interfering With The Growth Of Other Trees

Sometimes when we plant trees, we don’t consider future growth. Two small saplings might look cute right next to each other when you first plant them, but they will grow much larger even in just five years! 

If two trees are so close to one another that one interferes with the growth of the other, you need to make a choice. 

Which tree is healthier? Which is more aesthetically pleasing? Which one fits in better with the lifestyle of your family? 

These are some of the things you must consider when choosing which tree will stay.

An overcrowded plant will not grow well. Willow trees are no exception.

Why Do I Have To Cut Down My Willow Tree?

Man cutting branch tree using chainsaw. Gardener working in the garden during springtime. Petrol chainsaw in male hands

Unless your willow is interfering with public property, there aren’t any laws saying that your tree must come down. You might be wondering, “So why can’t I just let nature do its thing? Why can’t I just let my willow go in peace?”

Safety is the biggest motivator for taking down a tree.

Alone in a forest, your willow wouldn’t hurt anyone if it were to topple over or drop massive limbs. A tree in that setting is free to decompose and give back to the ecosystem in peace

On your property, a sick or damaged willow could badly injure someone. 

The Massachusetts Division of Fishery and Wildlife notes that human lives (and, by extension, the safety of our homes) will always be far more important than allowing nature to proceed without intervention.

You are responsible for keeping your property safe. Removing your willow tree when the time has come, thus preventing such accidents, is the right thing to do.

When To Cut Down Your Willow Tree (The Best Time)

If you choose to keep your tree, you will want to annually prune it. This ensures that your willow will remain healthy for years to come. 

The USDA Forest Service recommends pruning while the tree is dormant. But if you are cutting down the tree, dormancy, and growth patterns are irrelevant.

Unless you are a trained and certified arborist, leave tree removal to the professionals.

If you can wait, you should get the tree cut in the fall or early winter before bad weather sets in as this is the lesser busy time for arborists and it could lead to a reduced rate for you. If the tree presents an immediate issue, call someone ASAP!

Cutting down trees is tough work. Fully grown willow trees can easily weigh several tons. So again, leave it to the pros.

What To Do If You’re Feeling Sentimental About Your Willow

It might feel uncomfortable to cut down (or have someone else cut down) a tree. After all, didn’t we learn in school that trees help the environment and that we should grow as many of them as possible?

Rest easy knowing that it is far more ethical to protect yourself than your tree.

It can still be emotional to make the decision to hire an arborist, though, especially if your willow tree brings back sentimental memories.

Here are several ways you can make it easier to let your willow tree go.

Often, tree removal companies will give you the option to keep some of the wood from your tree. Willow wood is great for carving. You can carve a sculpture or create furniture out of your old tree!

Wicker is a material made from the thin, flexible branches of a weeping willow tree. If you’re feeling particularly crafty, you can dry the branches and create baskets and other crafts out of the wicker.

At a minimum, remember that it’s okay to grieve a loss, even if it’s a tree. 

Willow trees in particular have an almost magic component to them. The discovery of aspirin (medically known as acetylsalicylic acid) is said to have been inspired by the pain relieving properties of salicin, a chemical found in willow tree bark. What’s not to like about that?

If you find yourself missing your willow tree, you can always plant a new one! Willows are super easy to propagate with cuttings. 

References

Chalker-Scott, L. (2003). The Myth of Tree Topping. Washington State Nursery & Landscape Association B&B Newsletter. 

Mahdi, J. G. (2010). Medicinal potential of willow: A chemical perspective of aspirin discovery. Journal of Saudi Chemical Society, 14(3), 317–322.

Schizophyllum commune – the main cause of dying trees of the Banja Luka.

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