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Do It Yourself: Trim limbs yourself, but use caution

Q. Strong winds broke several higher-up branches in oak and maple trees on our property, and big pieces of limbs are just hanging there, partly still attached to the rest of the limbs. I don’t relish trying to get at them with a chain saw on a ladder. Is there any other way besides calling an expensive tree trimmer?

A. There are a couple of tools that could let you prune fairly high branches from the ground, but these tools have some disadvantages.

One tool is a pole pruner, which has a curved saw at the end of a long, telescoping handle. Pole pruners also have a hook on the saw end that contains a blade that is manipulated by pulling a rope. The blade will lop off branches up to about an inch in diameter, while thick branches can be sawed off.

A downside to pole pruners is that the longer the pole is extended (up to about 18 feet on some poles) the more awkward and difficult it is to use. Also, if your trees have a lot of limbs in the way, just getting the saw into position on the correct limb is a hassle.

Sawing a thick limb with a pole pruner is hard, tiresome work. Lubricating the blade by spraying it with silicone spray or WD-40 makes cutting a little easier and helps prevent jamming. Pole pruners can be bought at most home centers and garden-supply outlets and sell for about $40 and up. Gasoline-powered and battery-powered pole pruners are also available.

The second tool that might help you is a rope-operated chain saw. This is just a chain that cuts in any position and has a rope attached to each end. One of the ropes has a weight on the end that is tossed into the tree so it drops over the limb to be sawed. The ropes are then manipulated to put the blade in position over the limb, and the user pulls the ropes alternately to saw.

Again, getting the saw blade on the correct limb can be difficult, especially in a thickly limbed tree. These tools cost about $45 and up and might be more difficult to find than a pole saw.

When using either tool, it is important not to stand directly under the limb being cut – limbs can fall suddenly and a direct blow can cause serious injury. Wearing a construction worker’s hard hat provides some protection. It is also important to prune branches close to the trunk – dead stumps will eventually destroy a tree.

Q. My garage is built on a slab and is a couple of feet lower than the rest of the house. A few months ago I began seeing a small circle of water in the middle of the garage floor, which spreads to several feet when it rains. When the rain stops, it dries up. I’ve been told to install French drains around the house to stop the problem. Is that a good idea?

A. I’d hold off on the French drains for a while. That would be an expensive project and might not solve the problem, which probably results from what is called a high water table or high level of underground water.

If your garage (and/or house) doesn’t have rain gutters, I would install those first. Put extensions on the downspouts so the water is carried at least 8 feet away from the garage and house foundation.

If you already have gutters, make sure they are not clogged and that they are working properly. I suspect that this will end or relieve the problem, but if it doesn’t, keep a close watch on the water problem, which seems relatively minor at this point. A small puddle in the garage when it rains can be mopped up or slurped up with a wet-dry vacuum cleaner ($50 or less at a home center).

When and if you feel the water is a major problem, consult several experienced basement waterproofing contractors in your area for advice. You will probably be given sales talks for expensive projects, so keep your guard up, but contractors with firsthand knowledge of water conditions in your area should shed more light on what needs to be done.

Questions and comments should be emailed to Gene Austin at Send regular mail for Gene Austin to 1730 Blue Bell Pike, Blue Bell, PA 19422.