We all love trees in our gardens but, with roots that can undermine foundations and large canopies, they need to be kept under control. While you may be able to carry out some light pruning yourself, tree surgery is usually best left to the professionals. A qualified tree surgeon will have the skills, tools and knowledge to deal with different species safely and effectively.

Junior Beare, founder and owner of Green Bear and a Which? Trusted trader, has more than nine years’ experience in tree surgery, plus qualifications in national forestry and arboriculture. We asked him some of the common questions that come up when people are thinking about finding someone to help with their trees.

If you need to find a tree surgeon, Which? Trusted Traders has accredited specialists in your area.

What is a Tree Protection Order?

A Tree Protection Order (TPO) is an order made by a local planning authority in England to protect specific trees, groups of trees or woodlands. It prohibits the following:

  • cutting down
  • topping
  • lopping
  • uprooting
  • wilful damage
  • wilful destruction.

If a tree on your property is protected by a TPO, you must not carry out, or cause or permit the carrying out of, any of the prohibited activities listed above without the written consent of the local authority.

If you’re not sure whether your tree is under a TPO, ask your local authority.

How often do trees need pruning?

This depends on the individual tree and its location. If you're unsure, ask your tree surgeon for advice on whether your trees need pruning – they will know about how best to deal with specific species. Common reasons for pruning are:

  • the tree is getting too big for the place it’s planted
  • the branches need thinning to let more light into a garden
  • branches may be rotten or diseased and in danger of falling.

How do I know that a tree is diseased and needs to be removed? 

It depends on the disease; some trees can live with disease for a long time without there being too many issues. You can generally tell it needs to be removed if there are visible rot pockets and fungus.

How can the amount of shade a tree casts on my garden be reduced?

Consult your tree surgeon. They may advise you to either thin out the tree or reduce the canopy. Alternatively, you may prefer to get the tree removed altogether.

Can a tall conifer hedge be successfully reduced in size?

Yes, conifers can be reduced in height but you need to prune them correctly to avoid severe dieback. Most conifers won’t reshoot if you cut into old wood, so you should reduce the width only to the point just before the old growth begins.

What is subsidence?

Subsidence is the vertical downward movement of a building foundation, which happens when the ground beneath no longer supports it. This results in cracking and damage to the property. The main cause of subsidence movement in the UK is the influence of tree roots in clay soil. Tree roots suck moisture from the soil, causing the soil to shrink and the building foundation to move downwards.

What’s the minimum distance a tree should be planted from a building?

The safe planting distance of a tree from a building depends on the species. For example, yew can be planted as near as 5 metres, while willow should be 40 metres away.

What should I do if I suspect a tree is causing subsidence?

Hire a professional to do a site analysis.

What can be done if tree roots are getting into drains? 

Either reduce the crown to stop the growth of the roots or remove the tree completely

What’s the best way to remove some tree stumps? 

Hire a tree surgeon to use a stump grinder. This will finely chop up the stump and roots so you can replant the area. Check the Which? Trusted Traders guide to removing tree stumps for more details.

How much will a tree surgeon charge?

Junior charges around £120 an hour for three men, a truck and a chipper, although this may vary depending on the amount of waste to be removed.

What should I check to make sure I’m choosing a tree surgeon who will do a good job?

Find a Which? Trusted Trader-endorsed tree surgeon. Ask to see evidence that they are insured and fully qualified.

More on this…