70802thumbLike Michael Jackson said, “You got an easement on down the road.”. . . or something like that. In older neighborhoods, that is where the utility easements are usually located. These are zones for utility poles that suspend electrical, telephone and television cables. When electricity first became available, that was the easiest place to put the cables, and the practice continued for decades.

Utility easements in middle aged neighborhoods are usually at the rear boundaries of back yards. They were put there to get out of the way of shade trees in front yards, particularly street trees. Where there are alleys in back, easements are on one side of the alley or the other. The same applies to narrow streets with easements. More modern neighborhoods have subterranean utilities.

Those of us who must contend with easements know how difficult they can be. Trees that encroach too closely to the high voltage cables on top of the poles must be pruned for clearance, even if such pruning disfigures or kills them. Lower cables for telephone and cable television sometimes get tangled with vines or big shrubbery because clearance from vegetation is not such a priority.

Utility providers have access to easements to maintain their systems. So do the tree services that have the grim task of pruning encroaching vegetation for clearance from high voltage cables. They do what they must to maintain reliable service; which is unfortunately not always compatible with what we want for our trees. Clearance pruning is too often unsightly, but it is very necessary.

The only way to avoid unsightly and disfiguring clearance pruning to to only plant trees that will not encroach into high voltage cables. Of course, in small gardens with big easements, the choices of trees that stay proportionate to available space are very limited. Except for Mediterranean fan palm or palms that stay very short, palms should never be planted below utility cables. They grow only upward, and can not be pruned around cables, so must be removed when they get too close.

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5 thoughts on “Easements Really Should Be Easier

  1. Yep, appropriate trees for small spaces, your wouldn’t believe how difficult (actually you probably would) it is to get across to councils that narrow trees exist. I see a lot of snazzy graphics and poorly chosen trees. Such a delight to see the right tree in the right spot.

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    1. Oh, I know. I also write about how the biggest boulevards about town get outfitted with micro-trees that should have been planted near utility easements. It makes no sense. Sycamores under utility cables, and crape myrtles ‘shading’ Los Gatos Boulevard.

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  2. We have power and cable lines right along our back fence. One of the prior owners of our home had planted several liquid ambers along the fence line there. PG&E offered to either trim or cut them down for free. We didn’t want the trees, so free removal! Yay!

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    1. When queen palms suddenly became a fad in the 1990s, they were more commonly planted under utility cables than anywhere else, as if the label on the cans instructed people to do so. Unlike other trees, palms can not be pruned around cables. They only go up, and when then need to be cut back, they are done.

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