Can I plant trees near power lines?

Back

Fall is the best time in Georgia to add shrubs and trees to your landscape. Trees planted in November and December have time to produce new roots before having to supply water to lots of thirsty leaves next spring, advise the experts at the College of Agricultural & Environmental Sciences at UGA Cooperative Extension.

But before you head to the nursery or grab a shovel, heed this advice offered by Walton EMC’s Greg Pannell: “Look up and look down.”

Before planting, look up and look down.

Greg knows what he’s talking about. He’s the co-op’s right-of-way coordinator. Before that, he was a lineman who maintained and repaired power lines for 20 years. His experience has taught him plenty about the need for “power planting” — the art of creating harmony between landscaping and the lines that deliver electricity to Walton EMC members’ homes and businesses.

Power planting creates harmony between landscaping and the lines that deliver electricity to Walton EMC members’ homes and businesses.

Walton EMC electricity is delivered along more than 7,000 miles of power lines, almost equally divided between overhead and underground lines. Both the tree canopy and shrubbery you can see as well as the roots growing underneath your feet have potential to compromise this electricity delivery system, Greg explains.

It’s true that Walton EMC manages vegetation growth under and around its power lines to maintain reliable service. But member cooperation can go a long way to maximize the effectiveness of this maintenance and avoid outages or speed recovery after a storm.

The best outage prevention begins with co-op members’ carefully choosing where and what trees and shrubs to plant.

Look Up

If you live in a Walton EMC service area with overhead power lines, distance from lines and the tree height should be your main concerns.

Power planting pointers:

  • When choosing where to plant, consider both the primary power lines maintained by Walton EMC as well as the service lines that bring power from primary lines to your home. You are financially responsible for repairing a service line if a tree falls on it.
  • At its full maturity, a tree’s limbs should not extend into the 30-foot utility easement under power lines. To determine the easement boundary: Stand directly under the power line facing a power pole, then measure 15 feet to your right and left.
  • It is recommended that no tree or shrub, even small ones, be planted within 25 feet of a power line.
  • Use the graphic below to determine the size of tree that is right for the location you’re considering. Then use a tree selection guide, such as the one offered by the University of Georgia Extension, to narrow your search.

Tree Planting Guide

  • Before you buy a tree, check the tag attached to it to confirm its maximum height, canopy and diameter at maturity. “You must know the maximum size the tree will grow to determine where to plant it in relation to power lines,” Greg advises.
  • Don’t plant low-growing trees or shrubs beneath overhead lines since they can impede power restoration workers and more than double the time required to repair a downed line. “Help us help you,” Greg urges. “If you don’t have anything under the line, we can usually get the wires back up pretty quickly.”
  • Never plant a tree without first calling 811 to have all underground utility lines marked. Call before you dig — it’s the law.

Look Down

Just because you can’t see them, underground power lines are no less at risk from poor planting choices. Outages caused by tree roots invading underground lines is a problem Walton EMC line technicians must address regularly. Where you dig and what you plant matter.

  • The same utility easement applies to both overhead and underground utility lines. Measure 15 feet from the line markers placed after calling 811.
  • A tree’s drip line — equal to the width of the canopy at full maturity — should not extend into the utility easement.
  • Adhere to all 811 policies for digging.
  • Don’t plant trees or shrubbery too near underground transformers. If Walton EMC crews have to repair underground wiring, the first thing they do is open these big green boxes located next to the street. If a homeowner plants shrubs too close, they’ll be cut.

It is said that when you plant a tree you give a gift to future generations. Advance planning and research — along with heeding the rules of power planting — can go a long way toward making your gift a real blessing rather than a curse.