Tree Care & Resources

Inspection, maintenance, care, and removal of trees on private property is the responsibility of the property owner(s). This includes portions of private trees that overhang public ways or public property. The Town of Brookline will only deal with private trees in very limited situations, such as clearing a portion of a private tree that has fallen and is blocking a public way. The Town does not have the authority or resources to inspect or provide tree care for private trees. The Town does maintain all public trees along public ways and on public property. Residents are not permitted to prune or care for public trees. Please contact the Brookline Parks and Open Space Division at 617-730-2088 to report issues or request maintenance of public trees.

For private trees, the Town of Brookline DOES NOT RECOMMEND particular arborists or companies, but offers this list, containing several companies which have the required insurance and the necessary experience to perform the work. Residents may wish to seek the assistance of a Massachusetts Certified Arborist (MCA) or an arborist certified by the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA). The listed tree organizations may also provide additional useful information.

Tree Care Tips

Don't "Top" Trees

Never cut main branches back to stubs. Many people mistakenly "top" trees because they grow into utility wires, interfere with views or sunlight, or simply grow so large that they worry the landowner. Unfortunately, the topping process is often self-defeating. Ugly, bushy, weakly attached limbs usually grow back higher than the original branches.

Don't Top Trees

Proper pruning can remove excessive growth without the problems topping creates. In addition, many arborists say that topping is the worst thing you can do for the health of a tree. It starves the tree by drastically reducing its food-making ability and makes the tree more susceptible to insects and disease.

Use the 1/3 Rules for Pruning

  • Never remove more than 1/3 of a tree's crown.
  • Where possible, try to encourage side branches that form angles that are 1/3 off vertical (10 or 2 positions).
  • For most species, the tree should have a single trunk.
  • Ideally, main side branches should be at least 1/3 smaller than the diameter of the trunk.
  • If removal of main branches are necessary, cut them back to the trunk to avoid leaving stubs.
  • For most deciduous (broadleaf) trees, don't prune up from the bottom any more than 1/3 of the tree's total height.
Use the 1/3 Rules for Pruning

How to Make a Pruning Cut

Large Limbs

  • Make a partial cut from beneath.
  • Make a 2nd cut from above several inches out and allow the limb to fall.
  • Complete the job with a final cut just outside the branch collar.

Small Branches

  • Make a sharp clean cut, just beyond a lateral bud or other branch.
How to Make a Pruning Cut
How to Make a Pruning Cut 2

The Value of Mulch

A tree's best friend, mulch insulates soil, retains moisture, keeps out weeds, prevents soil compaction, reduces lawnmower damage, and adds an aesthetic touch to a yard or street. Remove any grass within the mulch area, and area from 3 to 10 feet in diameter, depending on the tree size. Pour wood chips or bark pieces 2 to 4 inches within the circle, but not touching the trunk.

The Value of Mulch

Where Roots Really Grow

We don't always appreciate how far roots can extend. Understanding how and where roots grow will help you avoid damage from trenching and construction.

  • Because roots need oxygen, they don't normally grow in the compacted oxygen-poor soil under paved streets.
  • The framework of major roots usually lies less than 8 to 12 inches below the surface.
  • Roots often grow outward to a diameter 1 to 2 times the height of the trees.
Where Roots Really Grow

Girdling Kills Trees

Girdling is any activity that injures the bark of a tree trunk and extends around much of the trunk's circumference. Such injuries, often caused by lawnmowers and weed trimmers, destroy the tree's most vital membranes, the layers that conduct water and minerals from the roots to the leaves and return the food produced by the leaves to the rest of the tree.

Girdling Kills Trees