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Tree Problems

low hanging tree limbs

Resources for Common Tree-Related Problems

Right-of-Way Tree Maintenance
Neighbor's Trees
Trees and Sidewalks
Trees and Streets
Trees in Medians
Trees and Power Lines
Overgrown Vegetation Causing Traffic Obstruction
Common Tree Pests-
Tent Caterpillars and Aphids

Tree Permits
Reporting a Potentially Hazardous Tree
Reporting a Tree Emergency

Right-of-Way Tree Maintenance

The City of Tacoma requires abutting property owners to maintain adjoining rights-of-way. This includes streets and alleys extending from the owner's property lines out to the curbs or edges of pavement (includes sidewalks and planting strips) if improved, or if unimproved (unpaved), out to the centerlines. There are several places in the Tacoma Municipal Code where these obligations are stated: Chapters 9.17, 9.18, 8.30, 8.31, and 12.09.

The City of Tacoma requires maintaining clearance standards 8' above the sidewalk, and 14' above streets and alleys. For more information about pruning and removals of trees in the right-of-way, please visit our Pruning and Removal page.

For more information about what the right-of-way is and how to use our mapping website to find your right-of-way, please visit our What is Right-of-Way page.


Neighbor's Trees

Learn how to discuss tree issues directly with your neighbor. The Pierce County Center for Dispute Resolution can:

  • Provide advice and tips on how to best approach the neighbor
  • Sit down with you and your neighbor to help you discuss and resolve the issue

Tacoma-Pierce County Bar Association may be able to assist with legal questions such as what your rights are as a neighbor in regard to trees.

Please note that trees on private property or neighboring rights-of-way that do not pose a significant threat to public safety, health or welfare are a private matter to be handled by the involved property owners. The City cannot get involved in private disputes. Please direct your questions elsewhere, such as to those listed above, for these situations.


Image of tree and sidewalk issue

Trees and Sidewalks

It is also the adjacent property owner's responsibility to repair any sidewalk damage caused by street trees.

The City does not generally require property owners to remove trees solely based on damage to sidewalks, curbs or streets.

Remember that a free permit is required before any type of pruning or removal of trees in the  right-of-way (a.k.a. planting strip).

To report damaged sidewalks call the 24-hour sidewalk line at (253) 591-5104. 

Trees and Streets

Request street or curb repair by contacting Street Operations at (253) 591-5495.

Request debris removal from Tacoma roadways (not including those maintained by the Washington State Department of Transportation such as I-5 or I-705) by contacting Street Operations at (253) 591-5495.


Trees in Medians

Report a tree located in a street median that needs non-emergency pruning by calling 311.

Image of trees in median on UnionTrees and Power Lines

Never attempt to prune a tree that has grown into high voltage wires. The utility companies prune trees under high voltage power lines on a regular schedule. If a tree or tree branch is leaning on a high voltage wire, call your utility company immediately.

For concerns about trees in service lines from pole-to-pole or to have the power shut off to your property for safe pruning, please visit Tacoma Power's website, call at (253) 502-8729 (leave a message) or email.

Power lines from pole to house are the property owner's responsibility to maintain.

For downed power lines, please call and leave a message at Tacoma Power (253) 502-8602.

For Puget Sound Energy power lines, please visit their websiteemail or call (888) 225-5773.


Overgrown Vegetation Causing Traffic Obstruction

Overgrown trees and shrubs endanger us all when they block our view of traffic signs, pedestrians, or other vehicles. It is the adjacent property owner’s responsibility to keep trees and other plants in the right-of-way (the planting strip between the sidewalk and the curb) from blocking visibility within transportation corridors. It is also the adjacent property owner's responsibility to repair any sidewalk damage caused by street trees. Remember that a free pruning permit from Urban Forestry is required before any type of pruning on trees in the planting strip or right-of-way.

Image of tree obstruction

For blockage of sight distance at intersections or Stop and Yield signs, please call (253) 591-5500.


Common Tree Pests- Tent Caterpillars and Aphids

Western Tent Caterpillars
A common tree pest, native to the Western US can be alarming (and gross) in years of peak populations, especially when there are massive infestations defoliating a large area. This is completely normal, anticipated and there is nothing you need to (or really can) do about it. These outbreaks are cyclical; 2013 is an outbreak year and we may see activity for another year or so and then the predators, parasites and viruses build up usually leading to a population collapse until the next outbreak cycle. If you feel the need to do something, one option is to wait until nightfall when all the caterpillars have returned to the tent and cut off that branch, bag it up and dispose of it. Do NOT, under any circumstances, try to burn the tent off the tree as this often leads to dead trees, burned-down houses and injured people. The outbreak cycle is a huge nuisance, but it really is best to just wait for it to pass.
These insects tend to reach their peak population at the beginning and height of summer. Severe repeated infestations can negatively impact the health of your tree. What to do:
  • Make sure that your tree isn't stressed by drought (water your tree, even mature trees, in the dry months).
  • Avoid causing other stress such as through construction around the tree, compaction to the root system (from parking or repeatedly walking over the root system)-add a three to four inch layer of mulch around the tree to lessen compaction and retain moisture-be sure to keep the mulch away from the trunk of the tree.
  • As a last resort, consider using the least harmful insecticide that specifically targets these insects. Ask your local nursery retailer for tips. Remember that insecticides often negatively impact the beneficial insects as well as the nuisance.
More information about aphid management

Ask a WSU Extension Master Gardener for more information about plant pests and disease diagnosis services. 

Tree Permits

Permits are required to plant, prune or remove trees from the rights-of-way. Please visit our Planting and Pruning and Removal web pages for more information. For questions, please call the Permit Counter at (253) 591-5030. 

Image of tree hazard


Report a Tree Emergency

For tree emergencies on publicly owned land or right-of-way within the City of Tacoma, call Street Operations at (253) 591-5495.


What is a Tree Emergency?

A tree emergency occurs when any of the following events happen on publicly owned property or City right-of-way:

  • a tree has fallen over and is blocking a street, sidewalk or alley
  • a large branch has fallen from a tree and is blocking a street, sidewalk
  • a tree located in a park or City right-of-way is splitting
  • a large branch is hanging from a tree over a sidewalk, street, or the broken branch is on other public property (not right-of-way) and overhanging private property
  • any other immediate hazard situation on public property or City right-of-way

Who Do I Call if There is a Tree Emergency?

  • Call Street Operations at (253) 591-5495

You must provide contact information when you report an emergency; the City does not take anonymous calls.

What Can I Expect When I Report a Tree Emergency?

A dispatcher will send out personnel to respond to the emergency within 24 hours. Due to staff limitations, response time may depend on the severity of the emergency.

If the tree is located in the City right-of-way, typically the planting strip between the sidewalk and the curb, Urban Forestry staff may clear the street and sidewalk and leave the debris neatly stacked in the planting strip for the adjacent property owner to dispose of.