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EDITOR'S LETTER: Dos and Don'ts of Power Pole Gardening

Photo credit: Karen England.
See that power pole over Karen England's shoulder?

By Karen England.

Do you have a power pole in your garden? I do. And, for the last 19 years I have successfully gardened around mine. I say successfully because power poles are the property (and the responsibility) of the utility company, which is San Diego Gas and Electric in our case, and if you have a power pole on your property, the pole and the space around it, the land below it, and access to it, belongs to them, not you, by way of deed specific easements. Other service providers, cable and telephone companies, rent space on SDG&E's power poles for their communications lines that are well below the high voltage lines atop the poles, but the sole responsibility for the pole maintenance and safety is SDG&E's and the phone companies must defer to them. So, if you have a power pole on your property you can garden around yours as well, and, as long as you adhere to the rules, there will be no need for SDG&E to trim your trees or remove your landscaping.

"The pruning of trees and removal of brush around power lines and poles is considered essential work and requires our (SDGE) teams to be out performing work, even during the COVID-19 pandemic. All electric utilities in California are required by law to maintain clearances for electric equipment. Inspecting, trimming and clearing brush near power lines is necessary to prevent unsafe conditions and maintain reliable service." - San Diego Gas and Electric

Of course, in my case, my success was helped entirely because of the fact that my late husband was a power lineman and a SDG&E Troubleshooter for 14 years. Troubleshooters are on call day and night, they are the utility industry emergency first responders, such as, anytime that a power pole is damaged in a vehicle accident, the fire department must wait for the utility troubleshooter to arrive and de-energize the damaged pole before they can safely attend to the injured.

Photo credit: Jana Cook.
That's Karen and her Troubleman husband, David, on vacation in Hawaii in 2013 checking out a power substation. Doesn't everyone visit substations on vacation?

Danger High Voltage -

Photo credit: Karen England.
Warning: High Voltage! Don't do this without proper training! That's Karen England's husband, David, working the high-voltage power transmission lines at San Onofre over 20 years ago.

My husband, the Troubleman, trained me in the do's and don'ts of gardening around power poles but that was 19 years ago! Making me think that I'd better check with SDG&E to see if, at the very least, anything has changed in that time, before I launched into garden maintenance around my pole this month, so that I do the work correctly. (I've even blogged about the power pole in my yard! To learn more of the personal side to my power pole garden story, please visit my sometime! )

(The above photos are "before" doing yard work around the power pole in my garden.)

I must say, my recent meeting with the SDG&E System Forester, Michael Daleo, ISA Certified Arborist/Utility Specialist at "my" pole to discuss the yard work I intended doing around the pole in my garden was a boost to my ego. It turns out that, all these years later, I remember correctly what my husband taught me and the job that we did together landscaping around the pole got high praise from the expert. Mr. Daleo looked my pole up in the system grid, using the pole's exact coordinates and pole identification number and read me the reports/notes associated with my pole over the last few years and it has always passed muster from the get-go. I won't lie, I expected to have gotten all or most of it wrong. My aging memory is just that - aging, part of the reason why I called SDG&E in the first place, and for me to find out that I remembered things so clearly, and then to be told that I'm doing a good job with what I remembered made me feel great.

(The above photos are "after" doing yard work around the power pole in my garden.)

SDG&E has a lot of "Tree Safety" information on their website for homeowners and gardeners. Here are some of the key points:

Plant the right tree in the right place -

Before you plant a tree, know where it will grow. You can help prevent power outages and fires by choosing a tree that won’t touch electric lines as it matures. 

for even more info log into Cal Poly's SelecTree guide

To protect yourself, never prune trees near electric lines -

It’s dangerous to prune trees near power lines, so you should never try it. 


· It is required by law that any tree pruning within 10 feet of power lines be performed by a line-clearance qualified arborist.

· If you touch an electric line or an object such as a tool, ladder or tree branch that’s touching an electric line, it can cause a severe shock or death.

Request an inspection -

If you’re concerned about vegetation growing close to a power line or transformer, call SDGE Customer Contact Center at 1-800-411-7343 to request an inspection. If a tree poses a hazard, SDG&E will prune it on a priority basis, within 24 hours or a few weeks, depending on how severe the hazard is.

Call 811 Before You Dig -

Find out what's below before you dig. Gas pipelines and electric lines can be located anywhere — under streets, sidewalks or even your yard. If you’re looking to start a project like planting some trees or putting in that new mailbox or fence, it’s important to know if there are any such lines that run underground in the area you are planning to dig. Doing so will help prevent damage, service interruption or worse.

Vegetation management scheduled for your area -

Use SDG&E's interactive map on their website to see when vegetation management crews are scheduled to work in your area.

· Click anywhere on the map and the schedule for that Vegetation Management Area (VMA) will pop up. You’ll see the three-digit number that identifies the VMA for that community, the tree pruning schedule and, in some areas, the pole brush schedule (for brush removal around power poles and transmission towers).

· You can also enter your address in the search box to pin your location, then click anywhere within your VMA boundary and the schedule will pop up.

· To change the look of the VMA map, click the icon below the zoom-in/out (+/-) buttons and choose one of 12 base maps.

Tree Safety Services -

SDG&E takes care of trees and brush near power lines to help keep communities safe and the lights on. They work year-round with qualified personnel to manage approximately 460,000 trees. 

Services performed by certified arborists and vegetation management crews include:

· Inspection of trees and vegetation.

· Tree and vegetation pruning and removal.

· Clearing brush around power poles and transmission towers.

· Quality assurance audits of work performance and compliance.


Writer, blogger and social media influencer, Karen England, is President of the San Diego Horticultural Society and Editor-in-chief of the SDHS Newsletter, Let's Talk Plants! Her home, called Edgehill Herb Farm, is located on a two acre sloping garden in Vista, California and includes one power pole. She's on Instagram as @edgehillherbfarm


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