Trees add a beautiful, dynamic dimension to any outdoor space. Several things however, can affect the health and viability of your trees, and an unhealthy tree can be a hazard. It’s essential to take the time to check on your trees for safety and health. Here’s an easy guide to tree care basics. Please be aware of these symptoms before surveying your trees, and use care in approaching or standing under a problem tree.
Is your tree leaning?
Trees can grow to be quite large, and their mass must be well supported. A healthy and safe tree has a network of roots that not only gather water and nutrients but also anchors the base of the tree into the ground. A leaning tree can put stress on the anchoring abilities of its roots.
Leans can be caused by tree growth patterns, weather events, changes in soil conditions, and a variety of other factors. When checking on a leaning tree, it’s important to note the severity of the lean. The ground around the base of the tree should also be inspected. Are there cracks, swells, or disturbed areas in the ground? These could be evidence of the cause of the lean, or a problematic symptom caused by the lean.
Regardless of the cause, a leaning tree can be dangerous and is more likely to fall. Unfortunately, in many cases, depending on the severity of the lean, a leaning tree may need to be felled.
How does the foliage look?
Dead, thinning, or missing foliage (leaves or needles) is a clear indicator there’s a problem with a tree. It’s important to note the extent of the foliage issues. Is the entire tree experiencing this problem, or is it isolated to a branch or section?
In some cases, foliage problems are indicative of a disease or fungus problem. If caught early, diseases and fungi can undergo treatment and you may potentially save the tree. If allowed to persist, illness can render a tree unsavable, and, eventually, a safety issue, so don’t delay!
Sometimes foliage problems are caused by trauma. A rotten, dead, or dying part of a tree needs removal for a few reasons. First, these are safety hazards. As dead limbs age and decay in a tree, they are more likely to fall, causing property damage or personal injury. Second, dead or dying areas of trees are a detriment to the healthy part of the tree. A tree will continue to attempt to support dead areas with nutrients that could be utilized in good areas. Finally, these dead or dying areas on a tree can harbor pests and create avenues for threats to the overall health of the tree.
Is the trunk in good condition?
The trunk is the backbone of your tree. It is the conduit for water and nutrients to pass from the roots to the canopy. It is the structural foundation off of which grow the roots and branches, and of course, it supports the weight of the tree. Trees need healthy trunks to remain viable and safe.
Check your trunks for structural problems like voids or deep cavities. These can create problems for a tree to support the significant weight of the tree or may be indicative of other issues. Press on the trunk to see if it feels firm to the touch and not rotten. Finally, utilize a mallet to knock on the trunk and check to see if it sounds hollow. It’s not unusual for trees to experience problems causing them to have no visible structural issues outside, yet harbor significant problems inside.
Look for missing bark. While small patches of bark may be missing for a myriad of reasons, large areas of missing bark could indicate a significant health issue or trauma. A good rule of thumb is to seek help in the following instances. First, if the missing bark exceeds 25% of the tree surface. Second, if there are indications that bark is missing due to disease or pests. And, third, if the missing bark area presents additional damage such as a large gouge or rot.
Does your trunk have signs of fungi or pests? Look for mushrooms or lichens. Fine or coarse sawdust can be an indication of pest activity. Both pests and fungi will erode the health of a tree’s trunk, causing it to topple or die if left unchecked.
Are there cracks or splits?
With the significant weight associated with tree limbs, exposure to weather conditions, and other events, it’s not unusual for cracks or splits to occur in many areas on a tree. In particular, look where branches shoot off from the trunk, where branches have offshoots to other branches, the exposed roots, and the trunk.
Splits and cracks represent significant weak spots in a tree, as well as areas that may develop into more problematic conditions. In many cases, splits can be repaired, or portions of the tree removed to ensure the long-term viability of a tree. If these conditions are left to persist, they typically evolve into situations that can create a hazard for the tree’s health, property damage, or even personal injury.
Are there fallen branches and limbs around the base of the tree?
The occasional fall of a branch is normal. If a tree seems to be shedding branches regularly, or if you find larger limbs, this could indicate a problem.
Branches and limbs could fall due to a health condition causing them to weaken in the canopy and break off easier than if they were healthy. Your tree may also need pruning. Pruning a tree will enable better light and air penetration, resulting in healthier limbs, a more attractive tree, and less shedding of branches and limbs.
It’s important to note that if you have a tree that is chronically shedding limbs, it may not be safe to inspect the tree from the base. In these instances, utilizing binoculars to examine the canopy is a best practice to consider.
Know when to call help
Tree care can be a complex and dangerous project to undertake. In many cases, a property owner may see better results by consulting a professional. When choosing a professional to diagnose or work on your property, there are a few things to consider.
Nationally Certified Arborists have the training and expertise to care for your trees. In instances of disease, fungi, or any other challenges, this expertise cannot be substituted.
Tree pruning and felling are inherently dangerous. As a result, it is wise to ensure the professionals you welcome on your property are fully insured, trained, and have a safety program. A professional landscape or tree firm can, and will gladly provide information or documentation on these items upon request.
Finally, there’s a difference between tree-care professionals and general laborers. Tree care is a profession that requires technical education, training, and years of practice to master. As one would expect from an electrician, plumber, or any other skilled tradesperson, the differences in ability and results between a tree care professional, and general laborers are significant. While an unskilled tradesperson may claim they can perform tree work, that doesn’t mean they could or should. And without trade specific insurance, you may be liable for accidents or incidents on your property. Hire a professional for your own protection and peace of mind.