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Assessing tree damage

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Assessing tree damage

A lot of area residents have been cleaning up the aftereffects of recent straight winds. Fallen branches, split and dangling limbs, and uprooted trees are evidence of the unpredictability of the effects of such force. How could someone predict one tree would withstand such force and another shred under the same conditions?

While muddling through questions, and the debris, a homeowner has the opportunity to take a comprehensive view of the value of having trees. Choices in planning to replenish an area should not dismiss the important functions trees provide; as well as, identifying the signs of hazardous defects, and utilizing the most appropriate corrective actions.

Trees have value in our lives. It is often too late before we become familiar with risks associated with tree hazards and high winds. It is important to know what to look for while you are assessing the damage. There are factors as to why “that tree” and in “that place” has the potential for more, or less, damage. It is important to inspect trees carefully for potential hazardous defects. The assessment of where to begin to regenerate a setting of a home within a community is, without a doubt, a challenge.

Trees are more susceptible to damage when combined with many different factors. These factors include tree condition, the species, its age and size. Trees in poorer conditions often have dead wood, small, off colored leaves, and a less than full crown. Hazardous tree defects are visible signs the tree is failing. There are 7 types of defects to look for: dead wood, weak branch unions, decay, cankers, root problems, cracks, and poor tree structure.

Keep in mind certain tree species are prone to specific types of defects. Pay attention to older and larger trees. Like people, certain trees can age better than others. Trees are subjected to constant stresses; some accumulate multiple defects and decay over many years. A tree with a defect is hazardous when it is likely to fail within distance of striking a “target“. A target can be car, home, or a gathering place that can place people in harm.

If you see dead wood you must remove it immediately. The wood of dead branches is dry and brittle. These branches are unpredictable and can break and fall any time. A tree that has a large dangling branch, or is lodged in a tree, is called a “widow-maker” or a “hanger.” Its name matches the effect as being a branch of significant size causing serious injury. There is no choice, it has to be removed. Call a professional.

A deep split extending into the wood of a tree is called a crack. If a crack exists then the tree is already failing. It extends deeply through the stem and can be in contact with another defect. Multiple cracks can occur in the same area of the stem and of sufficient size can cause serious injury.

Weak branch unions occur where branches are not firmly attached to the tree. When 2 or more similar-sized branches grow too closely together a union of weak, ingrown bark grows between them. This bark cannot support the structure and may also act as a wedge and force the branches to split. Elm and Maple trees are susceptible to weak branch unions as they tend to grow upright branches.

Weak branch unions occur when the tree has been poorly pruned; known as being “topped“. “Topping” a tree causes harm to the tree. It is often used to reduce the size of a tree that is perceived as too tall for a property. This is often undertaken by a homeowner indiscriminatingly cutting tree branches to stubs. If you feel your tree is too tall for you property, or feel it is a hazard, do not cut it yourself. Call a professional.

There are visible signs to suggest if your tree may have been topped. Right below the topping cut a bunch of new shoots may have profusely developed. These new shoots grow rapidly at a rate, as much as, 20 feet per year in some species. New shoots are also prone to breaking in wind storms. Topping a tree often removes 50 to 100 percent of the leaf-bearing crown of the tree. Since leaves are the food factories for trees, this puts the tree in a starvation mode and becomes more stressed. An open wounded, stressed tree will not have the chemical defenses to protect it and is vulnerable to insect and disease infestations.

Topping causes multiple wounds and the tree is not able to isolate the decayed wood; this in turn leads the decay to spread throughout the branches. While the idea of topping a tree may seem convenient the consequences will be more expensive, dangerous, and extremely unattractive. A topped tree needs pruning and repair more often which leads to more cost for the owner and more likely to be a hazard. If a topped tree causes damage to someone else’s property there is a serious liability issue. Topping is a poor pruning practice. Do not consider making any cuts like these in haste while cleaning-up from storm damage.

Decay in a tree demonstrates the tree is prone to fail and not necessarily pose an immediate hazard. Although, if a tree has wood that is soft, spongy, crumbly, or has a cavity of missing wood then it is evidence of advanced decay in is a hazard. A tree with mushrooms, conks, and brackets growing on root flares, stems or branches are indicators of fungal activity and advanced decay. Decay occurs from the inside out and forms a cavity. This is hard to see as trees with sound looking outer wood shells appear relatively safe. The safety of a decaying tree can only be safely assessed by a trained arborist.

Cankers are isolated areas where the bark is sunken or missing on the stem or branch of the tree caused by wounding or disease. Immediate action needs to be taken if cankers affect more than half the circumference of the tree. If a canker is attached to a crack, a weak branch union, or other defect call a professional.

If a tree has been blown over, roots and all, during a windstorm had root problems prior to the winds. Trees with root problems may potentially fall without warning. In the Summer when weighted with the tree’s leaves can be susceptible to falling even well after surviving a prior windstorm. There are many causes of root problems. Severing of roots , pavement over the roots, raising or lowering of the soil grade, advanced decay, vehicles driving or parking over tree roots are causes of root problems. If tree roots have been crushed or cut under the tree’s crown take note of how much of the area was harmed. If more than half were damaged the tree has become dangerous.

The structural support comes from the root system and base of the tree. If the adequate support is compromised it the trees will fall. Symptoms associated with root problems are off-color and abnormally small size leaves, dead wood in the crown, soil is mounded at the base of the tree “soil mounding“, and twig die-back are aboveground signs. If a tree is leaning with exposed roots, or soil has moved or is mounding at the base then call a professional immediately.

The architecture of a tree represents how the tree has grown. As a tree hazard, poor architecture is an indication of weakness and structural imbalance. Different and unique shapes of trees can be interesting but is often architecturally poor and defective structurally after many years of storm damage, bad pruning, topping, unusual growing conditions, and other damage. Leaning trees should be examined by an arborist to determine if it is a hazard; especially if it leans excessively. An arborist should also be contacted when branches are out of proportion with the rest of the crown.

If your tree has multiple defects it is critical to take the appropriate corrective actions. This begins with a thorough evaluation to determine if it is a potential hazard. The most recommended options are to move any targets in danger of tree damaging property, pruning, or ultimately remove the tree. Moving the target from danger is the easiest and least expensive action. Items like swing sets, benches, RVs, etc. should be moved. If the target cannot be moved then the area should be blocked until the hazard has been eliminated.

If a defective branch is a hazard, while the rest of the tree is sound, then the corrective action would be solved by pruning. Pruning early in a tree’s life is the most effective preventative way preventing potential hazards if done correctly and routinely. If you are a homeowner contemplating if certain trees pose a hazard consult an arborist or tree service to be evaluated by a professional. Evaluating and treating tree hazards is a complicated process which requires specific knowledge and expertise.

We cannot dismiss the fact that trees have great sentimental value. Trees leave imprints. A full, beautiful tree can be a hallmark to a special time and historical place. A tree can embody its strong posture and purport a heritage of many things that represent heart-and-home. If you decide to replenish an area after a tree has been removed create a plan by selecting the right place, at the right time of the year, and planting it the correct way is a great start. Remember to select the species of tree for the purpose and site in the landscape. Trees have all sorts of different characteristics that will affect their function.

Annette Brubaker is a Chippewa Valley Master Gardener and manages an area garden center. She lives in Eau Claire with her husband and three boys.


Written by vaphc

August 14, 2012 at 2:14 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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