In my daily travels, I see numerous tree hazards. Some of these problems are rather obvious, some are not. Certain hazards, such as a dead tree, are easy to spot even for an untrained eye. It's all of the “not-so-obvious” defects and hazards that we are going to talk about today.
The problems you need to be looking for are the ones that cause a tree to be one of the three D's. Dead, Dying, or Dangerous. Bear in mind, every dead tree is a dangerous tree, but not every dangerous tree is dead. Many live trees have defects that can make them more dangerous in the short term than a dead tree. To eliminate a hazard, you must first recognize the hazards.
The first place to look for potential problems is around the base of the tree. Mushrooms, fungal growths, root flare wounds or cavities may indicate an often over-looked problem called Crown Root Rot. The root system just under the ground begins to rot away and eventually leads to tree failure. Root system problems are very difficult to diagnose and usually require a professional evaluation.
Next, we focus our attention on the trunk of the tree. Trunk problems can include surface wounds, cavities, loose bark (on some species), splits or cracks from wind or lightning strikes, or trunk bleeding. All of these are potential entry points for disease, decay or insects. If caught early, these defects are treatable and can avoid the eventual premature loss of the tree. Lawn mowers and weed eaters in residential settings cause many trunk wounds. Be careful!
From the trunk, we move up to the main fork areas of the tree. We would look for tightly formed “V” crotches. These “V” crotches have a much higher failure rate. Any splits in the main forks or lateral cracks along the main leaders are big problems requiring immediate attention. Another common problem in this area of the tree is large, dead limbs. I talked about these in my “Proper Pruning” column a few months ago. Dead limbs big enough to hurt someone or damage property should be removed as soon as possible.
Lastly, we survey the remaining crown of the tree to look for broken or hanging limbs, crossed limbs, or dead sections near the top of the tree. Early leaf loss in the crown is commonly a sign of a health problem. As always, the earlier the problem is addressed, the better the chances for survival.
Eliminating tree hazards may mean treating individual problems in a tree. It also may mean removing the tree if the problems are beyond repair. We want to avoid removal of a tree if possible, but sometimes removal is the only safe option.
We can only scratch the surface in a column when it comes to Hazard Tree Evaluation. If you have any doubts about a tree seek the help of a qualified professional.
Russell Hodge is a Certified Arborist and can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.