Storm season is here and many of my appointments are likely to be tree risk assessments, recommended preventative pruning, and inquiries for complete tree removals to mitigate storm effects and to help folks sleep better. But, I don’t feel like I’m called to nearly as many “after the storm” evaluations as I should be. I think the calm after the storm is such a relief to us that we forget to look up and identify what the calm may be hiding.
A handful of my appointments will be to help identify why tree or branch failures occur on otherwise peaceful days. Obviously, there’s no mystery to why we find debris in the yard immediately after a storm, but sometimes failures occur without any real explanation, or at least not with any certainty.
“I don’t understand. We’ve had great weather for the past week,” a customer will say, “then all of a sudden I find this large healthy branch in the yard. Is the tree sick?”
So, this is what I’ve figured out through the years: A storm hits, but it doesn’t seem to create any immediate threat. In your yard, you see a nice big green canopy. The tree(s) look great, maybe even inviting you to sit underneath in the shade. But, it’s possible that somewhere in that canopy a stress crack formed and though it’s small, It gets larger every time there’s even a slight breeze. You may even hear an unfamiliar squeak up there. (If you hear popping, please get out of there) It might take a few days; it might take a few weeks. Finally, on a peaceful sunny day when the birds are singing and the sky is blue… Crash!
So here is my suggestion after the storm:
— Look up! It’s easy and seems obvious, but the tendency is to examine the debris lying in the yard and the work involved in removing it while perhaps not paying enough attention to the immense and intricate branch structure above. This goes for outside the yard as well. Parks, streets, and sidewalks. Anywhere there are trees overhead. Look up and be aware of what’s above you.
— Listen. Sometimes a limb that is compromised is hung up or resting on another limb. This can cause creaking noises from the friction. (Look up again).
— Examine the tree’s canopy. Get several viewpoints of the canopy from different spots in the yard. What looks fine in one corner of the yard could be hiding something that may be seen from the opposite corner. Binoculars are an awesome tool for this. Look for branch patterns that seem out of place. If your tree has most of its limbs growing upright or maybe horizontally and you notice one that breaks this pattern, it could be compromised.
–Always have a slightly heightened sense of alert immediately after a big storm passes.
–Lastly, call an arborist. If you spot something and are unsure if it poses a threat, don’t take a chance. Most arborists are happy to provide a walk-around assessment free of charge. I would rather point out something hazardous even if we don’t end up doing the work.
An experienced Arborists has an eye for what should be done and will give you options on how to best proceed. Their goal is to maintain the health of your trees and to keep them as aesthetically pleasing as possible. But the first goal should always be to understand what should be done to keep trees safe for you and your family to enjoy.
“Dead” is usually not a term we think of with a silver lining, and I wouldn’t normally phrase the question quite that way. Rather: Would you like the debris hauled away?
Seems like it should have an obvious answer, but the benefit of decaying trees and woody debris within a natural landscape is becoming more appreciated even within the outdoor perimeters of our own properties.
As folks see the value and importance of a healthy ecosystem, I find myself talking about it with our neighbors more and more. Healthy earth and the different species that grow in and from its soil is full of dead tree and plant material that is continually breaking down and feeding new plant life as well as many other organisms. Some of the liveliest of earth’s environments exist because of decaying, dead trees.
This understanding is not the most culturally accepted yet since we tend to associate the term “dead” with everything that is expired, old, or depleted and finished — in other words, everything that is unfortunate.
But in the natural world, death in so many ways is a beginning, an opportunity for new life to thrive. Understandably, most of us don’t live in a forest where nobody thinks twice about having large dead trees standing tall. And we certainly don’t want a tree that’s showing signs of decay looming ominously near our homes.
But if there is a part of the yard, further from the house that doesn’t perhaps get the periodic manicure. It can be a healthy decision to leave dead trees and debris alone to break down and give back to the soil from which they grew. Wildlife, too, will appreciate the abundant real estate available and, in turn, leave the living not-yet-finished real estate alone. I’m personally a big fan of this school of thought for all of those reasons. Lastly and to many, most importantly, it can simply mean less work which will translate to less decay in our wallets.
We love our trees and we love our home. How do we mingle the two amicably in a way that will last the duration of time (or at least our time)?
Richmond’s urban forest offers an abundance of positive qualities both environmentally and aesthetically. In some places, the canopy is thick enough that, if lucky, we can find our own cozy living dens beneath in its shade.
As an arborist, we often get asked for advice on whether or not to remove growth from trees that overhang a client’s home. The conversation typically goes as follows: “We love our trees but we want our home protected, so we would like everything growing over the house to be removed.” Homeowners embrace the idea that if anything breaks in the tree, it will fall somewhere other than on the house. Seems to make sense on the surface as it did to me early in my career. However, over the years we’ve found that what seemed like a logical solution, removing all growth over the roof, has the potential to do more harm than good.
We’ve done many broken limb “rescue” climbs to remove branches over a roof that have fallen from somewhere high in the canopy of a tree. Usually the limb is either entangled in the lower limbs over the house or laying brushy side down on the roof and still attached to the tree.
Because of this, we’ve noticed that this lower growth was helping to catch or slow the impact from the higher canopy limbs and usually with little to no damage to the roof. Just as often, I’ve extracted limbs out of rooftops and even home interiors that resulted from a straight free fall out of the top of a tree and I’ve heard many times “We’ve always maintained our trees…” meaning growth over the roof was always removed.
I’ve also seen the health effects of “side-walling” trees near and over the house and the harm that over-pruning can do. Removing all growth from over a house often means removing up to 50 percent of the tree’s food source as well as opening it up to pest infestations that attack it in it’s weakened state.
Clearance between the roof and the limbs is important however to allow airflow and light and prevent the build-up of moss and mildew. So some pruning is definitely needed.
In a nutshell, trees with simple and correct maintenance, but not overmaintenance, can offer protection and provide our homes with beauty, character and, with a good amount of love, survive the duration of time.
“…Give me a home among the gumtrees
With lots of plumtrees
A sheep or two, a k-kangaroo
A clothesline out the back
Verandah out the front
And on old rocking chair…”