The storm season is upon us and we got our first touch of it this last week in Richmond. I live on the Southside, close to the water, and we got hit with some pretty intense wind, rain, and even some hail. The big red oak in my backyard held strong, but it got rocked around a lot and dropped every little piece of dead limbs in the canopy. I’ve thoroughly inspected the tree and have been all through the canopy for an aerial inspection this last year so I felt ready, but what could I have done as the average homeowner?
The time has passed for getting ready, as most tree companies are in the midst of the busy season and are scheduled out. It is also not a time to panic and cut down all your trees, so the best thing everyone can do at this point is to pay attention to some of the signs, call your local arborist for their professional opinion, and make a plan for next year. The signs are usually obvious and it’s important to listen to your gut but some issues can only be identified by the trained eye.
Included bark is one of the biggest and most commonly missed factors in storm breakage and tree failures. You’ll notice it very clearly once the tree has separated or split at a union, as you can then see that the bark on the two sections runs much further down into where the tree seemed to be connected. You’ll notice this beforehand on trees that have double-stem trunks that meet close to the stump or on every single Bradford Pear tree, where a visible line runs down from the union and sometimes manifests in a bulge that sticks out on the sides. You can consider adding a cable or brace rod, but maybe just some trimming or thinning in the canopy could help keep the union together.
Trees with basal defects are another big red flag. Most of the time decay on trees is fairly obvious with hollow spots, loose bark, or missing pieces of the tree, but other signs are a bit more subtle. You might see the fruiting bodies of fungus around the trunk and on the root flare and should look for anything from large obvious conk mushrooms to the black, burned-looking fungus near ground level ( Brittle Cinder Fungus that is very dangerous). These are all indications of a defect in the structural integrity of the tree and could result in whole tree failure.
Some of the more obvious things to look for and get advice on are leaning trees, trees with cracks, and dead trees. Leaning trees happen for a number of reasons, but most likely because the trees were phototropic and grew towards the light ever since they first sprouted. On the other hand, if the ground is heaving or you notice the limbs pushing against other trees, you should have the tree inspected very soon. Cracks are usually a bad sign, especially if the color of the exposed interior of the tree is lighter color, indicating it was a recent split. Lastly, dead trees are less likely to fall over whole, as wind moves through their canopies more easily without the leaves, but don’t discount the fact they will rain dead limbs onto everything underneath.
The less obvious factors to pay attention to are trees close to a recent land clearing, trees sitting in poor drainage areas, and trees with issues in the canopy. Tree roots that sit in water are prone to rotting and cannot grip the ground in the same way they can in firm/dry soil. The trees recently exposed to the wind, say because of land clearing in the immediate area, are not storm-ready themselves having grown up in the protected environments of a forest and not developed the proper tissue to weather the storm. If the tree has an issue in the canopy that is obvious, it’s worth the peace of mind to pay for an aerial inspection from a trained climbing arborist to give it a close look. An arborist can sometimes catch these issues during a winter inspection when the leaves are gone and you can see the skeleton of the tree.
Most issues with trees are brought to my attention by homeowners who are very inquisitive and keep a close eye on their trees. Please remember to look up at the tree tops, look down and around the trunk to the root flare, and know that your tree looks healthy and ready to stand against the coming weather.