Coping With a Fallen Tree

Paul James assesses the damage from a fallen oak.

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A straight wind took down this massive oak, a major architectural element of master gardener Paul James' landscape.

While taping a segment unrelated to trees, host Paul James and his Gardening by the Yard crew were startled by an eerie crackling sound. "We turned to witness a truly amazing site," he said. "My beautiful giant oak tree fell over in the exact spot where my crew and I had been shooting the day before."

No one was hurt, but there was plenty of damage — holes in the roof of the house, gutters ripped away, a smashed car, landscape beds (and plants) in rubble. Plus, the tree had been James' favorite and was a significant part of the landscape, defining the entrance to the house. Where to start? With an arborist, the only answer that makes sense when the tree is so large.

Besides damage to the house and a car, the oak tree took out landscape beds.
Plywood helps prevent damage to the driveway from the heavy crane.
After the crew has removed the tree and debris, what's left is some sawdust. James liberally sprinkles bloodmeal to offset the nitrogen depletion that will occur as the sawdust breaks down. Then he reseeds with a fescue.

"I may be the 'Gardener Guy' but there are limits to what I'm willing and able to do," James says. "And do yourself a favor too. For a big job like this, make sure you hire a professional tree service, especially one that's licensed, bonded and insured. Unless you understand what's involved in removing a tree this large, the situation can go from bad to worse in a hurry. Remove the wrong branch from the wrong place, and the weight of the tree could shift, causing even more damage to the house — or to people."

Besides the arborist, however, one of the first calls James made was to his insurance agent to find out what his policy covered. "The oak smacked my house pretty good on its way down, and it uplifted sidewalks and part of my driveway, which means it damaged permanant structures. As a result, I'll be able to recoup a good portion of my losses. But if there had been no damage to the home, chances are that my coverage would be limited to debris removal only."

The arborist brought a 50-ton crane with an 80-foot boom, plus a chipper to chop up debris. The crew "limbed up" the fallen tree, first carefully removing smaller branches one at a time to help distribute the weight safely and evenly around the tree. Each cut branch was lifted carefully away with the goal of preventing further damage to the house.

The crew finished by the end of the same day, leaving only a bit of sawdust and for James, "the lasting memory of that once mighty oak."

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