How Healthy Are Your Trees?

How to spot danger signs and potential problems.

Tree cavity

Tree cavity

Photo by: Image courtesy of Jeff Stafford

Image courtesy of Jeff Stafford

An open cavity in the tree could be an indication of a weak spot in the structure.

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Now that spring is almost over and most trees have their new leaves, it is an ideal time to check the health of everything growing in your yard. After looking over a checklist from the arborists at the professional tree company Davey on potential problems that can affect your trees, I have highlighted some of the most common danger signs that are visible to the eye.

Identify any dead limbs or branches on your trees and remove them. You never know when a sudden thunderstorm with high winds could occur and turn dead wood into dangerous flying debris.  

Dead Wood

Dead Wood

Dead wood needs to be removed as it can cause damage to the living tree or create problems for nearby trees.

Do you notice any signs of decay in your trees? For example, an open cavity in a tree’s trunk could indicate a weak spot in the structure. The presence of fungus on a tree’s surface could indicate a developing problem with a variety of wood rot fungi: white rots, brown rots and soft rots. All of these break down the cellulose and hemicellulose in wood and are a typical problem with old, aging trees.

Cracks or deep splits in the tree bark could mean your tree is experiencing internal or external damage. While fissures in the bark may be normal for some trees like Douglas fir, visible cracks in the wood, especially the trunk, should be analyzed by a professional arborist to see if the tree can be preserved or if it needs to be removed.

Another problem to look for are localized dead areas on your trees known as cankers. These can appear anywhere—on the trunk of the tree or branches or even twigs—and are most common on injured or stressed trees. 

Cankers can be caused by numerous factors such as environmental damage (frost, sunburn), physical damage (lawn mower), insects, bacteria or chemical injury. 

Heavy canopies in your trees need to be evaluated. Thick foliage and excessively dense limbs stand the risk of breakage during high winds and storms. Annual pruning and maintenance of these top heavy tree areas can minimize potential damage to your home and property.

Trees with unusual architecture or unnatural growing patterns such as leaning to one side could be another trouble sign. The problems are usually related to root growth or soil and drainage conditions but can often be corrected through pruning, soil reconfiguration or staking and guying the tree for support.

Weak branch union

Weak branch union

Photo by: Image courtesy of the Davey Tree Expert Company

Image courtesy of the Davey Tree Expert Company

Weak branch unions can result in limb breakage and pose a threat to homeowners as well.

Be on the lookout for weak branch unions in your trees. This occurs when two or more branches grow together so closely that bark forms between the branches and creates a union that does not have the structural strength of wood. These weak attachments, which usually form in a V shape, are susceptible to splitting and can damage your tree.

Some trees are weakened or damaged by problems affecting the roots. This could be caused by a number of reasons from poor drainage to an excess of exposed surface roots that restrict the distribution of nutrients. Trees planted too close to pavement, building foundations or underground pipes can also cause problems for the root systems.

Not all of the problems that affect trees are visible but the above list is a fairly common check list of danger signs that demand your attention. The easiest way to handle any potential tree crisis is to contact a professional arborist and have them assess the situation.

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