Trees provide significant benefits to our homes and communities, but they may also become liabilities when they fall or break apart, causing property damage, personal injuries, and power outages. Although some tree failures are unpredictable and cannot be prevented, many failures can be prevented from occurring. In fact, it is an owner’s responsibility to ensure that the tree on his or her property poses no risk to people or property.
Simply by inspecting your trees for common structural defects once or twice a year will help you find and correct potential failures before they cause damage or injury.
I created this “7 Point Check-up List” to teach tree owners in “cook book” fashion how to examine their trees for defects that are likely to lead to failure and possibly cause injury or damage.
First step: Stand far enough away from your tree so you can look up into its canopy.
1. Dead, hanging, or broken branches. Branches larger than 2 inches may cause damage if they fall and should be removed immediately.
2. Leaning tree. See if your tree leans to one side or appears off-kilter. If you see exposed roots or a mound of soil near its base, this tree may be an
imminent hazard that requires immediate action.
Second step: Walk up to the tree and closely examine the branches and trunk for defects.
3. Multiple trunks. Look for cracks
or splits in codominant stems. Wishbone-like trunks of equal diameter may separate during wind- and ice storms. Also, closely examine trees with several branches that arise from the same point on the trunk; these branches may be weakly attached and tend to separate away from the trunk.
4. Weak branch unions. Inspect large branches greater than 3 inches in diameter at a point where they attach to the trunk. A crack or split at the union indicates a high probability of failure and warrants action. It’s best for you to remove the branch rather than a storm.
5. Trunk and branch cracks. If you find cracks in the trunk or branches, measure its depth with a pencil or similar object. If the crack extends beyond the bark and into the wood, contact an arborist to have it inspected.
6. Decayed wood. Inspect the trunk and large branches for cavities, cankers, mushrooms and con
ks. Look for mushrooms and conks along the trunk and on exposed roots. These signs and symptoms are evidence of decay. A trained arborist should be contacted to conduct a risk assessment to evaluate the tree’s condition and its potential as a hazardous tree.
Third step: Finally, look down and inspect the base of the tree.
7. Root problems. Examine the base of the trunk for damage from rodents, string trimmers, etc. Look for a soil mound, soil cracking near the root collar, or broken roots sticking out of the soil. Remove any soil or mulch away from the root collar and see if there is a flat side to the trunk. If you find any encircling, constricting roots, consult a certified arborist (see http://www.isa-arbor.com) to address this problem.
This seven-point checklist may take less than 30 minutes to complete. When conducted twice a year, this hour-long investment of time benefits our trees and everyone who dwells with them.