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Local Limelight: Weeklyish Articles Of Interest

Winter Tree Management
By: Craig Smith of Arborsmith Tree Care

Worried about the giant tree in your yard becoming the giant tree in your living room this winter? This is a common fear in our area of big trees and winter storms.  But is it a realistic fear? We’ve all seen the pictures on the evening news, but why do trees fail and what is the likelihood of your tree failing?

Tree risk assessment is the science of  analyzing structural flaws in trees and comparing them to other factors such as soil conditions, tree species, and wind/ice/snow loads.  One of the first questions is determining what is and what isn’t a structural flaw.  Then, how much of a trees’ structural integrity has actually been compromised by this flaw?  This part can be tricky because there are some flaws that look worse than they really are, AND, there are some signs that are hard to distinguish without a real education in the field of tree risk assessment. 

Let’s take a walk through your yard and look closely at your trees.  We’ll back up a bit and look at the whole tree first, and then we’ll look at individual parts of trees.  Are you back far enough to see the top? This can be difficult in some areas but we need to make sure the tree is generally healthy and that the very top is growing, with no dead ends.  You may also be able to compare foliage density with other trees in the area.  Dead tops and sparse foliage may be signs of root problems that could pre-dispose the tree to toppling/windthrow. 
Parts of trees that break off during winter weather cause damage too.  Most folks are worried about their entire tree falling but the truth is that structural flaws above ground level account for just as much damage.  From this vantage point we may also be able to see large dead branches.  Dead branches do not necessarily mean a tree is unhealthy, but they may be hazardous as they will break more easily than live branches come storm time.  It’s easy to tell if a branch is dead on an evergreen tree because it will be void of foliage.  On deciduous trees this will be harder to distinguish after the leaves have fallen, but you may notice less  “brushiness” on the ends of branches that have been dead for  a longer period of time.  Branches with no bark on them are also dead.  
Another common structural flaw occurs when two pieces of wood, such as two trunks or a branch and a trunk, come together at an acute angle.  At these ”sharp unions”, The wood grain does not bond together well and will be prone to splitting apart.  Sometimes these structural flaws may be cabled together effectively to minimize risk of failure.  Smaller branches with sharp unions may simply be removed.
Now let’s move closer and examine the base of the tree and check for holes or cavities in the lower trunk.   These may be structural flaws or they may indicate structural flaws.  A professional will be able to assess properly where the trunk goes into the ground.   What we want to see is a good  “flare” where the trunk starts to become a root structure.  For example, the tree may be 20’ across at chest height but then flares out to 34” or more where it enters the ground.  This is indicates good solid root structure.  If the tree has a flat side or no there could be trouble—or you may have your mulch too high, which is also bad for the tree. 

Remember, somebody should do final analysis of any suspected structural flaw with a formal education in tree risk assessment.
This article was written in an attempt to help the general public get to know their trees better.   There is no way to accurately assess a trees condition by reading this article.  It may, however, clue you in to a situation that calls for a more in depth evaluation by a professional.   Trees are a huge benefit to everyone on many different levels.  Proper management of trees, like everything else, will lead to a more harmonious outcome for both flora and fauna alike.
For more information, please contact Craig Smith and Arborsmith Tree Care at (971) 221-3070 or


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