How to Recognize Potential Tree Problems

With the storm season approaching, here are eight potential warning signs that a tree may need attention.

While these examples may be indications that your trees need the care of an arborist it is important to keep in mind that all trees are natural shedding organisms.

It is normal and necessary for trees to be in a constant state of flux. This is the great and wonderous nature of these large organisms and their place in the natural ecosystem. What is important is how to identify the risks that your trees present and how best to manage these risks.

1. History
Past tree care, construction and landscape activities can affect the health of your trees. Construction, trenches, soil elevation changes, poor pruning and tree topping can all have adverse effects on your trees. If roots have been cut or disturbed, the tree may become unstable or if the tree has been topped, it may have multiple tops with rot at the base.

2.Dead Top
Visually inspect the top canopy of your trees to make sure they are not in decline or dead. Significant thinning or smaller leaf/needles size can indicate root problems or other issues.

3. Lean
Not all trees necessarily grow straight up. However, trees with a significant lean may indicate a problem. Look for cracked soil and exposed roots around the base of the tree which may indicate the tree has recently begun to lean. Also, if the lean does not ‘correct’ itself and turn upright there may be a problem.

4. Multiple Trunks
Some trees develop multiple trunks. Trees with multiple trunks can break if the trunks are weakly attached or if the trunks are excessively heavy with branches on one side. Inspect these trees for cracks or splits where the trunks meet. Also, inspect if the tree is ‘weeping’ sap or other fluid. Severe cases of ‘included bark’ can split apart in a storm.

5. Weakly Attached Branches
Inspect branches where they attach to the trunk. Tight V-shaped forks are more prone to break than open U-shaped unions. Trees with splits, cracks, and/or several branches arising from the same point on the trunk may also present problems.

6. Cavities & Decay
Inspect the trunk or branches for peeling bark and hollow or decayed areas. Large decay pockets and decay where branches meet the trunk can indicate serious structural problems. Mushrooms or conks growing on or at the base of a tree are signs of decay-causing fungus.

Conks at the base of a Black locust.

7. Trunk & Branch Cracks
Inspect the trunk and large branches for cracks. Deep, large cracks indicate structural weakness in the tree and need careful evaluation.

8. Hangers and Deadwood
Hangers are broken branches still lodged in the tree. Whether partially attached or separated completely from the trunk, hangers are likely to fall unexpectedly and should be removed. Dead branches, or what some call ‘widowmakers’, will eventually fall. Removal of deadwood may not be critical, but it should not be ignored.

Again, while all of these signs could lead to potential hazardous situations it is important to understand what, if any, risks these trees pose to the things that matter most to us. Obviously, houses, driveways, high human traffic areas, playgrounds, valuable landscapes, etc, are such areas. Some trees may need pruning, others cabling, while some may need complete removal. Other times it is important to just let trees go through there natural process. This is why hiring a Certified Arborist for a consultation is often a good first step in managing your landscape.

How Can Trees Benefit You?

Trees provide a number of benefits to your home and community, though they require proper planning and care. Learn more about trees and shrubs, read the articles we have written.

Recommended Reading