Tips for spotting diseased or dangerous trees before they damage your home
“The best time to plant a tree was 50 years ago, and the next best time is last week,” said Cindy Musick, a certified arborist in Northern Virginia who owns the arboriculture and forestry consultancy EcoAcumen.
When trees are regularly monitored and cared for by professionals, they are less likely to pose a threat. Certified arborists including Musick, Myra Brosius and Lou Meyer of the Davey Tree Expert Companyemphasize the importance of having the right tree in the right place and knowing when something is wrong.
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Here are some simple signs of tree damage that can help you determine if you need to call in a professional.
Examine the crowns of your trees. It’s good practice to regularly prune trees and remove dead wood that could be dangerous in the future, says Meyer, who lives in Maryland. One of the best ways to inspect a tree for dying branches is to get close to its leaves and branches. It’s much easier to spot dead, leafless branches that need to be removed in the summer when the greenery is lush. In winter, dead material in trees can be recognized by the lack of bud growth.
Watch out for mushrooms. Though tree fungi aren’t as noticeable as Mario Bros. fungi, Meyer says, there are some outward signs that can help you find weak spots in trees. Conks, which are saprophytic (meaning they feed on dead matter), are round, flat-topped shelf fungi that come in a variety of colors and grow on the trunks and sides of trees. cracked tree bark, Cavities in the trunk and broken branches are further indications of dead or dying tree substance due to fungal infestation.
note vermin. Healthy trees have their own version of a natural immune system to fight off harmful insects, says Brosius, who lives in Baltimore. But if sap is oozing out of the side, or if there are noticeable holes that indicate pests have dug into the tree, that could be a sign the tree is succumbing to insects, Meyer says. For example the invasive Emerald Ash Drill has killed millions of ash trees across the country because the trees don’t have the systems to defend themselves against the non-native beetles.
Be careful of crooked trees. A more obvious reason for suspicion is when a tree is leaning or leaning, which could be a sign of root damage. But don’t be too quick to declare an unbalanced tree doom, because not all crooked trees die. The tilting effect could be a result of phototropism, where plants naturally orient themselves toward sunlight. If the tree has grown crooked all its life, that’s probably because of phototropism, says Brosius. But if the trunk is straight and the tree has only recently begun to curve, this could be a cause for concern. If you cannot tell the difference, consult a professional.
Ask for an arborist’s assessment. If you’re unsure about the health of your trees, get a second look from a certified arborist, who is essentially an arborist trained to identify, diagnose, and treat problems. These folks take a holistic approach when inspecting a property’s greenery to ensure the trees are thriving in the right soil, water, and environment.
Musick recommends having a general assessment every two to three years during tree maturity to identify and correct structural problems early on. (If you are in DC, Maryland, Virginia or West Virginia go to goodtreecare.com to find a list of arborists certified by the International Society of Arboriculture.) And whether you decide to contact your local arborist or find an independent arborist, Musick says it’s important to make sure they’re licensed and insured and are certified by the ISA. Money well spent, say arborists. Basic tree inspections cost a few hundred dollars every few years, but tree damage and removal can run into tens of thousands of dollars.