Expert’s advice: Examine trees on your property

Expert’s advice: Examine trees on your property

North Haven has had several severe weather events over the last few years that have damaged trees, and in many cases, changed the landscape of our properties.

After the initial removal of most debris and obvious damage, the remaining trees become our new landscape and our lives return to normal. But, there may be more damage in the trees that may not be obvious – unless you look closely.

The strong winds stress all parts of the tree, sometimes enough to break limbs, trunks and roots, completely, and sometimes enough to cause cracks that don’t result in obvious problems. This is a good time to carefully look at the trees and determine if there are cracks in branches, trunks and crotches that are precursors to total failure in the future. It is much more cost effective to remove or correct problems now, rather than deal with much bigger problems later.

Trees are living things and they will do their best to “heal” themselves and continue growing. However, if cracks have developed in wood, the tree has no ability to heal or mend the crack.

Trees only produce new tissue in a thin layer under the bark, and over years, it may grow enough new material to cover the defect within the wood. This process is called compartmentalization and it is the plant’s way of “walling off” areas that have damage or decay, and limit its progression.

I suggest that homeowners take a walk around their property and look at all trees that could be a problem. Carefully observe them from several angles to see if you can see cracks in the trunk or branches. Sometimes cracks are large enough to see daylight coming through. Or, sometimes you may hear rubbing or creaking, when the wind is blowing. These cracks could lengthen or result in breakage in future storms.

Cracks also provide a path for insects or disease to enter the tree and further weaken the branch. The homeowner should ask: “What happens if the crack fails and the limb falls? Will the resulting damage be acceptable or do I need to take action?”

A second thing to look at is the attachment point of limbs to tree trunks, or crotches. An open crotch, or fork (limb close to 90 degrees from the trunk) is much stronger than a tight crotch (where the limb and trunk are growing in the same direction). See if you can detect any cracks at the forks. Another location for light crotches is at the base of trees where several trunks grow from the ground. Often, one of the forks fails and one of the trunks will fall.

If you are concerned, consult an arborist to determine if any further action is necessary. Remember: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

Written by retired arborist Walter Brockett, a member of the Daytime Gardeners of North Haven.

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