Is My Tree Safe?

A dark and stormy night. A crash of thunder wakes you. Against the strobing pulse of lightning you see the shadows of your trees swaying  on your bedroom wall. Now you really can’t sleep. You tell yourself that your trees are strong. Well, they are aren’t they? They’ve managed so far. They survived the big ice storm last March. Uneasily you drift back to sleep.

Lightning and trees. Trees are not always killed by lightning, although effects are often visible long after the strike. (image copyright Rick Stankiewicz, 2012; EPOD, Earth Science Picture of the Day)

6a0105371bb32c970b0163036d44a2970d-750wiIn the morning all is fine. Yet, you remember the story of your aunt’s neighbor’s niece’s tree. It crashed right through the roof doing a lot of damage. Someone could have been killed.

Doubts linger. How can you be sure your trees are safe?


Ultimately there is only one way to ensure that trees or parts of them will not fall onto your home or other property and that is to clear every last one of them away to a distance somewhat greater than the height of the tree is to the edge of your home.This isn’t practical and most people want to preserve the many amenities that trees provide.

Consider hiring a qualified arborist to visit your home and take a look at your significant trees.  A visual inspection of the trees cannot possibly be ruled conclusive assurance that your trees are safe and no arborist will warrant this, but you can get a pretty good idea about problems that are developing or situations that are already hazardous.

You can go even further. If you have old or significant trees you can get an idea about the condition of the inside of the tree through a Resistograph®  or a tomograph.

A tomograph can provide images that help look inside your tree for cavities or weak spots.
A tomograph can provide images that help look inside your tree for cavities or weak spots.

There is a lot you can do by yourself. These are the things we advise clients to do to inspect their own trees:

fungus on trees is cause for concern (image courtesy L. Alfano)
fungus on trees is cause for concern (image courtesy L. Alfano)
  • keep debris and vines cleared from the bases of trees, and inspect for fungus, insect holes in bark, especially with oozing sap and lesions a couple of times a year. Fungi (mushrooms) in soil is usually an indication of healthy soil, but fungus on the tree or roots is a possible pathogen indicating rot.
  • tree fungusScan the canopies of your trees in spring when new leaves are just unfurling but before a mature canopy has covered everything up. Are there dead limbs or can you see cracks, splits, hanging limbs, fungus, lesions or rotten looking unions?
  • After severe weather events inspect your trees for broken limbs. Check the root area. If erosion has exposed roots or if you see heaving soil around the tree roots, the trees may have become unstable.

A word of caution about inspections, risk assessments and professional opinions versus estimates. Free estimates are sales calls.  Nobodies time is actually free. If you call a company that only does tree removals to advise if a tree is a hazard, they are likely to tell you that it is.  And you can’t say they are wrong, since all trees pose a theoretical hazard.

Consultations from reputable arborists provide educated and honest advice for a nominal price. A good arborist should convey the apparent visible risk in terms that make sense to you and will allow you to judge whether the apparent risk of the tree is above or below your personal risk tolerance.

Your trees are a tremendous resource and enhance your property but they can also be a liability if they are left with damage or disease too long.