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How to Spot an Unsafe Tree
In order to prevent the risk of harm to people and nearby property, it is worth knowing how to spot the early signs of an unsafe tree.
With this valuable skill, you will not only keep your local area safe, but you may also be able to prevent an unsafe tree from having to be removed. As a result, you will preserve the value of your property, and continue to enjoy the beautiful sights and nurturing shade of your beloved tree.
Of course, some signs of an unsafe tree are harder to spot than others. In times like this, only the trained eye and skill of a professional arborist can accurately diagnose a sick, dying, or unsafe tree. If at any time you are unsure about the safety and structural integrity of a tree, and you cannot diagnose the problem yourself – call the experts.
Before you do reach that point, here are a few simple ways to spot the warning signs of an unsafe tree.
Inspect the Whole Tree From Afar
By far the easiest way to inspect a tree is to break down the process into steps.
The first step is to inspect the tree from a distance. Why? Because it is an effective way to diagnose problems that you would otherwise miss up close. It will also help you pick up on signs of deeper underlying issues that may crop up later.
Stand at a point where you can see the entire tree. Can you spot any of the following symptoms?
Not all trees that lean are dangerous. Some trees naturally grow into a lean and, if the roots are strong and healthy, they can comfortably stay that way for life. If this is the case for you, you have no reason to worry.
However, if a tree suddenly starts to lean, and the lean is getting worse over time, it is at risk of falling. Consider this an emergency situation. Have the tree inspected by a professional arborist as soon as possible.
Dead and broken branches
Do you see any dead branches up in the tree? Look for branches that have brown, withered leaves or no leaves at all. Or branches that are on the verge of breaking off from the trunk. If they are not removed, they could fall off at any moment and cause serious harm to a person below.
Also, look for dead branches scattered on the ground below the tree. If you recently had a storm, then it is natural for a few branches to fall off due to the extreme force. However, if the weather has been relatively calm, and you cannot figure out why the limbs are falling, there could be decay at the point of breakage.
This is a serious problem. As the same type of decay may be present in other parts of the tree as well. To prevent the risk of more limbs falling, have the tree assessed by a professional arborist.
Unexplained leaf loss
Out of season leaf loss is a sign of trouble. It is often characterised by thinning leaves, drying leaves, and leaves falling at an irregular pattern. Typically, the problem is caused by tree disease, soil problems, pest infestations, and underlying problems within the root itself. If left untreated, it can lead to falling tree limbs and structural failure.
The good news? When diagnosed early a sick tree may be cured. A professional arborist assess the problem and determine the cause of the leaf loss. They can also tell you if the tree has enough stored energy reserves to survive through the season. As a result, they may be able to trim or prune the tree to remove problem areas.
Upon Closer Inspection…
Now it’s time to really get under the microscope. Walk up to the tree and take a close look at the ground under the tree, including the trunk and canopy (or crown). These individual sections present their own unique signs of disease, pest infestation, and loss of structural integrity.
Below is a breakdown of what to look for in each individual part of the tree.
Ground under the tree
- Fungus – When mushrooms start to grow on or around the base of a tree, it is often a sign of either root or trunk decay. Not all fungi is dangerous to a tree. But the ones that are can penetrate the root and surrounding soil and then proceed to digest the wood inside. This seriously weakens the structural integrity of the tree and increases the risk of falling.
- Sawdust – Also known as ‘frass,’ when sawdust starts to collect around the base of a tree, it is often due to a pest infestation from either ants, carpet beetles, or wood borers. Regardless of the species, any damage to the base will weaken the structural integrity of the tree and possibly kill it.
- Cracked or raised soil – If you notice the soil around the base of the tree is cracked or raised, it means the tree is in the process of uprooting. This often occurs when the tree is exposed to a severe wind storm and the tree roots are unable to remain anchored to the soil.
Trunk and canopy
- Cracks and splits – Most cracks and splits are caused by lightning strikes, which appear as a long scar down the trunk, or the presence of fungus or rot deep within the tree roots. Sometimes cracks form due to extreme fluctuations in temperature, which cause the trunk to expand and contract rapidly, resulting in a long vertical split down the middle. If left untreated, the tree can fall or break apart at any moment.
- Cavities – These appear as holes in different sections of the tree. Cavities often form when a branch is removed and the limb is cut too close to the trunk itself, thus leaving it exposed to rot and decay. Not all cavities increase the risk of falling, but if the inside has become hollow due to pests, disease, or decay, the tree may lack the structural integrity to stay standing.
- Multiple trunks – Trees with multiple trunks are at a greater risk of splitting from their point of attachment. This is because, unlike regular branches that are securely attached to the trunk, multiple trunks may be weakly attached to each other and can pose a risk of falling.
- Missing bark – Tree bark is vital to transporting water and nutrients to the leaves and roots. Any missing bark will sap the tree of these essential nutrients and may cause the tree to eventually die. A professional arborist will be able to inspect the damage and determine the tree’s chances of survival.
Talk to the Experts
If you see any of the above symptoms, call a professional arborist.
With the ability to perform a thorough climbing inspection, including a detailed root investigation, they can determine the cause and extent of the tree damage. Based on the inspection results, they will propose either a pruning and trimming or a tree removal service to eliminate the problem.
If the tree needs to be removed they can also assist with local council submissions.