All trees have the potential of falling or losing limbs during wind storms, but there are some things to watch out for that can let you know if trees around your home are more vulnerable.
Experts say many factors can cause weakening of trees, including wood decay, injuries to the tree and shallow root structure.
The roots of trees can be twice the radius of the tree branches, and in many urban areas, roots can end up damaged by construction or hindered by encroachment. Without a strong and expansive root structure, trees are at risk of windthrow, or the uprooting and toppling of the tree.
Large trees growing in shallow or rocky soil that are actually suited to growing in forests are also at risk. Thinning trees that have grown in a group will leave trees that have less capacity to withstand wind.
The taller the tree, the greater the risk of windthrow. Especially when trees are fully leaved, wind on the upper part of the tree can cause the trunk to act like a level, applying force to the lower trunk and roots that can literally tear the tree from the ground.
Previous damage to trees where limbs have been broken off or bark between the trunk or branches has been wounded makes trees susceptible to invasive pests, decay and weakening.
Large trees growing in shallow soil or in a rocky area may not have the substantial root structure needed to withstand wind.
Though all trees are vulnerable to high winds, experts say some varieties are at greater risk of failure, including Bradford pears, cedar, balsam fir, white spruce, several varieties of pines, sometimes hemlocks, and older water oaks and willow oaks, especially in areas where the soil has been modified or their area has been constricted by construction.
How to inspect a tree for potential risk:
- Look the tree over from top to bottom, from a distance and close up
- Check for any dead wood or brown leaves in the crown of the tree. For tall trees, check with binoculars from a distance if you need to.
- Check for any wounds to the tree caused by previous limb loss
- A tree that isn’t perfectly straight isn’t necessarily at risk, but if your tree leans heavily, it may be from poor weight distribution or anchor root damage.
Trees with multiple trunks or with splits in one trunk may be unstable.
Experts say V or U- shaped multiple trunks are weak points for mature trees and are more likely to split with age and when storms occur.
Construction near trees, including driveways, walkways, garden or utility line work can damage shallow feeder roots and can destabilize a tree.
Danger signs indicating trees need immediate attention:
- Cracked or heaving soil, especially on the side opposite of the lean of the tree
- Cracks in the trunk or at the base of branches that extend deeply or through the trunk
- Largely exposed roots that were previously covered with soil.
- Damaged bark
- Reduced, smaller, or no foliage
- Premature autumn color
- Mushrooms, conks, and carpenter ants at the base of the tree are a sign of decay and rot
If your trees show any of the danger signs, experts recommend contacting a certified arborist to evaluate the risk and take corrective action, especially if the tree is near your home or any other structure, or where you park your vehicle. Some problems can be corrected by an expert, but others will require removal of the tree.
If you have a large tree that is a risk, be sure to move vehicles away from it, and avoid the area of your home that would be damaged if the tree came down.
Important safety note: If you are outside during a wind event and hear any cracking or snapping sounds coming from trees, immediately seek shelter away from the direction the wind may blow a limb or topple a tree.
Contact Gerrin Green: We have Certified Arborists that are trained to recognize the economic, environmental, and societal benefits and values of trees. Working with homeowners and property owners allow our arborist to share knowledge and evaluate the need for prescribed care at a cost that demonstrates the wise stewardship of resources.
Tree specialist Northern Kentucky