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Lesson from the Storm: Take Care of Your Trees!
Posted on Feb 5, 2015 by Michael Parkey

This article first appeared in the November 2014 newsletter of the Eastwood Homeowners Association.

Many of us are still cleaning up and doing repairs after the storm in early October.  Like other storms of this type, the majority of the damage came from falling branches and trees.  Our trees are the glory of Eastwood, but when one falls on your house, it is a catastrophe.

After this storm, and all other storms, I do an informal survey of my neighbors, friends, and clients.  In my 35 years as a landscape architect, the results have always been the same:  trees that have received proper care from a qualified arborist are much less like to suffer damage, and to cause damage to their owner’s property.  We must remember that falling trees can and do kill people.

Why is this so?  The first thing an arborist does for a homeowner is to evaluate the safety and health of the trees.  I have never met an arborist who does not love trees and want to save every one, but if an arborist sees that a tree is unsafe and cannot be made safe, he or she will recommend removing it.

But removal is not usually necessary.  Proper pruning, done periodically over the life of the tree, greatly increases safety.  Dead or structurally weak branches are removed.  The healthy growth of the tree can be controlled through canopy reduction.  In this process, long limbs are carefully shortened to create a more compact form.  Shorter branches are lighter and do not move as much in storms.  Wind forces on the branches are decreased.  And when we get our rare but inevitable ice and snow storms, there is less weight to break the limbs and bring down our power lines.

Arborists have other techniques.  If the structure of the tree is weak with narrow branch angles, it can be reinforced with bolts and cables.  Although counter-intuitive, sometimes the best thing for a tree is to have some holes drilled through it for big bolts.  This is especially helpful with beautiful but structurally unsound multi-trunk trees.  Eastwood lost several majestic multi-trunk red oaks that might have survived if properly pruned and cabled.

Diagnosing tree diseases is difficult, but a well trained arborist can often see and treat these problems before they become dangerous.  With the ongoing drought, trees are under great stress making disease and pest problems more serious.  An arborist can also give you advice on how to avoid accidentally damaging your trees yourself.  If you are planning an addition to your house, a swimming pool, or any other type of construction, these can cause serious injury to trees.  Even something as seemingly innocent as building a raised flower bed around the trunk of a tree can have fatal consequences.  Eastwood lost an enormous pecan partly because a previous homeowner had done this.  The current homeowners removed the raised bed as soon as they moved in, but the damage was already done.

Good tree care is not cheap.  Pruning a large tree requires climbing it, and this is a dangerous job.  Strangely, insurance companies will pay for your damaged roof but will not give you a credit for proper tree maintenance.  Still, the roof you save may be your own.  And if your tree does not fall on a utility line, you may keep the electricity, telephone, internet, and cable television working for everyone on your block.

How do you find a qualified arborist?  A minimum requirement is certification by the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA).  This is voluntary but strict, and requires training, examination, and continuing education.  Not every person in a tree care crew needs to be an ISA certified arborist, but they must be directly supervised by one.  As with any contractor, your arborist should be bonded and insured.

I have seen a lot of bad tree work in Eastwood during the last year.  Bad work makes trees more dangerous, more prone to disease and premature death.  There is no license or other legal control on people who do tree care.  Anyone with a truck and chainsaw can call himself an arborist.  His price will be cheaper, but only in the short term.

One of the things I love about trees is that they can out-live us.  We should help them do just that.

A beautiful multi-trunk red oak destroyed by the storm
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