2016-10-12 / Gardening Tips

Looking back

by Bob Beyfuss

I vividly recall October 4, 1987, when a freak snowstorm dumped between 12 and 24 inches of heavy, wet, snow on our region. I was living in Purling in Greene County at that time and the sound of tree limbs breaking under the weight of the heavy snow is a sound I will never forget. It sounded like thunder. Many of us were petrified that the nice shade tree outside our window was going to drop its branches on the roof. The fall foliage had not even peaked when the snow turned the foliage from red to white to gone. It some ways it was a perfect storm in the worst case. The wet snow stuck to the leaves, but if it were just a few degrees colder, it would have been shed. As it turned out, the snow weight broke any weak branches which then fell onto power lines. The major issue was power outages, which lasted for only a few days in Purling, but almost two weeks in parts of Freehold. The tree damage was very conspicuous for almost five years afterwards.

It was a great learning experience for arborists as well as a great work opportunity for anyone who had a chainsaw! I think I learned more about tree structure and defects, as well as potential hazard trees in the aftermath of that storm, than from any formal training I have ever taken.

If you have trees around your house that are potentially hazardous, you can contact an arborist for an evaluation. I would suggest that you use an ISA certified arborist and not just someone who does tree work. There is a NYS Arborist Association and they have a webpage you can Google for a list of certified arborists. My name will show up on that list, but I no longer do tree evaluations so please don’t call me! There are several trained, local people who can do this.

Signs of Poor Tree Health

The following “red flags” are things you can look at yourself before you call a professional. The first red flag are what is known as “narrow crotches.” This is why trees sometimes split in half. If your tree forks narrowly, each of the forks may be pushing on the other one as they expand in diameter. This forces it to split eventually and this could be a problem down the line. If there is any vegetation growing out of the crotch, this indicates internal decay and is also a red flag. If the tree has fungi or mushrooms growing out of the trunk or at the base of the tree, this is also a red flag. Any “bulging” of the trunk also indicates internal decay. Dead branches in the crown will eventually drop and they should be removed, if there is a chance of them falling on your house or anywhere else where they may harm people or property. If your tree seems to be leaning in one direction or another, that in itself is not a hazard, but if the ground is lifted up on the side away from the lean, that indicates the root system may be rotted and the tree may fall down. This is called a “partial” throw, another red flag.

All species of trees have average life spans and some species are far more structurally sound than others. Sugar and Norway maples and all species of oaks are usually long-lived, tough trees, whereas silver maple, any aspen or poplar, and all willows are weak wooded. Ash trees are all at risk these days due to Emerald Ash Borer. More than 30 percent dead wood in the crown of any tree is also a red flag.

Next week I will discuss some ways to nurture old trees that are declining.

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