Michigan winters are well known for causing a lot of damage, especially to trees. Heavy snowfall can weigh down branches, and high winds have been known to tip trees right over. The best defense you have against tree damage this winter is being able to identify and take down hazardous trees before the weather does it for you. Here are a few ways to determine which trees or branches in your yard might be hazardous:
One of the biggest, most obvious signs that a tree or branch is on its way out is dead wood. Dead wood can become brittle or soft, making it really dangerous when winter snowstorms roll around. Dead branches are likely to split off the tree, and an entire tree that’s dead and starting to rot can come all the way down on a house, fence, or garage. It’s good to know what exactly dead wood looks like so you can spot it and get the offending branches or trees down in a safe, controlled manner. Here are a couple of sure signs:
- Leafless branches – If you noticed one of the branches of the tree in your backyard was missing leaves this summer, that’s an indication that the branch has died. Be sure to cut that branch off now before snowfall takes it off for you.
- Missing bark – Another big indication that a tree is on its way out, or that one of its branches isn’t long for this world, is missing bark. Most trees regularly shed and regrow bark, but if you notice that the bark never seems to come back and you’re left with a stark white, smooth part of the tree, that’s a sign that there’s dead wood. If it’s just a branch that’s missing bark, that’s an easy fix, but if you notice the whole tree has patches of missing bark, first call in an arborist to make sure the tree really is dead, and then have it taken down.
- Fungi – Mushrooms and other sprouting fungi love rotting wood. The nutrients from the decaying material keep them healthy and strong, but they also mean that your tree is less so. While it’s not uncommon to see fungi around West Michigan woods, if they’ve started growing on the base and trunk of your tree, they can be a bad sign that your tree is hazardous.
Cracks and Splits in Trunk
It’s not uncommon for trees and branches to develop minor cracks and splits as they grow and go through numerous winters. Sometimes, water can get trapped in bark, and when it freezes and expands, it can cause cracks in the surface of your tree. These are not major issues, but there are instances where cracks and splits can point to a hazardous tree. Most often, you’ll see these types of cracks in the tree’s trunk:
- Vertical cracks on opposite sides – Little frost cracks like the ones above can make branches slightly unstable, but they’ll have little effect on the overall structure of the tree. Vertical cracks in the trunk of your tree, however, are a bad sign, especially if there’s a matching one on the other side of the trunk. Vertical cracks are often a sign of root breakage, which means your tree is definitely dangerous.
- Cracks that travel into the ground – If you notice a split or crack on the trunk of your tree that leads all the way into the ground, that’s not a great sign. These types of cracks can be fairly tricky to correctly assess, which is why it’s always a good idea to call in an arborist if you can, but cracks that run into the ground often indicate interior rotting. This sort of tree damage can lead to your tree splitting in half over the winter if you don’t take care of it before it becomes a problem.
- Leaning trees with cracks – Leaning trees can be a bit worrisome on their own, but you should definitely get the chainsaw out if your leaning tree has a crack on the opposite side of the lean. This is a sign that the tree is close to coming down, and if you’re not experienced with the chainsaw, you should call your local tree expert to take a look at it ASAP.
Trees with multiple trunks
While trees with multiple trunks aren’t inherently bad, you should know that they’re oftentimes more prone to cracking, splitting, and falling than trees with one trunk. This is because often the two trees’ roots rub up against each other and cause wounds that can kill both trees. A good rule of thumb is that if the conjoined part of a tree forms a U shape, you’re probably fine. If the conjunction forms a V, consider talking to an arborist. Typically this V shape puts them at a greater risk of splitting and falling, so get that checked out before winter rolls around.
Many insects call trees home without any effect on the life of your tree. Unfortunately, however, there are also a variety of insects that can infect trees and have a negative impact on their health. The most obvious sign that you’ve got an infestation that could hurt your tree is tiny, perfectly round holes in the trunk of your tree. This is a clear sign of tree borers, who eat through trees, weakening their structure and sometimes even killing them. If you have a tree with tree borers, you don’t always need to cut it down if you catch the infestation early enough. If you catch it early, you can treat the wounds, cut infected branches, and spread mulch around your tree, keeping it well watered and fed so it can maintain its health on its own. But if the tree borers are too far along, you might have to cut the tree down to keep your home safe.
If you’re ever worried about the health of a tree, it’s a great best practice to just have your local tree expert come out and look at it. The nominal fee it costs to have them inspect it is much lower than what you’d have to pay to get your home repaired because a tree or branch came crashing down on your roof. If you’re looking to get hazardous trees down now, before winter sets in even deeper, know that you’ll probably get a discounted price from arborists who aren’t as busy in the winter months.
Finally, it’s a good idea to check your homeowner’s insurance policy to make sure you are covered in the event of a falling branch or tree. If you’re doing everything in your power to maintain the trees around your home, you should be able to obtain coverage in the event of a disaster, but it’s always best to know you’re covered, rather than just assume. If you have questions about your homeowner’s insurance policy, or if you’re not sure that your current policy covers falling trees or branches, be sure to get in touch with Doyle & Ogden. We’ll get you better coverage for your home, at the best price.