Ever since Hurricane Harvey, people have been calling about trees that have started to lean over. You see this a lot after storms; the ground gets wet, and trees that are improperly anchored begin to lean to one side. Even if they haven’t fallen over, the leaning trees can pose a hazard. Here are some of the questions we’ve been hearing from you, and some answers that might be helpful.
Can the tree be saved?
This is entirely dependent on the size and condition of the tree and roots. If it is a very young tree that was recently planted, and you see no circling roots or other issues that caused the tree to tip in the first place, the tree may be righted and re-anchored using stakes and guy wires. On the other hand, if the tree is young but the roots are missing on one side, it may indicate that the tree has root issues that will be permanent and it may be better to replace with another tree.
If the tree in question is large and heavy enough that it cannot be righted by hand, but is small enough that it does not pose a risk to people or property, it may still be able to be saved by selective root pruning and righting. This is fairly difficult as the tree leaned when the soil was saturated. When attempting to straighten it, we have the risk of damaging more roots. In this case, it is best to consult an arborist for how to proceed; each tree is an individual with unique conditions.
Finally, if the tree is large and/or heavy enough to pose a risk to anyone passing near it, the tree will likely need to be removed. Again, consulting a certified and insured arborist is the best way to proceed.
What can I do with my existing trees to prevent tipping in future storm events?
Have your significant trees inspected by a Certified Arborist. They will be able to identify tell tale signs of defects, whether in soil, root or stem, that could predispose your tree failure. Most trees that fail during a storm have some kind of defects. After an initial inspection, the Arborist can provide you with an interval for inspections as well as a management plan that can include pruning or plant health care recommendations. Pruning should be judicious, as it is very tempting to over prune. Frequently, over pruning will make it worse. Some techniques that can help are branch reduction or height reduction cuts to compensate for defects (cavity on one side, unbalanced canopy, root damage from excavating too close to the base of a tree, etc…).
In the more significant trees or cases, you may ask for an Arborist with the Tree Risk Assessment Qualification. He or she will apply an internationally recognized risk assessment process to qualify the status of your leaning tree.
For young trees, make sure you are watering evenly all the way around your tree to encourage even root growth. For the same reason, never trench down one side of the tree, as removing the roots along one side not only can cause a tree to fall due to weight imbalance, but a myriad of other health issues as well.
Many of the younger trees that fail or lean show a poor root structure from poor nursery and planting practices. A root ball with circling and plunging roots, for example, should be carefully opened up and pruned at planting time, lest as the tree grows, the roots stay in the same volume and fail to expand to match the canopy. In other words, preventing a tree from leaning starts at planting time.
My tree has to go. When can I replace my tree?
Tree planting season in Central Texas is October through March, in the cooler months. And TreeFolks can help! Call 512-443-LEAF or visit treefolks.org to see if you are eligible for a free tree and consultation through our NeighborWoods program! Now is the time to reserve your tree for delivery in the fall.
Vincent Debrock has been a member of the TreeFolks board since May 2017. He is a Certified Arborist and CEO of Heritage Tree Care in Austin, TX.