Trees are beautiful and many are long-lived. But like every other living thing, they get old, sick and weak. Eventually, they die. These stages can causes problems. A sick tree can spread diseases to other trees in the area, while a weak tree may drop heavy branches or fall. Dead trees are also in danger of toppling over, and sometimes they fall on power lines or houses. Here are six things to know about before a tree is removed:
1. Is it time for the tree to come down?
Deciding to remove a tree depends on factors besides the ones mentioned. The tree may be healthy but it may be too close to the house and its roots may be interfering with the sewage system or the foundation. It may be an undesirable species. These are trees that are invasive, prone to having large branches snap off, drop messy fruit or flowers everywhere and are vulnerable to pests and diseases. Notoriously undesirable trees include the Norway maple, the Bradford pear, the ailanthus and willow trees. Some homeowners love these trees anyway and are willing to do the maintenance to keep them healthy until the maintenance becomes too costly in time and money.
2. How sick is the tree?
If half of the tree looks sick or damaged, it is probably time to take it down. Even a noticeably sick tree with lots of dead branches can stand for years, but they are often unsightly. A tree with a trunk full of cracks and large wounds might also be removed, as should a tree that has suffered spectacular damage like a tree split in two from a lightning strike. A tree that is seen to be hollow inside does not automatically have to be taken down, since the living tissue is on the other edge of the bark. But a tree that is completely hollow inside is weak and may be in danger of falling.
Other trees that might need to be removed are those that have dead branches only on one side. Suckers coming up from the roots and little shoots emerging from the trunk are signs of stress. They might appear after a hard winter, too much sunlight or the ground having been dug up around the tree during construction. Mushrooms growing near or on the tree can also be signs of illness.
A tree should also be removed if it’s leaning more than 15 degrees from the vertical. A sudden, severe lean may mean that the roots have been damaged.
3. Is the tree near a power line or too close to a building or play area?
Special care should be taken if the tree is near a power line. Taking the line down with the tree can disrupt power to an entire neighborhood. A layperson should not even attempt to take down a tree that’s near a power line.
Trees that grow so close to the house that they brush up against the roof or siding can cause mold to grow on the exterior of the house. A tree so close to the house that it blocks sunlight puts the interior at risk for mold. A tree that drops nuts, leaves, seeds, flowers and twigs into a swimming pool just makes keeping a swimming pool clean that much harder and more expensive.
4. Does the tree invade the neighbor’s property?
A sick tree that encroaches into a neighbor’s yard, either because the branches overhang the yard or the roots have crept under it, can one day collapse into the neighboring property. When it does this, it may take the fence with it, and damage the house. The owner of the tree might be on the hook.
5. Is there a crowd of trees?
Though arborists say trees that are grown in groups give each other support during storms and other weather events, a great, messy thicket of trees and shrubs is unsightly and unhealthy as they vie for light and nutrients. If the homeowner still wants a nice grouping of trees, they should have the sick, weak and short-lived trees taken out.
6. Is the tree simply in the way?
Sometimes, a perfectly healthy tree is just in the way. They may be in the way of a view or in the way of new construction or new utility or sewer lines.