Winter Tree Fault – Recognizing the Warning Signs

If you are the owner or caretaker of large shade trees, you benefit from their shade and beauty. Their shade or protection may lower your heating or cooling costs substantially, buffer noise from a nearby street, and may contribute significantly to the appraised value of your home.

Late fall and winter are the seasons for some of nature’s most severe weather in Oakland, Genesee, Macomb, Lapeer and St. Clair County, Michigan. One of the greatest dangers posed by storms is presented by fallen trees. Trees require periodic checkups and preventative maintenance to stay in top health. If not properly maintained, they may fail and sometimes failure may have been predicted and prevented.

A few tree species prone to fault, including Chinese Elm, Silver Maple, Boxelder and various Poplars, have brittle wood that is easily broken. These rapidly growing trees cause a considerable amount of damage to homes, cars, buildings and utility lines each year. Homeowners should be aware of these characteristics and avoid planting them close to potential targets. If such trees are already growing in these locations, preventative tree pruning, tree bracing or tree cabling may help reduce your trees storm damage this winter. This is particularly true as the tree grows in size and the weight and surface of the leaf and branch area increases.

Over the years, growing trees will catch more wind and become heavier, thus they are prone to increased mechanical stress and the chances of failure. Larger trees will also affect an increased area should they or their larger limbs fall. This means that power lines, homes and other structures that might not have been threatened a few years ago might suddenly be under threat.

The process of determining the likelihood of tree fault is called hazard assessment, and with a little practice you can become good enough at it to at least recognize when you need to call a tree expert.

Look at your trees for the following warning signs:

-Electrical Wires in contact with tree branches may become energized.
-Dead or partially attached limbs hung up in the higher branches that could fall and cause damage or injury.
-Cracked stems and narrow branch forks that could cause catastrophic failure of a tree section.
-Hollow or decayed areas on the trunk or main limbs, or mushrooms growing from the bark or near the base. A tree with an open cavity that is one-third or more of its circumference is high risk.
-Peeling bark or gaping wounds in the trunk also indicate structural weakness.
-Fallen or uprooted trees putting pressure on other trees beneath them.
-Tight, V-shaped forks where there is not a strong union of wood fiber holding the branches together.
-Heaving soil at the tree base is a potential indicator of an unsound root system.

Other warning signs, such as tree disease, insect damage and poor soil quality, may also be predictors of tree fault. Do not assume that a tree that has survived a severe storm in Oakland, Genesee, Macomb, Lapeer and St. Clair County, Michigan will necessarily survive another. If you suspect that your trees might be prone to winter tree fault, call a tree arborist who can fully evaluate them and recommend ways to reduce your risk. For your safety and liability, make sure that the tree service you choose is licensed, trained, certified, and insure. For services and more info, please check

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