Timber! 7 Signs a Tree May Be About to Fall
Before it crashes onto your home or car, learn how to spot a dangerous tree and what to do about it
Fallen trees can cause thousands of dollars in damage and pose a big risk to you and your family. Tree damage to a home usually is covered by home insurance, according to the Insurance Information Institute — but it’s much better to avoid having to file a claim in the first place.
Fortunately, there often are warning signs that something is wrong with a tree, says Tchukki Andersen, staff arborist for the Tree Care Industry Association, a trade group for tree professionals.
Here are seven signs a tree may be in danger of falling:
- A hole in the trunk. A cavity can form in the trunk of a tree when the tree prunes itself by dropping a branch. That can lead to decay inside the tree. This doesn’t always mean danger, though, according to the United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service. If there’s enough sound wood around the cavity, the tree probably won’t fall.
- Missing bark or deep cracks. An area where tree bark is missing, gashed or indented is called a “canker,” says Andersen. A canker can make a tree more likely to break at that spot, even if the wood looks OK, according to the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors (InterNACHI). Deep cracks in bark are a bad sign, too.
- Dead or falling branches. When trees start dropping bits of branches or entire branches, it’s a clue that something’s wrong. “The tree’s trying to make itself smaller so there’s not as much to feed,” says Andersen. And dead branches are a major danger — they can come crashing down even on a calm day, according to the USDA Forest Service
- Leaning trunk. A tree that’s leaning more than 15 degrees due to wind or root damage usually needs to be removed, according to InterNACHI. A tree that’s naturally tilted because it grew that way isn’t as risky.
- Losing leaves from the outside in. When a tree loses leaves in this pattern often it means something is wrong with the root zone, Andersen says. “The root zone is where the tree gets nutrients and water — and it’s what holds the tree up,” she explains. Without a healthy root system, a tree can fall more easily.
- Rotten roots. Root rot can be hard to spot. Look for mushrooms growing around the base of a tree, Andersen says. Fungi growing on the trunk can be another clue that the tree is rotting inside.
- Tight branch growth. When branches grow close together in a V-shape, it’s a bad sign. “A strong union will be U-shaped,” she explains. Elm, maple, oak, yellow poplar and willow trees tend to break at weak forks. “When the wind blows, those trees can fall apart,” Andersen says. This problem is easiest to spot in winter after the leaves have fallen off.
What to do about a troublesome tree
If you’re not sure whether a tree is dangerous, consult a qualified tree professional — not a garden-variety landscaper, Andersen says.
To find an arborist, use the finder tool on the website of the International Society of Arboriculture. Look at both years of experience and certifications, Andersen recommends.
A professional might advise taking down a dangerous tree. In some cases, though, he may be able to create a tree health treatment plan, Andersen says. Depending on the situation, the plan could mean cabling or bracing by a qualified arborist to shore up the tree.
Notes Andersen, “Just because a tree isn’t the healthiest or strongest doesn’t mean it’s a goner.”