Lawn & Garden Time

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How to spot an unhealthy tree

Perhaps because they can live for so many years, trees have a way of falling down homeowners' landscaping priority lists. Trees also tend to be big and strong, so it's no surprise that they often are overlooked in favor or other areas of a lawn and garden that don't seem so strong in the face of Mother Nature.

But trees are susceptible to damage and disease, and homeowners who learn to recognize symptoms of such problems can prevent them from escalating and reduce the risk that the trees will cause damage to their properties. The following are just some of the ways homeowners can determine if their trees are unhealthy. Homeowners who suspect they have a tree that poses a safety risk should contact a professional tree service for an immediate inspection and steer clear of the tree until an inspection has been performed.

• Check around the base of the tree. The base of a tree may offer some telltale signs that the tree is unhealthy. Soil that is cracked or raised at the base of the tree may be indicative of a tree that has started to uproot. If you recognize any cracking or if the soil is raised, look at the tree to see if it is leaning. If the soil is cracked or raised because it is uprooting, then the tree might have already started to lean in the opposite direction of the cracking or raised soil.

• Examine for fungus. The growth of fungus on the tree trunk or close to it may be a sign that the tree is rotting or decaying. Fungal growth, such as a sudden population of mushrooms, around the base of the tree is another sign of decay. If the wood behind fungal growth crumbles easily, then homeowners should call a professional tree service, as the fungal problem on the tree has likely already been festering for quite some time.

• Look for cavities on the trunk. Cracks and cavities on a tree may not be an emergency, but especially deep cracks and cavities may be indicative of a structural problem. Multiple cracks and cavities also serve as red flags.

• Look for dead wood. It may sound simple, but dead wood poses a threat to the tree and anyone who happens to spend time in its vicinity. Dead wood snaps easily, and falling dead wood can harm anyone unlucky enough to be beneath the tree when the dead wood snaps. Dead wood branches won't bend in the wind, and such branches frequently fall off of trees when strong gusts of wind come along. Dead branches either won't have leaves or the leaves will be brown (dead pine branches will have brown needles).

• Weak connections. Unhealthy trees often have weak connections between their branches and their trunks. If branches don't appear to be strongly connected to the tree bark, call a tree service to determine a solution. The tree might not be on its way out, but you may have to take steps to strengthen the connections so branches are not at risk of falling.

Unhealthy trees can pose a significant safety hazard on a property. Homeowners who learn to recognize the signs of unhealthy trees can do something to prevent dying trees from damaging their homes.