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Fire & Water - Cleanup & Restoration

Should it Stay or Should it Go Now: Tips To Tell If Your Tree is a Potential Hazard

5/20/2021 (Permalink)

Uprooted tree on a house A felled tree damaging property after a storm in Goshen Ohio.

When you think of a tree falling on your home, you imagine a dead tree, right? What if we told you that a tree does not have to be dead nor dying to be a hazard? Many factors play into whether or not a tree has the potential to fall and cause damage to your property. Today, we are going to delve deeper into these potential environmental hazards.


The structure of a tree is key to whether or not it can withstanding a storm and high winds. Scientific American did interviews with several Arborists. David R. Foster, Director, Harvard Forest at Harvard University explains, 

Wood is a very strong and wonderful structural material. Wood, however, is not homogeneous or consistently strong at all places in the stem (trunk). Wood decay caused by fungi can weaken wood structure. However, the mere presence of decayed wood or even a hollow does not mean that the tree is more vulnerable to failure.” What he says next is of some comfort. “Strength comes from the quality and quantity of wood that is present, not what might have been degraded."

There are many reasons that a tree might not have a strong structure. Animals and bugs can do a lot of damage to a tree. We have all heard of the emerald ash borer. Bugs like this and the Asian long-horned beetle can kill a tree that has lived for 100 years in as little as 5-10 years. These bugs degrade the quality and quantity of wood in the infested tree.

In addition to bugs, you also have other organisms that can leach the nutrients from the tree. Mushrooms and vines are the biggest parasitic culprits. Hen-of-the-Wood and invasive vines like English Ivy have a parasitic relationship. Vines and mushrooms slowly kill trees by stealing their nutrients. Vines will wrap around a tree and branch out its own canopy stealing the light from the tree itself. To be clear, not all mushrooms and vines are parasitic. Boletes are a good example of mushroom that has a symbiotic relationship.

Softwood trees like poplars and pines grow quickly. This causes them to be weak. In some instances, these quick-growing trees can have holes in the middle. Compromising the structure. This makes them a potential hazard come winter when they are weighed down by snow or whipped around in a storm. 

Human manipulation can also weaken trees. When done correctly pruning, can encourage new, healthier growth. Oregon State University explains that it's best to prune during the tree's dormant period. For most trees, late fall is ideal. This helps the tree recover from being cut and helps prevent disease and possible insect infestations. 

But, many people do not know the proper way to prune a tree. If you are going to do it yourself be sure you are doing it in the right places. You should also be careful that you're not cutting the tree back too much. Over pruning can cause an imbalance in the tree’s structure, making large branches susceptible to felling when high winds or inclement weather hits. Not cutting it in the right spot could do the same thing.


Before you plant a new tree it’s important to know two key factors about your tree and soil. What kind of soil do you have? If you’re in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky, the soil on your property is most likely clay. Clay is a dense compact soil that tends to hold a lot of water. This can be a bad combination when we get a lot of rain. Lots of rain and saturated soil could be the recipe for an uprooted tree. 

That’s why you should know what species of tree you are planting before you place it. Certain species thrive in different types of soils. According to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, some of the best trees for clay are White oaks, Paw Paw, and, Silky Dogwood. A sapling will ideally adapt to its habitat. But, if you are transplanting trees that are a few years old and they're not known to thrive in clay, there is a higher risk of felling when they get older. The roots aren’t going to be able to penetrate past the clay. That means the root system only goes down a few inches versus the few feet that it needs for a good sturdy hold in the earth. 


Newer developments could experience a higher rate of felled trees. In nature, we have what is called co-dominate trees. These are trees that grew up as saplings about the same time in different parts of a wooded area. A tree that grew up on the edge of the woods has more access to light. Therefore it can bush out rather than needing to grow up to reach the sunlight. This allows them to act as a buffer against the wind.

When these trees are cut down to make room for housing, a few things happen to the canopy trees. First, you’re taking away the wind buffers from trees that are, to put it simply, top-heavy. This can become a problem in the case of heavy winds, storms, and microbursts. These tall, straight trees with a heavy canopy no longer have a shield against the wind. 

In addition to no longer having a wind block, trees that were once in the middle of a wooded area and now sit on the edge of woods lack the support of other root systems. This makes them vulnerable and creates a hazard for your property. The direction of the wind plays a role in this as well. In Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky, the wind commonly comes from the south and west. That means if these trees are facing the north and east the risk of being uprooted is reduced.

There are many factors as to whether or not your tree is a risk and susceptible to felling. If you have concerns about a tree that is close to your home contact your local Arborist. They can point you in the right direction and let you know if you have a healthy, sturdy tree or; if your tree is a potential threat.

We cannot emphasize this enough. Cutting down trees is dangerous work. Unless you are a professional or you are only pruning a small branch please do not attempt to cut down trees yourself. This includes emergencies like a tree or large branch falling on your house or vehicle. Professionals like us can remove trees quickly and safely off of your property. Should you find yourself in this dangerous situation, do not hesitate to call our office at (513) 541-3200.

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