Tree check-up

Most people will walk around their car, giving it a visual inspection or have a trained mechanic look at it before taking a long trip. But how many of us have walked around the trees in our yard or common area inspecting their condition, or had a trained tree care professional (arborist) look at the trees? Why do this in the first place, you might ask? A good answer is that you might spot a hazard tree before it can damage your property or cause injury to a visitor or family member, or you might spot a potential problem that can be corrected so that your tree can remain healthy and attractive. Here are some helpful hints on what to look for during a tree check-up.

Risk tree: Before you conduct your inspection you should consider the “targets” around your property. A target is something that you wish to protect. Samples of targets would be the dwelling, garage, driveway, roadway, outbuilding, basketball court etc. You should concentrate your efforts on these targets to avoid the most serious damage. A tree falling in the middle of the woods will do little damage if it doesn’t hit anything of value, whereas a tree falling near your home has the potential to do great harm. A risk tree is any tree that is dead, declining, damaged, or has any structural defect that has the potential of impacting a target.

Declining tree: Declining trees may be risk trees, but sometimes you can improve their condition. To spot a tree in decline, you need to know what a healthy tree looks like. Most have large full crowns, and their foliage has a deep green color. Healthy trees have a clean, straight trunk with very few signs of rot or decay. They also have a “root swell” at ground level. Healthy trees also have solid branch attachments and good overall form. Declining trees, on the other hand, could have small crowns, poor coloration, signs of rot and decay and large dead branches. Dead branches at the top of the tree are a sure sign of a declining tree since they normally indicate that the roots or vascular system has been injured. Declining trees could also have a lean, or have very little root swell, looking more like a telephone pole than a tree at ground level. If your trees have any of these symptoms, they are probably in in a state of decline.

This tree has some dying branches, and is an example of an unhealthy tree.

Credit: - Mike Kay

Damaged trees: Trees could be damaged during home construction, excavation, storms, vandalism, impacts with cars, trucks, insects, disease, or by poor pruning practices to name a few. A tree can recover from minor wounding, but sometimes it needs some tender loving care to repair the injury. In other cases the damage may be so severe that the tree becomes a risk tree. Profound damage on the main trunk can be very apparent. Extensive damage to the root system may be less obvious and would require a trained eye to spot. Incorrect “topping” can damage a tree causing wounds that will not heal correctly and weak branch attachments. This will result in rot in the tree and increase the chances that it breaks apart in a storm.

Structural defects: Structural defects consist of rot, hollow areas, significant lean, twist, or poor branch attachments that make a tree unstable or a candidate to suffer storm damage if the right conditions present themselves. Sometimes the defect can be corrected by proper tree care while other times the only viable option is to remove the tree.

What to look for: Now that you have some idea of what could constitute a tree problem you can walk around your home, lawn, driveway etc. and give each tree a critical look. If you spot dead trees, declining trees, trees with significant rot or damaged trees, you should note where they are located and list the symptoms. In addition, you should look at the foliage of your trees from time to time. If the leaves are off color, stunted, falling off the tree before autumn arrives or you notice insect damage you could have a potential problem. Often if the problem is noticed and treated early enough, the tree suffers little permanent damage.

What to do: If you think you have risk trees or trees that could use some help you should contact an arborist to asses the situation and recommend ways to correct the problem. Many of these professionals are listed in the phone book under “Tree Care.” It is important that you contact a “Maryland Registered Tree Expert” since these licensed tree care professionals have the necessary training and insurance coverage to safely work on your trees. Unless the person working on your trees has liability insurance, you as the landowner are responsible for any personal injury or property damage that might occur if something goes wrong. Most companies will send a representative out to look at your tree, make recommendations, and provide you with a cost estimate for the work to be done. It is a good idea to ask this representative if he/she is a licensed Tree Expert with liability insurance coverage. It is also a good idea to contact more than one company to obtain a second or third estimate. Most anyone can take a critical look at their trees and spot an obvious problem, but knowing how to size up and correct the problem takes a great deal of knowledge and skill and should be left to professionals.

Fixing the problem: Correcting potential problems with landscaped plants will help you maintain a healthy and beautiful living space. Early detection and treatment will often correct problems before they can develop. The more you learn about the plants on your property the more able you will be to provide optimum care. Some good sources of information about trees and shrubs can be found on the following websites: University of Maryland Cooperative Extension, Maryland DNR Forest Service, International Society of Arboriculture, National Arbor Day Foundation, Monocacy-Catoctin Watershed Alliance,, and Frederick County Forestry Board Web, to name a few.

Article by FCFCDB member

Nature Notes for 6/23/2019