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Why limbs fall in your yard

Travel around a neighborhood after a storm and you will see tree limbs, large and small, scattered about the ground. Why do some limbs fall in high winds or after ice storms while others merely bend? Should you worry about that large limb overhanging your driveway?

“One reason trees fail is weak branch unions,” says Tchukki Andersen, BCMA (board certified master arborist) and staff arborist with the Tree Care Industry Association. “Homeowners can educate themselves about tree limbs, but they should call a professional arborist if they are worried about an overhanging branch.”

Trees may suffer from naturally formed imperfections that can lead to branch failure at the union of the branch and main stem. There are two types imperfections that create weak unions: a branch union with included bark and an epicormic branch.

Weak unions
Branch unions can be characterized as strong or weak. Strong branch unions have upturned branch bark ridges at branch junctions. Annual rings of wood from the branch grow together with annual rings of wood from the stem, creating a sound, strong union all the way into the center of the tree.
A weak branch union occurs when a branch and stem (or two or more co-dominant stems) grow so closely together that bark grows between them, inside the tree. The term for bark growing inside the tree is “included bark.” As more and more bark is included inside the tree, the weak union is formed that is more likely to fail.

In storm damage surveys conducted by the University of Minnesota’s Forest Resources Department, 21 percent of all landscape trees that failed in windstorms failed at weak branch unions of co-dominant stems. Some species are notorious for having included bark: European mountain ash, green ash, hackberry, boxelder, willow, red maple, silver maple, Amur maple, cherry and littleleaf linden.

Epicormic branches
Epicormic branches (also called water sprouts) are formed as a response to poor pruning practices, injury or environmental stress. Epicormic branches are new branches that replaced injured, pruned or declining branches. Commonly, epicormic branches form on the stems and branches of topped trees. When old, large epicormic branches are growing on decaying stems or branches, the epicormics are very likely to fail.

Epicormic branches, by their very nature, form weak unions because they are shallowly attached instead of being attached all the way to the center of the stem. Epicormic branches grow very quickly so they become heavy very quickly. After a time they lose their connection to the main branch and may fall to the ground because the underlying wood cannot support their weight.

“If a weak union is also cracked, cankered or decayed, the union is likely to fail, causing the branch to fall off the tree,” says Andersen. “Sometimes, ridges of bark and wood will form on one or both sides of a weakened branch union in order to stabilize the union. The branch is very likely to fail when a crack forms between the ridges.”

 

Information reprinted with permission from TCIA. Wyoming Tree Care is a proud member of TCIA.

The love for the Pacific Northwest is amplified by the amazing tree scapes found within the region – not to mention easy access to the coast in one direction and the mountains in another… drive a bit further and you can even experience the desert.

Of course, though, my first and foremost attachment to this area are the amazing and diversified trees.

It saddens me when a beautiful and seemingly healthy tree is toppled by mother nature – and, it always seems to be the glorious older trees affected the most. The “WHAT IF” thoughts start racing through my mind when the news coverage highlights tree damage from a strong storm.

What if… the tree had been regularly maintained. What if… the tree was given ample room to grow. The questions could go on. Seriously, though, there is a tremendous emphasis here on the importance of regular maintenance for a tree, especially urban trees. While many skip the thought of spending money to prune a tree, they forget (or maybe are not educated) about the impact improper pruning techniques can have on the structural integrity of a tree.

Think for a moment about a tree that may be growing next to a home. It is 30 feet to the top and it’s span is vast. Imagine the tree has been there for quite a few years and a homeowner decides it’s time to prune some of the branches away from the home – giving it some “building clearance”, as an Arborist would say. The way I see it, the homeowner has a couple options – hire an Arborist or Do It Yourself. Now, I’m not gonna lie, if I were the homeowner and this were a smaller, juvenille tree that needed a few snippets here and there – I myself might conquer the task on my own. However, the daunting task of conquering a 30-foot tree on¬†one’s own¬†is just asking for trouble.

The trouble starts with the huge risk of personal injury – let’s face it, most homeowners lost the “daredevil” attitude years ago. Adding to the layers of trouble, there is the major issue with the age of the tree as the technique to prune a mature tree is much different than that of younger trees. Plus, do you realize how much one of those “branches” actually weigh?!? Don’t be deceived, they are several hundred pounds heavier than your lowest guess.

Getting back to the initial scenario of building clearance. Let’s continue the story that the homeowner decided to tackle this project on his own. Since the tree provides beautiful curb appeal for the front of the home, the homeowner elects to just remove the branches extending toward the home and viola, building clearance.

Here’s the Disaster Equation… Wet Ground + High Winds + Improper Pruning = Disaster

The improper pruning in the formula is based on the fact that the pruning completed by the homeowner actually created a hazardous situation for the tree. By making such vigorous cutting/pruning on just one side of the tree (side next to home), it created an unbalanced structure within the tree – essentially the weight of the limbs/branches is not distributed evenly and is thus causes increased stress on the side gone un-pruned.

This situation places the tree in tremendous danger – the right mix of saturated grounds from winter or spring storms along with high wind gusts or sustained winds will cause this tree to fall over.

The video and photos shown in this blog post highlighted a tree in the Portland Metro area – the tree and homeowner are not representative of the fictional story portrayed above.

Special thanks to Wyoming Tree Care for allowing local news coverage (KGW Newschannel 8 РKeely Chalmers reporting) to follow work for the day in the aftermath of a strong spring storm that barreled through the Pacific Northwest on April 5th.

Did you know the City of Portland is one municipality requiring a permit to prune, plant and/or remove vegetation falling under the “urban forest” definition?

Simply wanting to prune your trees located within a public right-of-way, otherwise know as “street side” requires a permit prior to engaging in any activity.

Wyoming Tree Care will be devoting an entire page on our website to “Permitting” so that our area property owners can come to one place to find information and links to any municipality within the Portland Metro area. Stay tuned and keep checking back as the page will begin to grow over the next week.

In browsing through the internet today, I came across this website about a local non-profit organization focusing efforts on sharing the bounty from fruit trees within the city to those who are in need. This goal is realized through numerous volunteers, fruit tree registry of participants and supporters.

The Portland Fruit Tree Project has a simple purpose yielding enormous results Рover 4,600 pounds of food was harvested in 2008 that would have gone to waste otherwise.

Makes me think about the 2 apple trees, one pear tree and one (yummy) plum tree in my backyard. Every year we are begging friends and family to take a share of the harvest. I mean, how much more creative can one family get with canning, freezing and recipe-ing (is that a word?).

This group takes you from the fruit tree selection process to planting advice through proper pruning techniques and right around to harvesting the fruits of your labor.

Check them out.

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Wyoming Tree Care recently made the local news when they helped a local family safely remove a tree that threatened their home after a recent storm. We were in the right place at the right time and were able to help the homeowners save their house.

Link to the Full Video Here




       
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