As all too many homeowners have discovered the hard way, seemingly healthy trees can sometimes start losing limbs or even fall over completely. What at first glance appears to be a perfectly strong and sturdy tree can suddenly begin to pose a threat to people and property. How does this occur, and, more importantly, how can it be prevented?
There are numerous reasons why a healthy tree can suddenly begin to weaken and die, but they mostly boil down to one cause: rot. Rot in a tree can be caused by a variety of factors, but ultimately the result is the same. The structural components of the tree will soften from the inside out, slowly causing the wood to weaken. If this isn’t caught in time, it will lead to the death and eventual collapse of the tree. Unfortunately, many of the signs of rot are invisible from the outside.
If you think your tree might be rotting, read below to help pinpoint the causes, signs and steps to take to resolve the problem.
First, let’s look at the possible signs:
While there will always be insects that call your tree home, the appearance of certain species can be a sign of rot. In the Portland area, the most common wood damaging insect is the carpenter ant. Carpenter ants do not eat wood like termites. Instead, they will tunnel through the bark of a tree and build nests inside the trunk and branches. Signs of their presence include fine, sawdust-like material that they leave behind as they burrow into the rotten wood.
While these ants do not cause rot, their presence is a sure sign that rot has occurred. Besides carpenter ants, various other insects can appear once a tree begins rotting – certain beetles, carpenter bees, termites, and others – so be on the lookout for signs of an infestation.
Often, the culprit behind tree rot is any one of a variety of fungi that grow on the inside of a tree. If you start to see signs of fungal growth on the outside – such as shelf fungi or “mushrooms” sprouting near the roots – then this is a sign that the tree has been rotting from within for quite some time. By the time the fungi are visible, the roots of the tree are likely in an advanced state of decay and the tree may not be salvageable.
Unusual leaf growth
Sometimes the signs of rot are subtle. If you have a tree you suspect may be unhealthy, keep an eye on the leaves. If the tree is growing fewer leaves than normal, if the leaves are unusually small or discolored, or if they are falling too early in the year then there’s a good chance that something is wrong with the tree.
When the small twigs and branches of a tree begin to die off, this is another indicator that the tree has become unhealthy. When branches begin to weaken and die, this can be a sign that they are not receiving enough water. This may be because the tree is dehydrated, or it may be because the root system has been compromised by rot or another disease.
If you notice that the soil around the tree has become compacted, your tree is at risk. Soil that has been subjected to frequent vehicle or foot traffic, construction, trenching or nearby digging can all contribute to the compacting of soil, which can prevent water from penetrating the ground and reaching the roots of the tree. As the tree becomes starved for water and oxygen, it will weaken, and eventually die.
A wounded trunk or branches
If part of a tree has been injured, whether it be in a storm or accidentally by human causes, it is possible for the wound to become infected by a fungus or bacteria. It can also render the tree vulnerable to attacks from invasive insects. Damage to the trunk can disrupt the transport of water, sugars and vital nutrients to the rest of the tree, causing it to decline and eventually killing it.
What can I do?
If you notice one or more of these signs, your first step should be to contact a tree service and have them do a full inspection of the tree. They will be able to advise you on the best course of action to take, whether it is to curtail the damage or to remove the tree completely. Occasionally, if you remove the causes of the rot, you may be able to save the tree, but sometimes this is not possible.
While it may be possible to remove a dying tree yourself, it is often not recommended as an untrained person may have difficulty in controlling the direction that a tree falls when it is cut down.
If the tree begins to lose larger branches or falls unexpectedly, it may pose a danger to you, other members of your household, and your property. That’s why we recommend securing the help of a tree service to assist you in this task. Besides their training, they will be able to provide equipment such as guide ropes and other mechanical devices that will aid in the process of removing the tree.
Often, your tree service professional can help you install a new, healthy tree after you have the old one removed.