Managing & Recognising Tree Risks
Trees are amazing and provide us all with a plethora of wonderful benefits from additional privacy and shade from the heat of the summer sun, to cleaner, greener oxygen – all of which increase as a tree grows larger with age. However, older and larger trees—as beautiful as they are—are not without their risks.
For example, the oldest and largest trees, they’re much more likely to cause root conflict or drop branches – which can be hazardous for those around them.
That said, despite the potential risks, through proper management, it is possible to reduce these risks and indeed, recognise them before they arise.
The fact is, trees can become hazardous for a wide variety of reasons, whether it be due to strong winds and intense weather events, or human interaction (e.g., construction which may negatively affect certain nearby trees). The important thing is that you can recognise these risks and adopt the appropriate prevention/management strategies to ensure that your trees remain both happy, healthy, and hazard-free.
In this article, we’re going to dive into managing & recognising tree risks in great depth so that you can properly tend to your property and avoid any unnecessary disasters. Here’s everything you need to know…
How to Recognise Tree Risks?
Yes, trees are extremely beautiful and while the risks that we are going to highlight on this page are rare, when they do occur, the results can be devastating. From potential injury and—in worst-case scenarios—death to public liability, understanding the risks involved and the implications for you as the person responsible for your trees is essential. Not only can this protect you from harm and legal difficulty, but it can also help you to ensure that the trees on your property are happy and healthy – which is critical in times like these when environmental sustainability and biodiversity are such hot topics.
In this section, we’ll highlight several tell-tale signs that can help you identify potential tree risks and then we will go into more depth on how to manage them. But first, let’s start with one of the most important things of all:
- Trees and Utility Lines: Having a tree on your property that is liable to damage your property or cause bodily harm to you is one thing, but having a tree that is venturing dangerously close to public utility lines is another thing entirely. If a tree falls or branches onto utility lines, there are serious consequences. Not only can it cause terrible injury to anyone nearby at the time of the incident, but it can also cause wide power outages, surges, and fires! Stick your head out the window now and have a look at the utilities neighbouring your home; are any of your trees getting a little too close for comfort?
The Ultimate Tree Risk Checklist
When assessing a tree on your property for potential risks, consider the following questions:
- Are there any notably large, dead branches in the tree?
- Can you spot any detached branches that are caught hanging in the tree?
- Does the tree have any rotten wood or large cavities in the trunk?
- Are there any mushrooms growing at the base of the tree?
- Can you see any splits or cracks in the trunk?
- Are there any fallen branches on the ground surrounding the tree?
- Have you noticed any trees adjacent that has toppled over or become pestiferous?
- Is the tree leaning quite noticeably in one direction?
- Do most of the major branches stem from one particular point of the trunk?
- Are there any damaged, broken, or injured roots at the base of the tree?
- Has the tree’s surrounding area been changed recently by construction or development?
- Have the leaves developed an unusual size or colour prematurely?
- Has the tree ever been topped or heavily pruned?
All of the above could be signs of potential risk, in which case, you should contact your local arborist for further advice.
Dangerous Tree Defects in Urban Environments
If you are living in an urban environment, the following defects can be quite dangerous and will require immediate action:
- Unusual regrowth from topping or excessive pruning
- Electrical utility lines immediately next to the tree
- Open cavities in the trunk and/or branches
- Broken / partially attached branches
- Dead or visibly dying branches
- Many branches stem from one specific point of the trunk
- Rot and decay present in old wounds from pruning/lopping
How an Arborist Can Help Manage the Potentially Hazardous Trees on Your Property
If you’ve spotted one or many of the above issues and have no idea what to do, calling your local arborist is highly recommended. Here’s a closer look at how a qualified arborist can help you manage the trees on your property and mitigate potential disasters:
- Remove the Neighbouring Obstacle: Yes, moving a public power line or shifting your house over a tad isn’t possible, however, most other obstacles might be. For example, you can relocate landscape features and picnic tables, and any other things that may be damaged by a falling tree.
- Regularly Prune Your Trees: Quality pruning is an essential part of a tree's general maintenance and in doing so, you can have the problem branches safely removed before they cause unnecessary damage. It may be tempting to try pruning yourself but bear in mind that improper pruning can result in the weakening of a tree.
- Cable Bracing a Tree: It’s not always possible—or recommended—but providing physical support for a tree’s weak branches can increase their stability. That said, there are no guarantees and the safe and proper removal of said branches may be the appropriate course of action. It’s on a case-by-case basis.
- Providing Routine, Annual Care: A tree's needs and requirements change depending on the season and as their natural shape matures, proper routine care is likely required to keep them happy, healthy, and above all: stable. This can include pruning, watering, feeding, and mulching.
- Relocate the Tree: It’s not always possible and can be very difficult, but it is possible to—in some cases—relocate a tree. This involves digging up the root system and having it transported to a more appropriate area where it can otherwise thrive. Naturally, with an exceptionally old and large tree, this might be practically impossible.
- Remove the Tree Entirely: This is a worst-case scenario and something that most people are likely to want to avoid but it is always an option. If your tree is becoming too much of a hazard and there’s very little else that can be done to reduce the risk, felling and removing the tree entirely might be the only viable course of action left – in which case your arborist will advise and assist you accordingly.
How to Respond Safely to Storm-Related Tree Damage
In the event of heavy weather, your trees are likely to receive quite a bettering from heavy winds and rain. This can have a lasting effect on your home and the trees surrounding it. So, what do you do in such an event? How do you respond to lightning strikes and stormy weather? Below is a safety step guide on how to react:
- Assess the overall damage
- Keep a safe distance and take the necessary safety precautions
- Resist the urge to save money and ‘DIY’ – it’s always worth calling a professional arborist who is trained to handle such situations.
How to Avoid Unnecessary Tree Damage During Construction
If you are planning a construction or extension development project on your property, then it’s always worth considering how the trees on your property may be affected – and having a plan in place to prevent any necessary damage.
- Planning: the first step is to properly plan. Make sure that your construction team and arborist coordinate in the early phases of your construction project to ensure that no unnecessary damage is caused. Often, the smallest changes can make the biggest difference.
- Build barriers and limit access: Another approach to preventing damage to your trees during a construction project on your property is by erecting barriers around your trees to prevent physical damage to the tree itself and its roots. Similarly, you should limit access to the construction site so that there is a clear access point – while marking defined areas where workers can park vehicles/machinery to avoid soil compaction, etc.
- Communicate well: Keep open lines of communication and make sure that everyone involved understands your goals and requirements from the get-go.
How to Treat Trees That Have Been Damaged by Construction?
If the above fails and for whatever reason, one of the trees on your property is accidentally damaged during construction, what should you do about it? Again, calling a qualified arborist to assist you is always the recommended course of action. They will proceed as follows:
- Inspect and assess: As construction-related damage will have likely affected the structural integrity of your tree, a qualified arborist will begin by inspecting and assessing the extent of the damage. Common damage caused due to construction typically includes:
- Damage to the trunk/crown
- Soil compaction near the roots
- Severed/damaged roots
- Smothered roots
- Increased wind and sunlight exposure from demolition
- Stress caused by drainage changes.
- Prescribe the appropriate remedy: Once your arborist has successfully identified the issue, they can then prescribe the appropriate remedy to set it right and reduce the risk. Below we will share some examples of how an arborist might treat trunk and crown injuries caused by construction.
How We Treat Trunk and Crown Injuries
Your arborist may prescribe the following treatment, depending on the extent of the damage:
- Pruning (removing split, torn, or broken branches).
- Cabling and bracing (providing additional support for weak branches that may need it).
- Treating damaged bark/trunk wounds (removing loose bark and cutting away jagged edges – while being careful not to damage living tissue).
- Irrigation and drainage (ensuring that adequate, though not excessive, water supply is maintained).
- Mulching (applying organic mulch over the tree’s root system to promote strong and healthy future growth, while maintaining moisture and reducing competition from weeds and grasses).
Always Keep an Eye Out for Potential Decline and Growing Risk
The fact is, no matter how hard you try, sometimes, losing trees to accidental damage from construction and unpredictable weather events happens. The important thing is that you keep an eye out for any potential symptoms of decline, such as distortion, discolouration, and smaller / fewer leaves. Additionally, trees that are under stress tend to be far more prone to diseases and pest infestations, so, keep an eye out for that kind of activity as well.
If ever you have any doubts and suspect that your tree may be diseased, have a pest infestation, or could be dying for whatever reason, give your local arborist a call for further advice and assistance.
Arborists are well-versed in all things tree-related and will easily be able to spot any potential risks before they progress beyond the point of no return.
As with anything in life, the sooner you catch a problem, the easier it will be to rectify it. So, remain diligent and keep a close eye out; doing so will give you the best possible chance at keeping your trees happy and healthy – while promoting strong future growth.
We hope that you have found this article helpful and now have a clearer idea as to how to respond in the event of a tree on your property growing hazardous.
If you have any questions or would like to request a site inspection, please do not hesitate to contact us today – we’re always happy to help.