Dead or alive?
March 28, 2010 9:56 AM   Subscribe

Is this tree gonna die?

I know you are not my arborist and are not standing in my yard. It's a mulberry if that helps. Lots more pictures there.
posted by fixedgear to Home & Garden (16 answers total)
fixedgear, my BIL is an arborist and he's going to be visiting for the weekend in May. Let me know if you don't figure this out by then, we can swing by. I always have him do a full cavity physical on my trees when he's in town. I get a headsup on critical situations and the trees seem to like it.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 10:26 AM on March 28, 2010

Not only am I not your arborist, I am not anyone's arborist or even an arborist, but I am a guy who has watched way to much of the Do It Yourself (DIY) channel. They had a segment on pruning trees, the correct way and wrong way. According to what I remember they said, a break like that will eventually damage the tree. One likely outcome is death from rotting out with the exposed part of the tree not able to fend off moisture damage, bugs, etc. They did not say what to do if you could not prune off the branch as it appears this is the case, but I remember from growing up that the "tree guy" who came to remove a branch from our apple tree put some sort of tar like substance over the wound to seal it.

I guess what I am saying is that if you take no action, it does appear as if that is a fatal wound, but I also think the tree is savable.

I would also consider where the tree is in relation to the house. If it would fall on the house or if it fell could it hit the house, I would take action much more quickly. The limb below the break seems to be at risk too, but again, I am no arborist, but I am someone who has had a tree fall into the yard and miss the house by literally inches.

Apologies if this is too random. Good luck.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:29 AM on March 28, 2010

I should have added that it's not in my yard. It is located in my neighbor's yard. It had a Y shaped thing going, and the snow load coupled with the wind caused the break. If you look at some of the other pictures you can see that this same scenario has happened once before, a near identical break about ten years ago. This looks considerably larger.
posted by fixedgear at 10:47 AM on March 28, 2010

It's in danger, sure, but I have a tree that was so bad the trunk literally split, with a deep gouge well into the heart of the trunk. I kept an eye on it, figuring I would have to cut it down soon. That was several years ago now and the tree is 3 or 4 times the height it was then. And I did nothing to the tree; I just let it be.
posted by Doohickie at 10:59 AM on March 28, 2010

I'm just a guy who's obsessed with pruning.

That's a pretty serious split, but it isn't necessarily fatal to the tree. The best treatment would be to prune off that trunk above the branch just below the damage. It would still look funky, but the rest of it might fill in and the tree could survive for years. Left as is, though, it is definitely an invitation for rot and/or disease.

Tar is no longer preferred for wounds. The modern consensus is that it can lock in moisture and encourage rot where you can't see it. Cutting it so that the tree can eventually bark over it is considered best.
posted by dhartung at 11:24 AM on March 28, 2010

Maybe this shows the damage better? It was a straight-ish trunk with a limb almost the same diameter in a Y configuration. There is nothing to prune, only a gaping open wound in the trunk that is 5 feet long and looks to be at least 1/3 the diameter of the trunk. I think tar is out.

My neighbor said 'if it doesn't leaf out in the spring I'll have it taken down' but he's full of shit and everyone has sticker shock when they hear what that will cost. I tried to convince PECO (the power company) to do it, but they are in the benign neglect business. They'll put the power line back up after the tree falls on it - it's happened twice.
posted by fixedgear at 12:20 PM on March 28, 2010

The problem is not so much that the tree will die or live; the problem is not one of health so much as structure. The reason that side failed (besides, maybe, a bunch of snow-load) is that it had poor structure in the fork, and now the structure is even worse. Health and structure in trees are not always mutually inclusive. Trees can be perfectly healthy and structurally horrible, or dead and structurally fantastic. That tree had a bad fork between two stems with what's called "included bark". Whenever you have two codominant stems (that is, two main stems or leads that are near the same size) with a narrow "V" shaped fork with a seam going down, you have an inherently weak fork. It's a common problem, and just how weak can vary widely. What happens with narrow forks like that is as the trees grow and the stems slowly swell outward, they swell into each other. The bark makes it difficult to graft through, and the pressure of the stems growing into each other eventually cut off the vascular flow and kill the tissue there. In your original blurry photo, do you see the bright edges around the dark area where it split off? That's where the stems had slightly grafted, and the dark area was where the tissue had been killed over the years.

The the tree will most likely live, but the issue now is that the remaining leader has lost some of its support from the graft, and some of its protection from wind exposure provided by the lost half. The very long wound is going to start decaying as well (though mulberry can be somewhat rot-resistant). To be honest, it looks like a lost cause, and you'd probably be better off removing it and planting a new tree, something that stays small and is more appropriate in proximity to the utility lines.
posted by Red Loop at 12:37 PM on March 28, 2010

Seconding Redloop.

It's unlikely to kill the tree, although it's a nasty disfigurement. In the event that it did, the final gasp would be years away. In the meantime, I'd be a lot more worried about structural support issues (read: large falling parts).

If it were your tree, I'd recommend an arborist. Since it's not, I'd look at whether it's putting any of your property at risk. If so, I'd still recommend calling an arborist.

Or for a third option: Call the power company. It looks to me like it's endagering their lines. They're often terrible pruners, but they will not hesitate to lop half the tree off without so much as a 'hi we're dropping by' if they think their lines are in danger. If you're lucky enough to be home when they come by on their look-see, you could always grill them for any other answers you want.
posted by Ys at 1:40 PM on March 28, 2010

As far as I know, most electric utilities don't do line clearance on drop service, only transmission lines. If this is a neighbor's tree and it's a threat to your property, you could send a letter, ccing your homeowner's insurance agent, stating that you think the tree is a hazard and a threat to your property that needs to be dealt with. That is, if you've done what else you can to speak to him and he's not really being helpful. It's a little un-neighborly, but in general if he doesn't do anything after being duly informed, he's responsible for any damage that might occur. It doesn't look like a tree large enough to do much damage, but I don't know if your priceless porcelain doll collection is sitting in the sunroom beneath it.
posted by Red Loop at 4:47 PM on March 28, 2010

Here is where we are. I really appreciate everyone's help, BTW. During one of last month's blizzards, the tree lost a large limb. It sat across our power line, causing an outage. PECO prioritizes service, so they showed up after 48 chilly hours to say 'Oh, OK, we'll send Asplundh, our tree contractor.' This despite me trying to send pictures, etc, to short-cut or circumvent the process. Sending a guy in a pickup truck to do triage was a waste of his time and my time. Finally five men showed up in the pitch dark and removed the limb from the power line, leaving it in my yard.

This is the second time that this has happened.

I needed other tree work, so I paid to have this limb cut up, chipped and removed. It was an itemized bill, so I presented a copy to my neighbor, and told him he was responsible for one line item. He shopped the price, called to see if the work was actually done (though he was home while my tree guy was working), and eventually paid after much moaning.

I told him that I wanted the tree removed. He balked. I called the arborist who worked for me, and he told me for $175 and up he would write a report which would have legal force. If he determined in his professional capacity (he's testified in court, etc) and served notice, my neighbor would have waived his rights and voided his homeowners since he has been served with legal notice that the tree is a hazard. I declined.

I called my township and spoke to a nice man who is a home guy, not a tree guy. He wrote a letter from the township that has no legal force, but which says we recommend that you remove the tree.

I'm trying to convince my neighbor to remove the tree. PECO can cut it down for all I care.

The consensus seems to be that it will eventually fail. I'd like to not have it hit my deck, or take my power out in winter, summer, spring or fall. Thanks.
posted by fixedgear at 5:03 PM on March 28, 2010

Can't you just see if it dies and then deal with it? What's the rush?
posted by SLC Mom at 6:16 PM on March 28, 2010

Can't you just see if it dies and then deal with it? What's the rush?

I guess it's 'put yourself in my shoes for a sec.' It ain't gonna spontaneously get well. It's gonna die. It's just a matter of when. I'd prefer to have it removed in a controlled manner, rather than waiting for it to come crashing down. My neighbor could not care less, as his yard is uphill from my yard and the tree is leaning towards my yard. When it falls it will take out my power, cable, phone and possibly hit my deck or home. The rush is let's be reasonable proactive adults.
posted by fixedgear at 6:30 PM on March 28, 2010

Sounds like your neighbor is swayed by cost. Find out what it will cost him and his insurance company when the tree hits your deck/house/property versus what it will cost him to take it down. If that does not sway him, take it down yourself. Sounds like if you bill him for it, he is the kind of guy who would not pay because he didn't think it needed to come down. So, knowing that your expected refund from him would be $0, I would talk to him and offer to pay half. He might agree and it will cost you half as much as taking it down yourself and it eliminates the inevitable tree falling on your property and causing havoc.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 7:10 PM on March 28, 2010

fixedgear: "I called the arborist who worked for me, and he told me for $175 and up he would write a report which would have legal force. If he determined in his professional capacity (he's testified in court, etc) and served notice, my neighbor would have waived his rights and voided his homeowners since he has been served with legal notice that the tree is a hazard."

While a letter from an arborist may hold more credence and may sway your neighbor more, you can write the letter yourself and it has (I believe) the same legal weight. You can say that you had an arborist look at it and they say that it is a threat. I'm not trying to take money away from an arborist, but I think that as far as notification goes, you can do it yourself.
But do tell your insurance company, and send them a copy. The biggest problem is that it will probably be such a small claim it's not worth fighting it, but if it came to your vs. his insurance company, clear notification puts things in your favor.
posted by Red Loop at 4:10 AM on March 29, 2010

It's only a flesh wound.
posted by Doohickie at 9:34 PM on March 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

PECO won't take it down, though they did come out. They sent Asplundh - twice-and they told me that tree is no problem but that they were concerned with some scraggly looking pines! Irony. They are sending a crew.
posted by fixedgear at 1:04 PM on April 27, 2010

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