Do I need a tree surgeon?
January 11, 2011 10:26 AM   Subscribe

My neighbor hit my tree with his car. Do I go to Home Depot or call a specialist?

Very nice neighbor just told me he hit my tree with his Buick. I heard the boom but didn't realize what had happened. He's OK, but looks heartbroken about his Buick (completely smushed the front corner panel) and my tree. I refer to it as "the birch tree," but only because the bark is white. I don't really know what species it is. It's a "V" shape and the arm of the "V" that he hit is about 8 inches in diameter. He hit it hard enough where I thought a sheet of ice had slid off the roof when I heard it, and there's about a 2-inch long, maybe half-inch deep gouge about a foot off the ground. He's already offered to make me whole on this situation (he was using my driveway to turn around, and somehow his foot slipped off the brake pedal.). If this is the matter of spending a few bucks at Home Depot and doing some patching, then I'm not going to mention it to him. But my fiancee loves this tree and if we need it removed or replaced or some serious intervention, we're going to have to ask him to pay for it.

So -- where do I begin?
posted by Buffaload to Home & Garden (13 answers total)
It doesn't sound like the tree is seriously damaged. I doubt you need to do much of anything. Tree wound dressings exist, but the owner of my local garden center (w/a degree in botany) tells me they cause more problems than they solve.
posted by jon1270 at 10:32 AM on January 11, 2011

With a photo?
posted by thebazilist at 10:32 AM on January 11, 2011

I'm no tree expert but that does not really sound like a fatal blow to a tree if it has not been uprooted or severely torn up. If the only mark is two inches long and a half-inch deep, it sounds like you can just leave it. I still drive by a local tree I hit hard about five years ago, and the thing looks fine. At the time, there was some bark torn off and a deep gash in the side. But, if you really love your tree, just call an arborist to come look at it. I wouldn't try DIY without some internet research.
posted by iknowizbirfmark at 10:32 AM on January 11, 2011

Response by poster: With a photo?

(Do I need a Flickr account to do this? I only upload photos to my Face-box page, usually.)
posted by Buffaload at 10:34 AM on January 11, 2011

When my brother was younger he drove our riding lawnmower up a young dogwood tree until both he, the lawn mower, and the tree were at a 45° angle. Because he's a moron.

Anyway, he chopped the side of the tree up pretty bad, and we weren't sure if it was going to make it. My dad soaked some newspaper in fertilizer (maybe miracle grow or something similar), wrapped them around the cut part of the tree like a band-aid, then braced the tree against a wooden rod to straighten it back out. The tree is fine now. That was in the summer, though--I don't know how it would fare in the winter or with deep gouges like your tree has. IANABotanist
posted by phunniemee at 10:37 AM on January 11, 2011

I'd suggest calling an arborist for a professional opinion about the health of the tree and a cost estimate to remedy any damage done. You can share the costs as you see fit based on the amount and your relationship with your neighbor. If I hit your tree, I would feel pretty stupid and would be grateful to pay for the inspection, just to partially redeem myself.
posted by rube goldberg at 10:39 AM on January 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: p.s. You can upload photos here:, or if you upload it on facebook, right click the image to "view image" and use that link.
posted by phunniemee at 10:40 AM on January 11, 2011

Response by poster: Frankly, he could have hit my house or my car just as easily, so I told him that this was the best thing he could have nailed. I would rather not do anything, but I didn't know if hitting a tree with sufficient force might cause some kind of phantom damage that will show up six months from now. Just going on looks, my instinct is to leave it alone, but because the "boom" was pretty loud and we really like this tree, I wanted to know if there's something I was unaware of that I needed to watch out for.
posted by Buffaload at 10:44 AM on January 11, 2011

What jon1270 said. Tree dressings are highly frowned-upon by people who actually know how to care for trees (i.e. usually NOT the guys who come around the neighborhood selling tree-trimming services) The wound you describe sounds negligible. It'll self-heal fairly quickly.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:46 AM on January 11, 2011

Best answer: It'll be fine. Birch trees aren't very ling lived anyway so if this is a mature specimen (and at 8 inches it probably is) theres no point in spending money on it because its probably already rotting from the inside out. In fact I don't think ive ever heard of calling an arborist over a birch tree, like goldfish if they die you just get another one.
posted by fshgrl at 11:09 AM on January 11, 2011

Odds are it is going to be ok. if the tree is close enough to a structure that it might hit if it fell I'd have a specialist in to take a quick look and get a professional opinion on long term health.

Yeah, avoid tree dressing.
posted by edgeways at 12:00 PM on January 11, 2011

Agree. It sounds fine. The tree will in all likelihood heal itself. A service call from an arborist couldn't hurt.

(Dressings are frowned on because they can seal in bad things just as much as they can seal them out. They are used, but let an arborist tell you what to do.)
posted by gjc at 2:47 PM on January 11, 2011

Best answer: Regarding birch tree life, don't assume 8" is at all approaching end-of-life. I've got birches on my property that are upwards of 60' tall and trunks with a diameter approaching 2'. Yes, they do rot from the inside out, but they can live very many years with hollow centres.

That being said, if you have an old birch and it's rotting out, consider what you have to do to prevent a falling tree wrecking a house/car/loved ones.
posted by swimming naked when the tide goes out at 2:48 PM on January 11, 2011

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