Can this tree be saved?
June 26, 2015 3:08 PM   Subscribe

The honey locust that's been shading the family home since my grandmother planted it in the 1940s has lost one of its largest limbs, back to nearly the base of the tree. Is there anything to be done to save the rest of the tree? Pictures of the damage.

The inner wound that goes up the trunk looks like it's somewhat compartmentalized -- there's bark nearly all the way "inside" down to where the branch was connected only at the bottom. Is it at all realistic to think the rest of the tree could carry on?

We'll have some tree people over soon to deal with the fallen branch and take a look. I'm just wondering if there's any hope. The goldfinches and grosbeaks would be grateful.
posted by mgar to Home & Garden (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
How far into the tree crevice does that black colored part go?

That looks like possible rot, although a real arborist will be able to diagnose far better in person the health of the main trunk. Honey locust trees tend to drop branches in heavy storms without compromising the health of the tree, so it's quite possible they'll be able to save it.
posted by bookdragoness at 3:22 PM on June 26, 2015

Response by poster: I just poked it with a stick (since I have a few now...) and there's one spot on the far side where I could poke the stick in about 6", but the rest is solid, although it does sound hollow. There's about 4" of dirt (composted tree innards, I assume) at the bottom of the crevice.
posted by mgar at 3:41 PM on June 26, 2015

Best answer: If this is a tree with sentimental value, have the arborist save some of the wood for you, not just cart it away. Honey locust is a beautiful and unusual wood for woodworking, and even if the whole tree can't be saved, you can make some lovely bowls, shelves, etc. from the wood to remember it by.
posted by apparently at 4:14 PM on June 26, 2015 [7 favorites]

If there's any uncertainty about its structural integrity then proximity to the house will be the tie-breaker. I suspect they're going to tell you to take it down because it's big and heavy and would do a lot of damage if it fell the wrong way, and the arborist won't want to be liable. It might stand that way for years, but it doesn't look like a smart gamble.
posted by jon1270 at 5:09 PM on June 26, 2015

As has been mentioned, you need to hire an arborist for a professional assessment. My quasi-trained eye looks at that and says, "That tree is on its way out, and should probably be taken down before it falls on something."
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 10:57 PM on June 26, 2015

I think you have a good chance of saving that tree. The tree limb that failed does not disturb even a majority of the circumference of the tree, which is one factor that will determine how well the upper portions of the tree communicate (nutrient-wise) with the roots, and has a lot to do with the future survival of the tree.

Make it clear to an arborist that saving the tree is very important. It's always safer to cut a tree down than to keep it, and that's what arborists generally do: tell people that you should cut that tree down.

Getting the limb off without further damaging the portion of the tree below it is nontrivial, and an arborist will know how to clean up the remaining stub without further weakening the tree.
posted by the Real Dan at 9:34 AM on June 27, 2015

It's worth emphasizing that not all "tree people" are certified arborists capable of dealing with this conservatively. Many tree services are just individuals or groups of guys who are good with ropes and chainsaws, capable only of removals or semi-skilled pruning. Make sure you're consulting with an actual arborist.
posted by jon1270 at 1:16 PM on June 27, 2015

Response by poster: Oh yes, the tree people are guys who've been around trees, can cut them down safely, and know about the resulting wood. They're not at all arborists, but I trust them not to give me false hope.

Proximity to the house will be the deciding factor -- the tree is older than the house, actually -- so we'll have to do some measurements. I'd rather lose the whole tree now than lose both the tree and part of the house all of a sudden.

In the meantime, thanks in part to this previously:
I'm sawing off smaller branches for coasters, and cutting up little branches for twig trivets. I hope my tree people, in concert with my sawmill guys, can help me keep a slab or two for a coffee table, or even bookshelves.

I'll know more tomorrow. Thanks, everybody.
posted by mgar at 1:42 PM on June 27, 2015

Best answer: If you do take it down, be ready with some Anchorseal and a big paintbrush so you can seal the cut ends of the log to minimize cracking until you get it sawn into planks. Unsealed, the ends will dry out and shrink faster than the middle, and cracking can begin very quickly. You can keep a stack of planks outside for a couple of months for initial drying, held off the ground and spaced apart with small sticks to allow air-circulation, and with an improvised roof of some kind (an old sheet of plywood, weighted down with rocks or similar) to keep rain and direct sun off. Don't hang a tarp over it because that will trap moisture and encourage rot. Eventually you should move them into a warm, dry indoor area for continued drying. An attic or above the rafters of a garage works well.

Enjoy the wood, if this is the way it goes. It's pretty stuff, and not widely available as lumber. I'm kinda jealous.
posted by jon1270 at 2:09 PM on June 27, 2015

Response by poster: Update: we're thinking the tree might make it. The damage is a smaller percentage of the trunk than it seemed, so we're going to tidy up the wound and let it seal over. We'll re-evaluate in the fall.

In the meantime, I'm going to get some Anchorseal or PEG and set aside some trunk pieces for an eventual plant stand or side table.
posted by mgar at 5:08 PM on July 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

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