I would like to save as much as my tree as possible
July 23, 2008 4:23 PM   Subscribe

TreeFilter: How do I know what is actually dead?

I live in downtown Atlanta and as you may know we had a tornado a while back. Our house was in the path and one of our ancient oak trees took a hit. I am not sure it is was lightning or just wind damage, but there is a large V shaped swath of dead limbs that we just noticed now that the trees are filled back out with foilage.

Its probably over a third of the canaopy that is affected, they didn't leaf out at all and viewed from the street approach it looks like the majority of the tree is dead.

These are the oaks in question when they were healthy, they are rather squat, so the limbs are possible to get to. TREE

My questions are:
Are the limbs that didn't get any leaves for sure dead?
Does this indicate the rest of the tree may be in trouble?
I have chainsaws, do I take out as close to the trunk as possible?
Will my poor tree fill back out?
posted by stormygrey to Home & Garden (8 answers total)
Could you give us a pic of the tree(s) affected now that they aren't healthy? If it is dead, you should consider getting a professional service to limb them considering how close they are to the house. My uncle tried doing this himself (he too has multiple chain saws) and managed to both bang up the house, which cost $10k and hurt his back, which has cost $4k in doctors appointments to date. A couple of hundred bucks to get a professional to limb it might just be a drop in the bucket compare to that. . .
posted by stewiethegreat at 4:49 PM on July 23, 2008

In your order:
1) I would say this is likely the case, yes;
2) Possibly, particularly if the damaged parts of the tree invite pests or disease, which they may well do;
3) The rule is if any tree work requires ropes and/or ladders to remove safely, you need to hire a trained & certified arborist. Go here and find one locally. Try also Georgia's urban foresters here, or Atlanta's arborist division;
4) See #3 - they'll be much better able to answer this question. I won't even hazard a guess.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 5:04 PM on July 23, 2008

Here is the damaged tree You can see how it is decimated compared to its brother. I think there is a ghost in the frame as well. Weird.
posted by stormygrey at 5:45 PM on July 23, 2008

If you care about the trees then have a pro do it. One that knows what they're doing. Certified with the International Society of Arboriculture is a fairly good sign that they know proper pruning techniques.

The danger of making large cuts with a chain saw is the best reason to hire someone, but the other reason is that the cuts need to be made properly, so that the tree has the best chance to seal up and get on with it's life.

And no you don't cut as close to the trunk as possible, that's called a flush cut and it's really bad.

and that's not an Oak tree
posted by recurve at 6:34 PM on July 23, 2008

It is an oak. :) there are lots of kinds of oak. We are woodworkers, we have cut up and turned some of the fallen wood. Decidely an oak.

I have a guy coming to give us a consultation soon, but we are poor, we might take the advice from the consultation and do what we can ourselves.
posted by stormygrey at 6:43 PM on July 23, 2008

Is that a power line near the tree? If so, please let the pro's handle it. I've seen photos of amateur attempts to cut trees near power lines and it's pretty gruesome.
posted by saffry at 7:04 PM on July 23, 2008

How do I know what is actually dead?

Maybe this is obvious, but you can trace a damaged branch back to where it joins the larger branch/trunk and then scratch away a small bit of the bark till you reach the cambium. If it is still green, the branch is still alive. Whether it will heal and regrow or die back is a judgement call, and I second the suggestion to call in an arborist.

If you want to do the cutting yourself, you want to take damaged branches back to the next big joint - don't leave stumps sticking out. They will either die back anyway or produce really ugly watersprouts. You don't want to cut it flush to the trunk, like recurve said; you want to cut as close to the trunk as you can before the branch widens - that point is the "collar" of the branch. The idea is to have the smallest surface area as possible for the tree to regrow over. When cutting big branches, use the three-point cut to ensure the branch doesn't tear down the trunk. You local state university almost certainly has an hort extension website that will illustrate what I'm talking about. Here's one with tiny little pictures but the info is reliable. Here's another one that illustrates the same two basic tips. Good luck!

(worked as an arborist for a while, though of course IANYA)
posted by BinGregory at 8:41 PM on July 23, 2008

Also, it looks the central leader is dead, like you said. With big oaks, it is pretty rare that you will get a new leader to take its place. So no, the crown will not likely fill in to the same shape it had before. But a skilled arborist could pick out which branches to keep and which to cut to give it the best possible look and give it the longest possible life. Your tree looks like it is still kind of young, so it might have the vigor to recover to full health. With mature full grown oaks, at least in Michigan, losing the top of the tree like that is a death sentence, and skilled pruning really just stretches out the inevitable decline, though it can be stretched out a good long time.
posted by BinGregory at 8:55 PM on July 23, 2008

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