Hole in oak tree that collects water and rots

asonnenshineJanuary 12, 2009

Hi,

I have a HUGE oak tree in my byard. The railing of the deck was built around the tree. Long before I bought the place, one of the main branches was removed (probably 20 years ago?). There is a big hole there in the middle of the main trunk, and water collects in there after each rain. The water is smelly and rotten. I gotta believe that this is NOT good for the tree. My neighbors had the same thing and they just waited for summer to dry out and then poured cement in the hole to prevent water from collecting. I thought that was a bad idea, but now I am wondering? Is that a bad idea for the health of the tree? Are there alternatives? I was considering drilling a half-inch hole thru the bottom-side of the trunk and inserting a rubber tube to allow drainage. Any expert recommendos?

Thanks in advance,

-aaron

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brandon7 TN_zone(7)

This same question has been posted many times in this forum. The general consensus always seems to be that leaving the tree as-is is probably best. The concrete is definitely a bad idea. It will not not keep the tree from roting and would likely add to the problem. The tube is also probably not a good idea. If the tree has been able to compartmentalize the rot, drilling a hole through the rot/good-wood barrier would only encourage more rot. I don't know of a perfect solution, but letting the tree deal with the problem naturally is likely the best solution.

    Bookmark   January 12, 2009 at 7:35PM
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jean001(z8aPortland, OR)

I agree. Leave it be.

    Bookmark   January 13, 2009 at 12:36AM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

cement is extremely acidic... i dont see how such could be anything but a negative ... it might be akin.. to drilling out you own tooth cavity and filling it with cement.. ya.. you can do it.. but it wont be the best remedy ... lol...

trees take care of themselves .... EVERYTHING you can dream up is contrary to nature .... EXCEPT .... removal ...

hire a certified arborist.. and get an opinion as to the health of this tree .. especially since it is so close to the house ...

my personal nightmare .. oft repeated here.. is that a large tree.. planted WAY TO CLOSE TO THE HOUSE ... will fall and kill me in my sleep ... and a rotting tree .. too close to the house.. is NOT reassuring ...

if that is a zip code next to your name.. it means nothing to me.. if you are in a storm or severe weather area .. think long and hard about removal ... oak makes great firewood ....

good luck

ken

PS: why have you had your head in the hole.. smellin' the stink???? ... lol

    Bookmark   January 13, 2009 at 9:04AM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

Concrete was commonly used to fill up holes in trees, many years ago. We know better now, thankfully. The practice is not only damaging to the tree itself, but can cause reeeeaaalll problems for the arborist when the tree needs to come down.

ken....95062= Santa Cruz

    Bookmark   January 13, 2009 at 3:24PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

thx rhizo ... i was being to lazy to google it ...

no CA experience here.. at least its not in hurricane land ... but my midwest experience says if its near a trailer park.. look out.. the funnel clouds will come ... but i dont recall any CA tornado stories either ...

you still need a certified experts opinion ...

ken

    Bookmark   January 13, 2009 at 5:02PM
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asonnenshine

Hey thanks for all the replies. Yes, from what I have read, you are all correct that cement should not be used. The reason I notice the water in the hole is that our deck was built kind of around the tree and I can walk right up to the trunk with the hole in it (located at about waist level). Looks like my cat might even try to drink out of it...yuk!! Maybe even mosquitoes festering in it?

I think what I am going to do is build a very lightweight "roof" or maybe even an umbrella to go over the hole to prevent water from entering in the first place.

Yes, if that tree ever fell it would rip up our deck. But thankfully it does lean away from us. I love that tree and so does all the birds and squirrels.

    Bookmark   January 13, 2009 at 5:19PM
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katrina1(OK)

Beautiful shade: enjoyable wildlife activity so near

Squirrels in an oak tree, in the middle of your patio?

Does that mean the tall tree is very close to your house? If so, does that mean you often hear the patter of their little feet running across your roof? Or are squirrels chewing vulnerable parts of the siding or roofing materials in an attemp to make just large enough entry access for getting into your attic and nesting in or with the insulation?

    Bookmark   January 14, 2009 at 2:05PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

i dont think you live in DENIAL CA .... hire the certified expert to give you an expert opinion about this tree ... might be the best couple hundred bucks you ever spent ...

cats are idiots... lol ...

ken

    Bookmark   January 16, 2009 at 12:05PM
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e_thehamiltoncenter_com

This is an old post but for those searching for an answer I think I have a simple idea you might try depending on the size and location of the hollow.

My goal was NOT to fill the cavity in an otherwise healthy tree. I wanted to stop water from collecting and allow the tree to heal itself by eventually covering the actual hole. My hole was in an old oak. It was at the base of the tree and almost perfectly round (roughly 18" in diameter) the cavity inside this tree was large. Filling it with cement (not recommended these days for a varity of reasons) would have required yard or more of cement. I didn't want to do that. I just wanted to cover the hole, and as I said allow the tree to grow over it in time.

I used window screen, some small copper nails, foam expanding insulation (get it from any hardware store), some old fashion tree tar (garden center). I wanted to allow for expansion and contraction, and I didn't want to drive a lot of nails. First I used enough screen material to create a a little droop inside the hole. I used copper tack nails to hold the screen over the opening. Perhaps heavy wood staples would have worked as well the key for me was to minimize any additional damage to the healthy parts of the tree. I then sprayed in the expanding insulation (toxic stuff, but didn't hurt the tree)allowed it to dry and shaved it down with a knife to below surrounding scar tissue. I covered that with tree tar just for looks, really. (it is bright yellow) The finished product won't stand up to pressure, I could push through it with very little effort. But it has kept water from collecting in the whole, and animals out. It also has allowed the tree to start healing over the hole. 3 years on it is still in place, and the tree has started to grow over it (currently only 16"). Given enough time and annual "checkups" (and spot fills) the hole should be completely covered in the years to come. (fingers crossed)

Might not work for all holes or conditions but worth knowing. The stuff expands and contracts with the tree, and is somewhat flexible with the wind and weather. Maybe this will help someone.

    Bookmark   June 18, 2011 at 11:54AM
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GoldenSage

Leaving the trees along sounds more like a protest rather than a gardening tip, perhaps a pun of 'leaves'

I beleive 'do no harm' would be a better credo.

Anyway, reading most arborist agree, that removing the water and scraping away the rotted wood, then swabbing with an anti-bacterial (root hormone to promote new growth) or lime sulfur is the best method. Then it's suggested to use foam sealant, and paint over surface of hole.

MY QUESTION (didn't think you were leaving without one did you?) is WHICH FOAM Sealant? is Evercoats Polyurethane Isocynate gonna poison the tree if used? is there a safe foam? Is the foam gonna promote growth while keeping the animals/ants/corrosion at bay?

    Bookmark   July 30, 2012 at 1:50PM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

Who recommends the expandable foam?

    Bookmark   July 30, 2012 at 5:17PM
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wisconsitom

...and given the large hole size ( Ed Georgia), how do you know water is not still collecting at the bottom?

BTW, I know lots of arborists. I'm one myself! But I know none that recommend expanding foam for any aspect of tree care.

+oM

    Bookmark   July 30, 2012 at 5:26PM
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GoldenSage

k, fair enough, a foam manufacturer was the support of the post saying to use it, others who say if they cut is safer.

Simutaneously, if it's foamed up, no water would sit in it. Suppose whoever puts the product out there that would promote new growth inside will have the first on the market, good if it also repelled ants/termites/etc.

    Bookmark   July 30, 2012 at 7:09PM
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brandon7 TN_zone(7)

Exactly right +oM!

When I read GoldenSage's post, my jaw dropped. I don't know what arborists wrote what she's been reading, but I sure wouldn't want one of them to touch one of my trees! I guess you can always find someone that will recommend most anything, but even just a little checking should have debunked what GoldenSage read.

    Bookmark   July 30, 2012 at 7:09PM
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GoldenSage

and while I'm at it, tarring cut limbs or latex paint is much better. I'm on here because some IDIOT trimmed a 400 year old oak tree last month, and now 4 large limbs have landed on my house during three different storms, (first limbs to have fallen in 400 years), think the new so called experts of today, sound much like the lazy bastards of yesterday. No such thing as coincidence.

    Bookmark   July 30, 2012 at 7:14PM
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GoldenSage

oh and bradon7, I'm very much the supermale (ex-officer in that 278th United States Calvary right there in your home knoxville and a research scientist hired by DOE and ONR), used to derailing people who add nothing to conversations, yet for some innate reason need to indicate me, personally think such upstarts are due to insecurity or having found themselves in a position too high, and begin to make silly assumptions in some failed attempt distract my herd, Mr. backyard director.

    Bookmark   July 30, 2012 at 7:59PM
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brandon7 TN_zone(7)

GoldenSage,

Not sure what your last post is all about? Maybe the "she" reference? Sorry I didn't know, and just made the assumption based on the name (not there's anything about the name that necessarily indicates female, but anyway).

As for your recommendations, they fly directly in the face of scientific evidence and modern arboricuture. The evidence that contraindicates "tarring cut limbs", for instance is pretty overwhelming. The only people I ever hear supporting that practice are the people that make the tree goop (aka snakeoil salesmen) and people who just don't really know (those that heard it from an acquaintance of a friend of a relative, etc).

This forum has many arborists and horticultural experts, and I'd bet that none of them would support such a disproven technique for general practice. I certainly would not. I don't know where you derive your information, but I'd respectfully suggest abandoning those sources!

    Bookmark   July 30, 2012 at 8:25PM
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brandon7 TN_zone(7)

Oh, and as for the 400 year old oak, a few things stick out here. First, 400 year old oaks are exceeding rare especially in inhabited areas in this part of the country. The reason I point that out is because, if the tree is anywhere near that old, it would be in it's final years and would likely be suffering from significant decline to start with.

Secondly, while it's possible that something the tree pruners did would cause limbs to drop this soon, it's not common. Limbs don't start rotting and breaking down that fast, even with the worst of tree-pruning practices. I'd suspect that maybe the owners of the tree had the work done in response to falling limbs (guessing).

Unprofessional tree workers (not what I'd call arborists) can indeed cause serious problems with trees. Those hat-rack butcher jobs, that are so common around here, do indeed frequently cause limb and total-tree failure, but just not usually within a month.

Lastly, even healthy trees drop limbs. There are no such things as 400 year old oaks that have never lost limbs, at least not on this planet. Maybe you were just saying that nothing as serious as what you've noticed lately has happened, to your knowledge, in the past, but one must realize that trees drop limbs as part of their normal way of life.

    Bookmark   July 30, 2012 at 8:50PM
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wisconsitom

...The use of asphaltic "tree paints" has been discredited since at least 1980. And it was only the fact that I've recently made a few people mad at me with my refusal to suffer bullsh*t on this forum that had me refraining from stating what subsequently was learned anyway...that it was a company that made and/or marketed foam sealants that made the claim as to this product's usefulness in filling tree cavities! This ain't Facebook......I'm not asking anyone to "like" me!

+oM

    Bookmark   July 30, 2012 at 9:28PM
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wisconsitom

...The use of asphaltic "tree paints" has been discredited since at least 1980. And it was only the fact that I've recently made a few people mad at me with my refusal to suffer bullsh*t on this forum that had me refraining from stating what subsequently was learned anyway...that it was a company that made and/or marketed foam sealants that made the claim as to this product's usefulness in filling tree cavities! This ain't Facebook......I'm not asking anyone to "like" me!

+oM

    Bookmark   July 30, 2012 at 9:29PM
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toronado3800 Zone 6 StLouis(6)

Just to argue I believe just as mammals after millions of years benefit from neosporen and band aids to help large open wounds heal so must trees. Only thing is horticultural science is not that far along. Must be akin to seeing a doc in George Washington's time.

Really I pruned a branch on a walnut tree which was just encapsulated now a decade later. On my young Acer rubrum the structural wood always cracks when exposed to air by pruning cuts. Ants and rain have been getting in there for two years now.

Too bad I dont know what to seal it with. Ridiculous on a species which will live through encapsulating bicycles and metal fences we can't figure out what does not transfer to the live part of the tree and cause damage.

    Bookmark   July 30, 2012 at 9:54PM
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brandon7 TN_zone(7)

Toronado,

I know you've been around here long enough to know that the similarities between a tree wound and a wound to a mammal's skin are few. Trees encapsulate while mammals heals, just for starters. But, I've used tree bandaids before. Polyethylene placed over fresh, large wounds for a relatively brief period of time has been shown to be beneficial in certain situations.

Sure, we have a lot to learn about plants, but I think we also know quite a bit. I get much more frustrated with the lack of knowledge I see in human medicine than I do with any lack of knowledge about tree physiology.

    Bookmark   July 30, 2012 at 10:35PM
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GoldenSage

why to paint limbs. When a massive trimming is performed, as was done on this house tree shortly before I arrived. Such puts the tree into a systematic shock, much like if you had a lot of your skin peeled off. The effort to heal then results in a weakening of the entire system, where the system is then made more susiptable.

Now where 'leave a a tree alone' probably indicates not to trim the tree to start with, or trim out along the branches that were theoritically endangering the house, preferably along a branch nodule that would redirect the branch.

HOWEVER the same radical trimming takes place, the louses then start quoted well do nothing to the tree. Which is at least neglegent, as the damage has been done.

On this tree we see the third wave of branches snapping, and we can see where trimming has been done many years before holes where the limbs were trim and an essentially hollow third of the tree. Obviously seal the cuts, anyone with PRACTICAL experience would say to do so.

1. systemic shock
2. protecting the exposed wood from whatever.

apparently the only reason not to by those who 'read', is the cost of the foam/paint as so far espoused. What's the name of the foam purported to be used in trees (my original question) that I may go out and support that oh so bad company, and save a landmark tree or two.

    Bookmark   July 31, 2012 at 8:03AM
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GoldenSage

as for 'shouldn't do that, trimming because it will endanger the house' too many 'modern thinkers' follow a gestault of thinking. Some of course don't at all "Sage" obvously denoting a man throughout all time. Brandon must have been confused with 'wise woman' All fairly simple and clear is it not?

    Bookmark   July 31, 2012 at 8:21AM
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GoldenSage

the hole I wish to foam, obviously where years ago someone neglected to fill/cover/tar/paint such,and small animals now inhabit.

and the concerned reader/observer finds?

    Bookmark   July 31, 2012 at 8:32AM
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toronado3800 Zone 6 StLouis(6)

I am posting from the cell so I might not be seeing right, but have both them trees been topped a decade or two back?

    Bookmark   July 31, 2012 at 10:58AM
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whaas_5a(5A SE WI)

They sure have...time to cut them both down.

Tree topping is now illegal...well it should be.

    Bookmark   July 31, 2012 at 3:19PM
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famartin(z5 NE NV)

Goldensage, those trees should never have been pruned like that. That's not pruning, that mutilation. Those trees are now wrecks and should be removed.

    Bookmark   July 31, 2012 at 5:45PM
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brandon7 TN_zone(7)

Sealing pruning cuts (except possibly for some special situations) has been proven to be detrimental to trees. The suggestion to continue the practice reminds me of the recommendation for the resurgence of the old mercury cure-alls. Once something is so well proven to be wrong, it's probably not very wise to insist on it's continuance.

    Bookmark   July 31, 2012 at 6:34PM
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wisconsitom

Perhaps in my second thirty-plus years span of employment as an arborist/horticulturist, I too will have gained some PRACTICAL experience.......lol.

+oM

    Bookmark   July 31, 2012 at 7:05PM
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brandon7 TN_zone(7)

Golden Sage, meet golden sage:

    Bookmark   July 31, 2012 at 7:42PM
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toronado3800 Zone 6 StLouis(6)

This JUST fell from my big oak today. Except for some cracking along its length the tree size branch looked pretty darned good. About a yard up from the crack there was a silver dollar sized hole with a rotted area shaped like a cone running down about a foot. Did that fail? Nope lol.

My theory is sometimes they just break. Oak is HARD but cracks when you drive screws into it. The breezy day we had last week probably contributed.

Them poor trees have all that growth coming from the topping wounds.

    Bookmark   July 31, 2012 at 11:07PM
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GoldenSage

The hole that is in the plane of the cut limb is actually as big as your arm, goes down three feet and come out the other side of the truck. Obviously with care it could have been prevented.

Unless you have references as to the studies of the PHD team who's defended their own thesis as to why not to paint or tar cuttings, rather not hear from the clown who wait at their cubical for someone to tell them what to say. I fire those sorry clowns as detremental, time wasting and targets of bad company.

I've seen studies where the worst shared opinion was the most vocalized as if someone could be so far wrong and be o.k. that some nominal safety was provided, also a simular phenomenon is noticed, theory is such desk huggers will rot away.

if somone started saying it is a Proven Study to make sheep sounds loudly in public was the way to stay healty, and someone copied this example and quoted the proven study, there would be bleating support groups and you would be in them.

Now if someone had said, "I've never heard of polyurethane Isocyanate." I would have said "Amen Brother or Sister", that someone could have helped research to see if it was also used as a weed killer would have been helpful, lazy fracked bastards, think of the least effort, make no reply at all.

    Bookmark   August 1, 2012 at 9:24AM
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famartin(z5 NE NV)

How's this?

Here is a link that might be useful: WOUND DRESSINGS: RESULTS OF STUDIES OVER 13 YEARS

    Bookmark   August 1, 2012 at 10:12AM
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wisconsitom

Initial research into trees' responses to wounds was performed by a guy named Alex Shigo. If you're not too certain of being right all the time, you may benefit by a quick read of his work. BTW, his "office" was primarily the New Hampshire woods and his primary research tool was a sharp chainsaw.

+oM

    Bookmark   August 1, 2012 at 5:57PM
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brandon7 TN_zone(7)

+oM,

I disagree. I don't think Sage could get a thing out of reading Shigo, and that's in no way meant to be a reflection on Shigo. (-;

    Bookmark   August 1, 2012 at 6:07PM
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toronado3800 Zone 6 StLouis(6)

I will disagree with the study especially in regards to large wounds on trees which will not encapsulate them quickly.

But I will try to do it politely in a way which will make more conversation than anger. Medical science has gone through plenty of opinion changes over the years.

    Bookmark   August 1, 2012 at 6:12PM
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brandon7 TN_zone(7)

Toronado, can you be more specific? I don't agree with every aspect of Shigo's theories, but most of them are pretty well-proven. What, specifically, do you find questionable?

    Bookmark   August 1, 2012 at 6:18PM
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wisconsitom

I know Brandon-for those of us who have been engaged in this subject, A. Shigo is hardly news. And too, like you, I don't 100% agree with everything he said. What he represents to me at this point is the starting point for beginning to learn about tree care that is based on tree biology, not what Elmer across the street said!

+oM

ps......The tree wound in question tells a complete tale as to why decay was able to advance. Note the shape of the pruning wound-pointed on the bottom. That's where the weight of the limb caused the bark and some cambium to be torn off because the person who made the cut didn't know or care to do it properly. At this point, the tree's natural defenses were compromised and decay was inevitable. I know you know all this Brandon. Maybe, just maybe, someone who is still clinging to long outmoded ideas will take note. Maybe not!

    Bookmark   August 1, 2012 at 9:51PM
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gnomey(7b SC zip296)

I know this is an old thread, but I just wanted to add that an arborist with 20+ years experience is here trimming my old oak trees. One of them has a cantaloupe sized hole where squirrels have been living. It looks rotted out, but it is up high in the tree so I don't know for sure or if it smells bad.

He is checking the hole to make sure there are no babies or adult squirrels inside, then he will fill the hole with expanding foam (Great Stuff is what I bought). I trust his experience. He's only lost one tree over all the years he has been doing this work, and he said that one was iffy and the homeowner wanted to try to save it anyway. I thought I might lose the tree with the hole, but he is confident it can be saved.

    Bookmark   January 23, 2014 at 12:48PM
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brandon7 TN_zone(7)

"...an arborist with 20+ years experience is here trimming my old oak trees (and filling them with foam)..."

Did you check that he was an ISA certified arborist rather than a monkey with a home-e-lite. Just guessing, but it sounds like he could be the latter.

"He's (been an arborist with 20+ years and) only lost one tree..."

ROFL. Oh boy....

    Bookmark   January 23, 2014 at 1:03PM
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krnuttle

If some one used and expanding closed cell foam to fill a hole, can some one explain why this would promote rot.

To me it seems that

if the rot were removed before the addition,
If with something were applied to kill the insects and bugs, and If the foam were applied to the bottom of the hole and worked out to the outside of the tree.
this sealed hole would prevent re infestation, stop the rot and allow the tree to heal itself. A properly design foam would also prevent air intrusion into the tree.

There is the caveat that this would always be a weak spot in the tree.

If they used an open cell foam I could see where it would collect and hold water, keeping the temperature that would be favorable increase the level of microbe activity. The open cell foam could actually promote decay.

Just trying to understand the problem.

    Bookmark   January 23, 2014 at 9:11PM
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brandon7 TN_zone(7)

Most trees are slightly over 50% water. Even the older xylem contains moisture. When tree goop or foam is applied to a wound, that material tends to hold moisture behind itself and form a more conducive environment for decay-causing microorganisms.

    Bookmark   January 23, 2014 at 9:42PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

if the rot were removed before the addition,

==>>> and i dont know how you would affirmatively state.. that all the rot was removed ..

also ... trees are not static.. they blow in the wind ... if you put a material in a cavity ... who is to say .. that movement of the tree wont reopen the hole in the next storm ... i can not accept.. that it would be like a cavity filling in a tooth ... teeth dont flex ... so any crack int he goo would allow water and moisture back in ...

i just dont buy it ...

ken

    Bookmark   January 24, 2014 at 9:42AM
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gnomey(7b SC zip296)

I'll let you know in a few years how the tree is doing. :)

    Bookmark   January 24, 2014 at 11:54AM
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poaky1

I am just reading through old post, hoping to find info on Q. Nigra, and this post came up. Well, Ken cement is extremely Alkaline. You are usually right, but that isn't right. Also why is a 400 yr old oak unheard of, according to one poster? I am not sure of the hardiness zone, it could be in zone 7 or higher, meaning Live oak. Several Q. Virginiana are capable of being 800 + years old. If the OP is in California, aren't their Live oaks capable of several hundred years of age? The guy claiming limbs falling after pruning of some limbs, sounds like BS, though. Pictures should exist for his insurance company. After an oak is pruned, healthy limbs should remain, unless he got "royally screwed", which I doubt.

    Bookmark   June 24, 2014 at 1:19AM
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yoopermann

.......AND....I am Spent!

    Bookmark   February 12, 2015 at 10:39AM
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