save broken river birch trunk or not???

jaansu(6)February 7, 2014

this last ice storm here in the east caused a large branch to crash off my beautiful river birch. There is a large wound of splintered wood half way up but I don't want to cut below it since the trunk continues up.

Am I safer sacrificing the rest of the trunk above this wound or should I clean up as much of the shattered wood with a chain saw and see if the trunk will survive?

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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

Cut it off at the next fork below the break. If you can't do it by yourself safely hire somebody who can.

    Bookmark   February 7, 2014 at 5:04PM
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hortster(6a, southcentral KS)

The branch appearing to go up above the wound will now be weaker (and get more so) because of the damage. Too bad we can't see the base, but my vote would be to give that stem the "one cut prune" at the ground. Doesn't look like the one remaining branch veering off to the side would do anything other than look odd if you trimmed the top off above it.


    Bookmark   February 7, 2014 at 5:08PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

i agree.. we need to see the rest of the tree .... to the ground ...

probably also agree with cut at the ground ...

but the real question is.. is the rest of the tree a threat to any structure???

the tree was structurally safe.. as it grew from a babe ... all as one..

now that a chunk is being/has been taken out.. new stresses are bound to arise .... when it leafs out.. and the first micro-burst rolls thru.. there is a chance ... however small .. that the leafed out tree... MIGHT have further damage ... note all the qualifiers there ...

soooo... if its out in the middle of the lawn.. who cares.. watch and enjoy .. whatever happens.. its natures way ...

but if its overhanging something important.... start.. just start ... thinking about its long term future ... not that anything necessarily need be done now.. this season.. next season.. etc ... but some day ...

unless of course.. the deNile is down the street .... then just pretend it will all be fine.. forever ...

mother nature is a mean witch.. arent you glad.. it wasnt your fault ... lol .. try to remember that.. as you are paying the tree monkey with the saw ... she has cost me a lot of money over the years .... [its really hard not to devolve into a cursing rant.. but i dont know you well enough.. lol]


    Bookmark   February 7, 2014 at 6:25PM
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here is a picture of the whole tree. There is another major branch coming off it below the break. Luckily this trunk is leaning away from the house over open lawn. Nothing would be damaged if it came down. Does this change any of your recommendations?

Is there value in taking it down now beyond if it eventually breaks in another storm? My thoughts were if inaction might lose the entire trunk.

    Bookmark   February 7, 2014 at 6:45PM
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tsugajunkie z5 SE WI

Unfortunately, your best action would be to lose the entire trunk.


    Bookmark   February 7, 2014 at 6:59PM
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It looks like a double-trunked tree.

I'd remove the damaged half, down to the ground, and leave the intact half.

    Bookmark   February 7, 2014 at 7:04PM
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I appreciate the advice but the tree provides much needed shade from the summer southern sun. Losing half of it would be a pity. Why chop one trunk down? I'd like to understand your reasoning. Is your motivation aesthetics?

    Bookmark   February 7, 2014 at 8:23PM
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mikebotann(8a SE of Seattle)

In my garden that would be considered terminal and headed for the woodshed.
I don't grow Birches up here in the foothills because of their inability to handle large loads of wet snow or ice.

    Bookmark   February 7, 2014 at 8:56PM
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hortster(6a, southcentral KS)

Yes, aesthetics. However, a retraction, from only my perspective, MIGHT be in order. Although the remainder of the tree is "distorted" it may try to send another leader skyward after the removal of the top over the lower branch to the left. I say this because I have had seven multi-stemmed river birches in the yard, and have watched some rather unusual recovery on my own. I had seven, now four (won't go into the lengthy why) but the birches have responded positively to the loss of either entire trunks or major stems.

My main concern is the branch on the right overhanging the house. I would balance the removal of the top with the removal of that branch.

Just speaking from my experience with my own. I'm sure I will get some flak but loving my trees I feel that this would be a good compromise. If any decline follows I would still give it the one cut prune.


    Bookmark   February 7, 2014 at 9:12PM
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whaas_5a(5A SE WI)

Knowing thats the south side of your house why not cut the stub and see what it does this growing season?

I'd be inclined to see more pictures from different angles. River Birch is considered short lived in hot/dry locations (not sure of your site conditions) and the way the entire canopy splays out doesn't bode well for its future. I wonder if you cut your loses and get started on something new.

    Bookmark   February 7, 2014 at 10:29PM
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tsugajunkie z5 SE WI

The branch that broke off and what is left going up were a counter balance (and wind deflector) to the now huge sail you have on the right. The branch with the break has to go down to were it veers to the left. At the least, the large sail of a branch on the right has to go or you risk it will pull the already leaning-toward-the-house trunk down (or split off and fall). That leaves a Y shaped tree. If you can live with that, I understand. It is your house.


    Bookmark   February 7, 2014 at 10:49PM
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hairmetal4ever(Z7 MD)

I'd worry about even a clean cut rotting inside. That's a fairly large would for the tree to have to try to heal over.

Otherwise it's all about asthetics.

    Bookmark   February 7, 2014 at 11:44PM
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toronado3800 Zone 6 StLouis(6)

I have mixed feelings. I suppose the tree is not as huge and branches not as thick as the white ash trees which previously overhung my home.

Get a pro out to look at it and at the least have everything above that break cut off is my vote.

Now I have removed some trees and it sickens me. But, I also have a modern air conditioner, a classic car in the garage and a child, to care for, not to mention the wife. Plus I don't trust my home owner's insurance company further than I can sue them.

If the certified arborist says the tree is a hazard, and so does the fella you call for a second opinion then remove it and plant two in its place just a few feet further from your home.

    Bookmark   February 8, 2014 at 1:15AM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

the problem will be.. that it will spend forever.. trying to heal an un-healable break ... or a large cut at that height ...... and it will most like rot .. long before it ever heals ....

and one of the reactions.. will be for it to put out .. just throwing out number 5 to 10 new branches.. at the unhealed wound... and as they get 5.. 10 .. 15 feet tall.. and hanging on the end of the wound ... they will break repeatedly.. and fall down ...

and it doesnt help.. it is a weak-wooded birch ...

and that doesnt even address.. that the branch just below the break.. LOOKS like it overhangs your bump out ....

if that is the south side.. and you have any room left before the property line.. i would plant a replacement for the future...

i would get rid of the broken one to the ground... and plan on removing the rest.. within 5 to 10 years ....

it would be a false economy.. to belabor the cost effectiveness of it ability to shade and cool the house.... if it ends up falling on the house .... not to mention.. that if an insurance agent ever visited.. they might not be happy about the whole situation .....

and .. again: removal the break this season.. consideration of the rest within 5 to 10 years ...

an onsite inspection by an ASA certified tree surgeon is highly recommended.. and that isnt just any guy with a chainsaw... its an onsite inspection by an expert ...

see link regarding a trees reaction to topping .. which is.. in effect.. what you are contemplating ....

i know your reaction is emotional ... but isnt that why you came and asked... and i know you dont really want to hear/read what we are suggesting ... regardless..

i wish you luck ...


Here is a link that might be useful: random link ... topic #4 -- review the section on topping.. which is basically the alternative to full removal of that section

    Bookmark   February 8, 2014 at 7:22AM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

The name of the organization is ISA, International Society of Arboriculture. You'll want an ISA certified arborist to take a look and help you make a smart decision.....not an emotional one.

I totally sympathize with your desire to hang on to a shade provider; I would feel the same way. But yours is not a good tree and the damage it has received makes it a problem.

    Bookmark   February 8, 2014 at 2:32PM
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some good advice, perhaps not exactly what I wished to hear. I shall start by asking a certified arborist to look and recommend action.
The picture isn't perfect but nothing overhangs the house. The worst damage that could happen to the house might be some minor branches taking some of the gutter with it.

By the way, why plan on removing the undamaged trunk in 5-10 years? Will I see similar problems by then?

    Bookmark   February 9, 2014 at 2:00PM
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whaas_5a(5A SE WI)

Might want to get at least two opinions. Just like this forum you'll get just that...opinions.

I have a multi-stemmed linden that I wanted checked out. I had two of the most well known firms in the area come out to check it out, including another not as well known but certified like the others.

Here where there recommendations:

One suggested to cable it
One suggested to cut it down
One suggested I keep it and have it inspected in a couple years

How about that for a range of responses?

    Bookmark   February 9, 2014 at 5:11PM
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I don't see any significant threats to your house no matter what you choose to do. That's simply not big enough wood to cause heavy damage. A bent section of gutter, a couple damaged roof shingles?-sure. Big heavy wood crashing through your roof?-not going to happen with a tree of that size.

I don't think it completely unreasonable to just completely leave it alone. Yes, that's a pretty bad wound, no, the tree will probably never be able to completely close that wound, and yes, there could be a proliferation of "suckers", which are simply new branches, forming where the old section broke off. But it's really not such a big deal in a case like this. It's not as though this is your prized black cherry being grown for clear furniture lumber or something. So what if it's a little goofed up. What you're after is cover and shade, and the beautiful trunks of birch trees. You'll still have all that, and with little to no real liability in any other direction.


    Bookmark   February 9, 2014 at 8:52PM
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