Cable an oak tree?

tom_nwnj(z6 NJ)March 11, 2012

The tree man was here a few days ago, to grind out the stumps in my earlier post, about the Japanese maple. He was looking at another tree, I think a White Oak, and noticed that the crotch is cracked. I had never noticed that. It certainly is cracked. If the "stick" on the left split off, it would probably hit the house. The tree man helpfully suggested either cabling the tree (left "stick" to right "stick"), about 2/3 of the way up, or just removing the left stick.

This oak is probably 50' tall, at least 2' diameter at the base. I am not wild about oaks but around here white oak is the best of the bunch. Furniture quality. They can live a long time.

I prefer the cabling idea. Any suggestions?

two more pics

(this one has a shovel with a red handle leaning against the base of the tree, for perspective)

Thanks for all your help! You folks are great!

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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

sorry.. i dont believe in cabling.. or bolting.. or any of that razz-a-ma-tazz ... you do realize he will have to be paid to come back every year to take care of it ... forever ... may as well invest up front ...

and since it will kill you in your house.. its got to go ... IMHO ...


ps: you could have put all the pix in your post ....

    Bookmark   March 11, 2012 at 2:32PM
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tom_nwnj(z6 NJ)

Ken, I really appreciate your help.

I had seen something on the web about adjusting cables. So, is the problem that without having somebody go up there every year, or every few years, to adjust the cable, the tree will break the cable system? Meaning that White Oak is strong enough to do what it wants.

The tree man wants $300 to cable the tree, or $300 to drop the left "stick" on the ground. My choice. The tree man thinks that if the left stick is removed, the tree will survive (~40% removed). What do you think?

If the right stick survives and still splits off from the stump, very unlikely it will hit anything but grass.

    Bookmark   March 11, 2012 at 3:39PM
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famartin(z5 NE NV)

Almost 25 years ago my parents in NJ had their twin-trunked Pin Oak (Q. palustris) cabled. No one has inspected it since then. You can see it near the top of this photo:

You can also see it (perhaps a bit better) in the upper right of this photo:

    Bookmark   March 11, 2012 at 3:49PM
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Neighbor has a walnut tree cabled around 5' off the ground. It very easily could have failed long ago without the cable binding the two trunks together. Since we have moved here, the crack at the trunks union hasn't changed. It is also nowhere near anyone's house. Cabling does work but I would NOT have a massive trunk like cabled and hanging over my house. Remove the left trunk if you want to keep the tree.


    Bookmark   March 11, 2012 at 4:02PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

so let me get this straight..

you will pay him $300 ... to HOPE that the cable installed.. will MAYBE not allow the tree to kill you in the house ... go for it ..

i figure he is being hopeful that removing half.. will allow the other half to survive... i doubt it.. but to be honest.. it might take 50 years for the other half to die ... and we will be hoping its not some hurricane.. blowing towards the house ....

no one will convince me otherwise.. if he can take half down for 300 .. give him 600 ... and be done with it ..

and if you have a fireplace .. oak for life ... lol


    Bookmark   March 11, 2012 at 5:09PM
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hortster(6a, southcentral KS)

Not gonna get into the cabling debate other than to say that the key to cabling is to do it high in the tree so that the leverage on the cable is lessened. j0nd03's neighbor's walnut cabled at 5' is not the way to have cabling done! The high cable in famartin's tree makes a lot more sense and is the reason that it has been effective for so long.
Having said that, if the cable is successful, the tree will continue to grow more and more included bark which is the reason that the split shows in the OP's pic and is the reason that it would need to be cabled in the first place.

    Bookmark   March 11, 2012 at 6:22PM
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As Horster alludes to, there is presently considerable disagreement within the industry about cabling, rodding, etc. We-the municipal forestry dept. I've worked for since 1980-used to do lots of these things. Now we never do. Our feeling is that it is usually not worth the trouble and expense for a system that could fail catastrophically anyway. Not saying they always fail. That is obviously not the case. But they often do.

I'd say go ahead and have half the tree removed. A big impact to the tree? Of course. Unmanageable for the tree? Not necessarily. Trees have been coping with severe weather events for ever, and they don't all always die because a big chunk of their crown gets torn off. And finally, by doing so, what have you got to lose? If it should happen that the tree begins to die back following this, you're no worse off than you are now, plus you're better off because 1) You've already eliminated the most obvious hazard, and 2) You now have only half as much tree to be removed, should that become necessary.


    Bookmark   March 11, 2012 at 7:48PM
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I went out to take a reference pic for the OP and the cable is more like 10' up on a 35'-40' tree. I have no experience to judge if this is a correct cable installation or not.

I want to stress, if it is within your means to remove at least the left half, you would be wise to do so. I was walking around the back woods about an hour ago and I saw a relatively small (each trunk was around 8" diameter) divergent red oak than had one trunk snapped clean off and it wasn't even that windy with the storms this morning. It only takes one gust of wind to hit it a fork just right and bye bye!

By jp_42_82 at 2012-03-11

By jp_42_82 at 2012-03-11

    Bookmark   March 11, 2012 at 7:52PM
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hortster(6a, southcentral KS)

To me, that is not "cabling." That is "xylem and phloem crushing" for half of each stem. The damage from this inane attempt will be worse than real cabling. Cabling injures the tree, but the tradeoff here ("chaining") will create more injury than longer life. He should cut one stem off. Geez.

    Bookmark   March 11, 2012 at 8:05PM
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brandon7 TN_zone(7)

I'm of the opinion that cabling can be highly reliable if done correctly and maintained reasonably (every year is way over-kill in most cases). I am also of the opinion that removing the left half of the tree is likely a very temporary fix and would not be recommended by anyone that I would trust to work on my trees! The way I see it, you have four choices:
1. Do nothing and see what happens (probably not a good idea if your home is at risk).
2. Find someone (probably not the original guy) that knows what they are doing to install proper support for your tree, and plan on having that support system inspected and possibly adjusted or replaced every few years (the installer can provide a reasonable schedule). If the installer suggests every year and plans to charge for that, he's in it to rip you off.
3. Remove the entire tree, and possible replace it with a new tree.
4. Address the issue in a way that I wouldn't personally consider under any circumstances.

    Bookmark   March 11, 2012 at 8:25PM
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brandon7 TN_zone(7)


If someone tried to "fix" one of my trees in a manor similar to the one in John's picture, I'd grab a pitchfork and chase them off of my property. That is truly ridiculous!

    Bookmark   March 11, 2012 at 8:29PM
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Three people suggested cabling the cojoined trunks on one of my Norway Maples.

The first was a mechanical engineer friend of mine who visited shortly after I bought the house. One minute he was looking at the house, the other he was looking at one of the trees. He quickly said I should have that tree cabled. Uhh, okay, what's that?

The second and third were two different arborists who I had give me quotes for tree work. Yes, they were getting paid, but the cost was smaller that removing one side, and removing one side would have left a very skinny looking tree; with both trunks it looks much fuller and nicer. So it got cabled up high and I'm happy.


    Bookmark   March 12, 2012 at 12:27AM
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toronado3800 Zone 6 StLouis(6)

Now that I have a kid life is different. Even when I'm alone in the MarkVIII I don't hit the corners as hard as I used to and definitely not when the kid is in the car.

Seems I feel a responsibility to the little fella to keep him safe, feed and raise him.

The big ash tree overhanging both our bedrooms is also gone now. After slicing the tree into sections I bet it was at least five years away from having a 5% chance of failing in any one year. BTW, that's about 100% in two decades for those using math to determine risks.

Now if the fella with the cable puts his kid to sleep under your tree every windy or icy night for the next two decades and promises to pay to have your house repaired and health problems addressed if the cable fails to save you then I will believe he knows what he is doing. Otherwise it is just a fella with no faith in his work taking your money.

Seriously, this is a tree, a renewable resource. Cut this one down, use its wood and plant two in its place.

    Bookmark   March 12, 2012 at 1:45AM
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toronado3800 Zone 6 StLouis(6)

oh, and tom_nwnj, I do feel sick when I have to take the life of a big old tree. Usually it takes me a season to come to grips with it. I wish you luck whichever way you go.

    Bookmark   March 12, 2012 at 1:47AM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

Good grief....that 'cabling' job is unbelievable! Did that tree company have interchangeable magnetic signs for his truck? Believe it or not, I once saw a truck advertising 'Tree Surgery', 'Power Washing', and 'Furniture Moving'.

Attached, you'll find some images of what tree cabling looks like. It's a specialized skill and its application needs to be evaluated very carefully. In most cases, I would consider it a last resort measure for very valuable trees.

Here is a link that might be useful: click here

    Bookmark   March 12, 2012 at 5:25AM
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Ha! I questioned how easy it would be for that chain to slide right down the trunks as they split apart but it has seemed to hold them pretty well. Nice to have all the hort management experts here to give all the valuable info for those of us not trained in such areas. If I ever talk to the owner of that tree, I'll ask him how the chaining came about. Around here, you never know. It could have been the homeowners idea!


    Bookmark   March 12, 2012 at 8:34AM
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