When a tree dies, how does it fall?

smordDecember 28, 2009

Hi - two years ago we bought a new house, already constructed, and the oak behind the house had clearly been damaged during construction. My husband desperately wants to give this tree a chance, so we opted to have it pruned rather than taken down entirely (for now). Several tree experts have taken a look at it and the decision is split whether it will live or die. Nobody seemed to think it was in imminent danger of falling.

My concern is this: how will we know when the tree is a danger of falling onto the house? (My son's window is right below it!) Do trees die and THEN fall? do they fall suddenly and catastrophically or do they fall slowly and as gently as a giant tree can fall?

In other words, how good an idea is it to keep trying to save this tree?



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Don't mess around. Have it taken out. Check your insurance policy, sometimes they will cover it.
You'll know it's coming down when you hear a loud thud in the middle of the night and awaken to find a large portion of your home missing. I've seen trees decline one year and the next year it's broken in half. That quick.

    Bookmark   December 28, 2009 at 2:52PM
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Do trees die and THEN fall? do they fall suddenly and catastrophically or do they fall slowly and as gently as a giant tree can fall?

All of the above :-) Even quite healthy trees can fall or be uprooted, depending on conditions.

There are arborists that specialize in hazard assessment....determining if trees are in danger of falling either due to poor health, damage, root disruption or planting/soil conditions. If the tree is of value to you, you may want to make the effort to have one of these licensed professionals come out to evaluate. Unless you are comfortable with the credentials, expertise and opinions of those you've already consulted.

    Bookmark   December 28, 2009 at 3:27PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

personally i would be done with it ...

it seems to usually happen at night in the winter ... howling winds.. heavy snow or ice ......

or during the day in summer .. an afternoon thunderhead with extreme winds ...

not really hard and fast rules ...

but the key .. for me.. is prevailing winds ... e.g. .. my winds... blow from the NW .... so if the tree was upwind of the house.. i would be concerned ...

on the SE side... ODDS ARE ... it would ...might.. perhaps... fall away from the house ...

but then.. most freak storms seem to defy the odds of prevailing winds.. and come howling out of some unknown direction ...

you can ponder your navel on this one forever... but it takes only one catastrophe to find out your navel was wrong ...

i have an inordinate fear of trees falling on me or the family in the night... i would have it gone in no more than the time it takes to schedule its destruction ... and it makes primo firewood ... and fantastic chipped mulch ...

as for the spouse.. it sounds more like a marriage counselor issue.. for which i am not qualified ...

go buy him a couple pieces of wet oak.. and have him hoik them around the yard.. to feel the weight of such.. then ask him if you can drop a piece from the eave onto his foot.. then ask him to contemplate the weight of the whole tree ... falling on the 2 x 4 framing of the house ... even 2 x 6 ...

i have serious doubts that this pre-existing condition would be covered by home owners ins ... on a preventative basis ... but i am sure weirder things are possible ...

if it were me.. i would be done with it.. and plant 4 to 6 new oaks... which grow 3 to 5 feet per year ... and enjoy watching them grow to replace the problem child ... and would not plant the new any closer than 30 feet from the house ...

good luck with dealing with spouse and all ..


ps: one winter.. after midnight.. severe ice storm with severe winds ... 60 foot cherry, 30 feet from the house... 8 to 12 inch branches start exploding off the tree .... was awakened by the sound of cannon fire .... nothing hit the house.. needless to say ..... i didn't get back to sleep until the wind died down ...

    Bookmark   December 28, 2009 at 4:11PM
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whaas_5a(5A SE WI)

Can you get a picture to show us the damage or explain the damage?

Do you know what kind of Oak it is?

Are there any other disease or pest isssues?

I don't think its a matter of guessing whether the tree will live or die but understanding the potential danger of the tree falling vs. any other healthy tree...sounds like you already got that?

Its not like this tree will just die one day and fall the next...not to say that it couldn't. As mentioned above perfectly healthy trees can become uprooted...dead trees can stay standing for years upon years.

If there is any value (shade, privacy) I'd keep it. If there is any danger of the tree falling based on its current condition take no chances...cut it down.

If you do keep it you might want to check (as mentioned above) into your homeowners insurace policy as well.

As a side note I have a tree that had serious buck damage. Several arborists and nurseries said the tree likely wouldn't survive...year 3 and its perfectly healthy.

    Bookmark   December 28, 2009 at 4:37PM
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I had two certified arborists take a look at it, and also got an opinion from the guy working for the certified arborist when he was up in the tree. One said we could save it, the other recommended taking it down - not because of hazard but because he didn't think it was worth saving. The guy in the tree said it felt pretty sturdy to him, he theorized that it would probably fall parallel to the house if it were to fall at all, and that the scariest season is usually when winds are strong and the tree is full of leaves to catch the wind.

He said there was some die-back, but he didn't think it was as bad as the certified guy thought from the ground. No disease. Soil was compacted over the root system, and there is damage to some of the layers of bark at one point in the tree.

He cut out all the dead wood, the live branches that hung over the house, and also thinned it out toward the house so it would hopefully be weighted more or leass away from the house.

It does provide nice shade over the back deck and is picturesque, so there is good reason to want to save it. It got lots of water this year.

What I'd like to do is see how well it comes back in the spring and re-assess. If a lot died over the winter, take it down, if not, try to save it. But I don't want to be stupid about it either...

    Bookmark   December 28, 2009 at 4:47PM
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whaas_5a(5A SE WI)

Good additional info...IMHO I would keep it and do as you mentioned in your last line.

But before I commit to my final answer do you know what king of Oak it is?

Going off memory to name a couple...White Oaks are ok with soil compaction, Red Oaks are very sensative.

    Bookmark   December 28, 2009 at 5:21PM
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Oh I thought it was already dead and didn't realize you contacted CA's. Disregard my prior.

    Bookmark   December 28, 2009 at 6:28PM
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bushhog936(E. TX -Zone 8B)

Without seeing pictures, if this is a mature tree, and there is considerable die-back, then this tree is declining and should be removed. It's not worth the risk having a declining tree within falling distance of your house. I'm no expert of course, but any chance for pictures of the before and after?

    Bookmark   December 28, 2009 at 6:58PM
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If tree is still alive and you have pruned branches back that are toward house, taking a wait and see approach sounds ok as long as it appears sound. That is probably what I would do.
Tall "forest-grown" trees next to a structure make me more nervous than "open-grown trees. Limbs over a house, trees that lean toward house, and trees that are too close to a house also make me nervous.
Fairly often down here, when a picturesque old live oak dies, the owners leave its carcass up for nearly a year before taking it down. This is however only done with live oak. Perhaps that warrants "contemplation" as ken would say!

    Bookmark   December 29, 2009 at 9:47AM
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^^^ Nearly a year? Is that it?!
I'm not being sarcastic when I say that's pretty quick. Especially for live oaks where people can't tell if they're dead or alive half the time. People that don't know they're evergreen, that is.
I can't tell you how many letters I've written for my HOA for people to remove dead trees from their yard that have been there a lot longer than a year.

    Bookmark   January 2, 2010 at 4:25PM
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