How can you tell if a tree is unsafe?

8 danger signs to look out for

Fallen trees and branches can cause thousands of dollars damage to your property and put your family and loved ones at risk. So, how can you tell if a tree on your property is unsafe? Below are eight danger signs to look out for.

#1 Damaged or broken branches

A hanging, broken or damaged branch is an obvious sign of trouble – and may be a tree emergency if it’s of a size that could cause injury or damage to property. It can be easy to underestimate the weight of the wood and the destructive force it can generate as it falls, so if you see a damaged or hanging branch, it’s always a good idea to get professional advice from an arborist about the best way to safely remove it.

Damaged branches also pose a risk to the tree if they are not removed promptly. The tear site could attract decay or insect infestations into the tree which may damage more branches or threaten the whole tree in time. It’s always a cheaper and more sustainable option to remove small problems than to face much bigger headaches down the track.

#2 Dead branches

Dead branches are another sign of trouble that is usually easy to spot, especially during spring and summer when all trees should be flourishing with green leaves. The dead branches are the ones with brown, withered leaves or no leaves at all. Over time, dead branches can also lose their bark. These branches become brittle and weak, ready to give way in strong winds or during a storm and sometimes even on a calm day. If your tree has dead branches within its canopy, consider their size, weight and position. If the branches could hurt someone or damage property when they come down, then the tree is unsafe. An arborist can remove them safely before they do any damage.

Spotting dead branches on the ground is another sign that something’s not right with the tree. Dropping branches usually means that the tree is under stress and is trying to reduce its size.  An unhappy tree can be an unsafe tree, so if the ground underneath is littered with fallen branches, it’s definitely a good idea to get the tree checked out. Dead branches underneath the tree are also a good indicator of more dead branches up above, even if you can’t spot them. Avoid walking or standing underneath the tree until it has been given the all clear by an arborist.

#3 Poor structure

Sometimes, signs of an unsafe tree are not so easy for the untrained eye to spot. Think of a tree with a compact, slender trunk that bursts out into a massive, gorgeous canopy of thick, long branches and masses of leaves. The tree may be healthy, but that doesn’t mean it’s safe.

Some species of trees have evolved to grow close together, competing for light, and growing up tall and narrow. A tree that has plenty of space to spread out can be overburdened by the weight of its own growth and be prone to splitting or falling down. Skilful pruning, especially during the trees early years, can reduce this problem by encouraging good form to develop.

If you think your tree might be severely top-heavy, it’s definitely a good idea to have an arborist inspect it. Removing some of the branches and leaf canopy will keep the tree looking good – and make sure it stays standing.

#4 Leaf loss

Out of season leaf loss is another sign your tree may not be safe. Thinning leaves, drying leaves, and losing leaves in an outside-in pattern are all signs that something is not right with the tree. Trees need their foliage to make food, so leaf loss is a big problem. There are many reasons for leaf loss ranging from tree diseases, pest infestations, soil issues or even problems within the root zone. When you see signs of leaf loss remember that a sick tree can be a dangerous tree. It is more likely to drop branches, split or fail altogether. Leaf loss is definitely a sign that you should get a professional diagnosis and treatment plan from a qualified arborist.

#5 A hole in the trunk

Can you see a hole in the trunk of the tree? Cavities can be left by falling branches, and attract moisture, rot and decay. Not a good thing for a tree. Even a seemingly small hole can signal significant internal decay – it’s hard to know just by looking at it how far the damage has spread. That’s why it has to be thoroughly assessed by an arborist. Holes in the trunk, especially close to the ground, may mean there is insufficient healthy wood to hold the tree up. Internal decay can make a tree structurally unsound, and this is very bad news in times of strong winds.

#6 Cracks and splits in the trunk

Cracks and splits in the trunk can be caused by many things including unstable soil, or a weakness in the trunk due to rot or other damage. Any defined indentation that goes deeper than the bark needs an expert assessing its safety. A deep split or crack in the trunk is a strong sign of structural instability and the tree may need to be removed completely.

Superficial cracks in the bark, on the other hand, are usually harmless. Some species of trees develop seasonal cracks on the surface of the trunk which are not a problem.

#7 A leaning trunk

You may be surprised to know that not all trees with a lean are unsafe. Some trees grow naturally with a lean due to their position. A tree with a mild lean that has always been that way is probably pretty happy and not at high risk of failure.

What is a bad sign, however, is a tree that starts leaning all of a sudden.  A trunk that you can see has a new pronounced lean, or a lean that keeps increasing is a sure sign of a problem. Look out for trees that start leaning after strong winds or if you see cracks in the soil around the tree roots. These are signs the tree is not stable and could come down. The more dramatic and sudden the lean – the more of an emergency this is.

#8 Root problems

A healthy root system is vital for a tree’s overall health and stability. Because they are underground, roots can’t be inspected; however, there are some signs to look out for that may point to a problem.

Firstly, look for dark, musty areas at the base of the tree’s trunk, especially if you can see mushrooms growing out of it. Fungal growth on the outside of a tree trunk can point to rotting roots. Weakened roots may not be strong enough to hold up the tree structure and prevent it from falling over, especially during storms and high winds.

Secondly, heavily saturated, compressed soil around the base of a tree point to soil which may not be strong enough to hold the root system in place. This creates structural instability and can put the whole tree at risk of falling over.

Thirdly, any construction work such as trenches or holes dug into soil within the tree protection zone of a tree can damage tree roots. If any construction or road works have taken place in close proximity to a tree on your property, keep an eye on the tree over the following weeks and months. Wilted leaves, undersized leaves, limited growth and thinning foliage could all be signs that the tree is having trouble drawing up sufficient moisture due to root damage. If you observe these signs, speaking to an arborist as soon as you notice a problem will give you the best chance of restoring your tree to health and keeping it safe.

When it comes to trees, it’s always better to be safe than sorry. A qualified arborist can thoroughly inspect your tree from top to bottom and give you a clear understanding of any health or safety issues that may be affecting it. If you spot any of these 8 signs, call us on 0499 991 944 to arrange a tree assessment.