Tree warning signs for trouble ahead

Tree warning signs for trouble ahead

By Misty Gil, Posted in Feature Stories, Plants
February 01, 2023


North Carolina’s landscape is full of trees. In most areas, with no interference from people, this state would be a forest of hardwoods and pine trees. Many times, homes are built with the hope of keeping the canopy cover of trees to bring shade and cut down on cooling costs. These trees, while a welcome attribute to most homes, need to be monitored and cared for to ensure they don’t become a liability. When trees are in decline, they can drop branches very easily which can fall on homes, vehicles, or even people. The tree itself can be a hazard for falling as well.

Monitoring trees is a task best done by a certified arborist annually, but you should also conduct an evaluation seasonally to keep you and your home safe. When you’re able to recognize the early signs of a problem, you’ll be able to contact a certified arborist in time to either save your tree or remove it to protect your home or other structures from the risk of a falling tree or large limb. 

Some common issues in trees include: 

·         Insects

·         Disease

·         Poor soil

·         Too much or too little water

·         Soil compaction

·         Improper planting

·         Lighting strikes

·         Being hit by vehicles or machinery

·         Girdling


Below are some common indicators that can be a sign of trouble ahead that you can look for:

  • Frequently falling branches or bark dropping off -This can be a sign of a fungal infection or pest infestation that could lead to decline or eventually kill the tree. Some species, like River Birch, Sycamore, and Crape Myrtle have bark that naturally peels off, but most other trees in the area are meant to keep their bark.
  • Holes or cavities in the trunk - These wounds can be caused by several factors and are attractive to insects and can cause the tree to not be able to move nutrients efficiently and lead to a decline and even death to the tree.
  •  Sap leakage – this can be a sign of a boring insect or mechanical damage, like being hit by machinery or struck by lightning, and can point to a bigger issue.
  • Overgrowth or bulging growth on the truck- this is a sign of healing a wound and is likely the sign of boring insect damage that can kill the tree and spread to other trees.
  •  Fungal growth on or around the tree- lichen is common in North Carolina. That is the light green, lettuce-looking growth on a tree and is not typically a sign of an issue. However, mushroom-like growth is an indication of dying wood. Even an outcropping of mushrooms or fungus on the ground under a tree can be a sign of dying roots.
  • Unseasonal changes in leaves- Leaves dropping in spring or summer is a sign that something is wrong. Wilting, drooping, color changes, and spots on the leaves is a good indications that there is a problem that can range from insects, diseases, or soil issues.
  •  Tree girdling- any tree that has its circumference impeded will have issues and eventually die. The layer just under the bark is responsible for transporting water and nutrients throughout the tree. If drip irrigation, wire, or heavy ties are put around the trunk of a tree it can lead to girdling and eventually kill the tree. Root girdling can also be an issue. The tree's own roots can girdle the tree if it was planted incorrectly and may take years to be noticed. Look for visible roots at the base of the tree that wraps around the truck, or crown, of the tree. A certified arborist can give you advice on if the tree can be saved from this.
  • Poor branch structure- Trees that are unbalanced or leaning can be a hazard. They are more vulnerable to damage from winds and heavy rain and can pose a threat by breaking off or falling over completely. Multiple trunks, especially in larger trees, can be a weakness for the tree as well and should be looked at for structural integrity.