Tree Care Disasters

Photo from Weeding Wild Suburbia

A fierce windstorm on the night of November 20 of last year left in its wake the evidence of years of negligent tree care in Southern California. A good arborist and crew cost money, and too many homeowners, landlords and municipalities go the cheap route and hire the first idiot with a chainsaw they can find.

A local blog I just discovered Weeding Wild Suburbia, has a nice summary of things you can do to prevent trees from falling down in the next storm. See her posts, Cleaning Up After the Storm, Tree Care Part 2, and Selecting and Planting Trees for Long Term Success.

One things I noticed after the storm were huge trees with shallow root systems that topled over. It’s the result of combining trees and lawns–keeping the lawn green with frequent light waterings results in trees with shallow root systems. Yet another reason, if there weren’t enough already, to ditch the lawn in a dry climate!

Extra bragging rights if you can name the problem in the picture above.

Thanks to Ari Kletzky for the link.

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  1. “One things I noticed after the storm were huge trees with shallow root systems that topled over. It’s the result of combining trees and lawns–keeping the lawn green with frequent light waterings results in trees with shallow root systems.”

    As an arborist, I can tell you this isn’t necessarily the case. A lot of trees (Pines, for instance) just tend to have really shallow root systems. Trees like that tend to be somewhat dangerous as they get older, they can even fall over with nothing but a strong wind, no storm required.

    With that said though, depending on the trees you saw toppled over, (say if they were Cottonwoods or Mesquite) poor watering might have been to blame.

    I’m all for getting rid of lawns, I just felt the need to point out that in many cases those trees would have had shallow root systems and fallen over regardless of watering practices. 🙂

  2. It’s a wishbone tree. Sure to get pulled apart sooner or later. We had one like that, except bigger and with three trunks. It shaded the garden too much, and made us nervous besides. So we took it down.

  3. Well, I don’t know the official name for it, but it looks to me like those trees don’t have a clear leader, making them more susceptible to splitting in a big storm. I see that in a lot of evergreens that people put in their yards. Pruning to create a leader is best done when the tree is young so that it grows from a nice, strong center.

  4. Hmm, are there any arborists you’d recommend for the Los Angeles area? I have to admit I’m terrible and too tentative at pruning.. as a result our peach tree is H U G E. 😐 The squirrels appreciate it though, as they can get to the fruit we can’t! Grr.

    • Oops! I should add that Kate and Haley identified the problem correctly, too. I was skimming for the term “co-dominant”. Checks are in the mail for you two as well.

  5. @RootSimple – thanks for the link. I like the term by Kate, “wishbone tree.” Very sad because otherwise this tree looks better than most. I did see a video showing an arborist cabling a similar tree. Not a good long term solution.

  6. Chuck – I know Pasadena saw a large number of oaks come down, particularly along historic avenues like Orange Grove Blvd. It was… impressive.

    But then, there was also serious, extensive damage in places like the Huntington Gardens and LA County Arboretum, where the trees are theoretically being tended by folk who know how to support their root development.

  7. I had a tree with double trunks, already about fifty years old when we moved here. All of a sudden, one trunk died 25 years later. The city cut it and left the other, healthy trunk. However, they pruned the limbs all the way up and left a trunk with a feathery top that was at least 60 ft tall, maybe more. The trunks were each about 3 ft in diameter. I had them take the second, mutilated tree down and put a stump grinder to it.

    I had just had a stone bench placed under the tree, made from a step of the old county courthouse. Then, it looked really strange with a bench in the bare area. It took a tow truck to place it, so I just planted a cherry tree since I was unsure what to do or plant.

    How could the double trunk have been prevented when the tree was young? I had no control then.

  8. Codominant trunks can be an issue but the real issue is the included bark, notice (in the photo on the left) the bark is sunken at the top (doesn’t push out in to a branch bark ridge) and there is a swelling coming down from the branch union. A codominant trunk doesn’t necessarily mean a bad branch union.

    Trees don’t heal they seal is the saying so it is growing new wood in the swollen area. Notice the cracking bark at the base of the tree below the branch union, then notice that the trunk doesn’t “flare out” but is flat at that space (girdling root, like a pot bound house plant).

    Also, notice all of the exposed roots that are growing in a circle on the surface around the tree (compacted soil).

    Compacted soil, basal crack, girdling roots & included bark in the codominant stem all appear to be serious issues.

    Tree nerdily,

  9. @Amy: You can, by cutting back one of the trunks gradually over a few years. The details are going to depend on the tree. A good arborist can help do it right. If you interview an arborist and he says he can take care of it in one visit, don’t hire him.

  10. @mjlai: I don’t know of any arborists in the LA area, but I’m sure somebody on here does. As always, make sure to get some references. Also, check to see if the arborist is part of the International Society of Arboriculture, that guarantees that they’ve been doing the job for at LEAST 3 years, and they’ve also received continuing education and have good knowledge of trees. There are plenty of great arborists that aren’t part of the ISA, and some bad ones that are. But it does give you some better odds, especially if you don’t know anyone that has personal experience with them.

    @Amy: Also keep in mind that even after the arborist gets the trunk cut back, you’ll likely have to do some regular pruning where the trunk formerly was for several years. Just checking it a every few months (depending on where you live) and snipping off new growth with some shears is all that should be required, and you can do it yourself after watching a couple how-to videos. But make sure and stay committed to it, or you could end up with several large branches coming off at odd angles, and you’ll have a bigger problem than you did before.

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