Living with Trees

Living with Trees

Oops! Don’t let this happen to you!

Living here in the great Pacific Northwest is truly a gift wrapped in green. We are blessed with the majestic splendor of the tall, beautiful, beneficial, lean, and green Douglas fir. Some benefits of these trees are:

  • Just three strategically placed trees can decrease utility bills by 50%
  • Childhood asthma rates are lower in neighborhoods with healthy tree cover
  • An acre of trees every year absorbs the amount of carbon produced by driving a car 26,000 miles.

However, along with the beauty and benefit, comes danger as well. There are things you can do, though, to help preserve the trees and protect yourself.


Fallen Tree on Teresa’s House.Fallen-tree-at-night

Winter is usually the time that trees fall. Days of rain make the ground squishy and then a heavy wind comes along to topple that big tree. NOW is the time to see if those trees in your area may be at risk for a fall.  The two major causes of trees falling are unstable, wet ground and disease.

Take a stroll outside and take a poll of the trees you have in your area.

What kind of tree is it?  
Douglas fir are the most likely to fall.  Cedar is a little more stable. Deciduous trees usually only lose large limbs during storms as they have a deeper root system.

How tall is the tree and if it fell, would it cause property damage?  
The prevailing storm winds in the greater Seattle area, usually come from the south or southwest.  Check the height of the tree, (links listed below on how to do this) then measure the distance to your home.  You’ll then know if you are in the clear.

How to Measure a Tree (YouTube Video)

How to Measure a Tree (WikiHow article)

During our wet spring season, take a quick survey during heavy rainfalls.  
Go out in your yard and see how and where the water goes.  Does it head straight for or pool near big tree root systems?   If so, diverting that water away from the trees will help keep the ground stable.

Are the trees healthy?
Urban trees are extremely susceptible to disease. There are warning signs and several guidelines that can be used to help you decide whether a tree is potentially unsafe. However, be aware that further testing of a suspect tree should be done by a qualified arborist before a final decision is made to retain or remove a tree.

If you have evergreen trees, look up at the canopy. If you see a substantial amount of cones, this generally a sign of tree stress caused by drought, excessively wet soils conditions, fungus root infections, or recent soil disturbances in the dripline of the tree. The dripline is the height of the tree measured horizontally on the ground. Thus, a hundred foot tall tree will have roots that are hundred feet or more out from the trunk. Check to see if any construction activity has taken place in the dripline in the past 1-6 years. Trees usually begin to show stress anywhere from 1-7 years after injury has occurred. If the soil is excessively moist, chances of the roots dying from a lack of oxygen are high. Excessively moist soil can also increase the chances of infection by fungi.
Signs that a tree is in stress and could be a potential hazard in your yard include:

  • Abnormal cone formation.
  • Dieback of the terminal portions of the tree or general crown decline.
  • Poor needle growth or browning of the needles.
  • Multiple stems in the canopy resulting from previous topping.
  • Dead branches in the canopy or hanging broken branches “widow makers”.
  • Leaning tree
  • Trunk buried below the soil surface or absence of a root flare.
  •  “Bottle” trunk, abnormal bulges in the trunk.
  • Cracks in the trunk
  • Bleeding or oozing down the trunk.
  • Fine sawdust at the base of the tree indicating insect infestations.
  • Fungi at the base of the tree, fruiting bodies “conks” emerging from the tree trunk.
  • Recent soil disturbances, not caused by Man, such as a change of grade, or tree heaving, pushing up soil.
  • Recent construction activities that resulted in injury to tree roots

If one or more of these conditions exist in your tree, it is best to consult an arborist for a more detailed evaluation. Look for an arborist not associated with a tree trimming or pruning company as they will help protect the tree, our unique Pacific Northwest Enviornment and you!

If Disaster does occur, make sure you are safe first.  Wait for the storm to die down, then call your insurance company.  Dealing with your insurance company is in the next edition!

Article by Teresa Chilelli

One Response to “Living with Trees”

  1. Peter Ludwig says:

    “The dripline is the height of the tree measured horizontally on the ground. Thus, a hundred foot tall tree will have roots that are hundred feet or more out from the trunk.”

    In fact, the drip line is actually the distance of the branches extending horizontally from the center of the trunk (where you would imagine the water would drip off of the tree. It has nothing to do with height, and the drip-line is not directly related to root depth.

    Moreover the roots of douglas firs and hemlocks are much shorter and shallower than their drip lines. (In many cases only 3-5 feet!) This is largely due to the soil compaction of Washington State’s glacial history and the fact that these trees have evolved to be supported by each other in dense forests. They form thick foliage at the top of the tree to compete with one another for light. In an urban forest, housing developers carve out the forest exposing houses to firs that are top heavy and no longer supported by similar sized species. In many cases, a pruning procedure called “crown thinning” (commonly known as “windsailing”) can decrease the hazard rating of the tree, and is a proactive, preventative maintenance homeowners can take to prevent their homes from being damaged in a windstorm. It is important that this procedure is performed by a ISA (International Society of Arborculture) certified Arborist to ensure maximum health to the tree.

    It is also true that prevailing winds come from the South East, but in the last major windstorm in 2006, when over 70,000 homes filed insurance claims due to trees falling on them, the winds came from the North.

    I agree with you Teresa that homeowners should avoid ‘urban logger’ types, who want to remove your trees, but most ISA certified arborists can provide numerous solutions to make the trees on your property safer, healthier, and more beautiful WITHOUT removing them, and many will come to your home to do a consultation for FREE.