Greenspace: All trees will fall; it’s a matter of when

Jim Hillibish

Trees seem to fall in storms randomly, an “act of God.” Not true. If you know the causes, you might prevent thousands of dollars in damage.

Some main causes are preventable. For that reason, it’s a good idea to pay attention to your trees. That means walking around regularly and checking for obvious signs.

Don’t take your trees for granted. They’ve withstood decades or even centuries of storms. That doesn’t mean they won’t come down in the next one.

Older trees often suffer most in storms. Almost all old trees in urban areas are dangerous to property. They can collapse even without wind.

Rotten areas of a tree will surely fall on their own. A storm hurries the process. Rotting attracts boring insects. These guys can fell a limb like lumberjacks.

The prevention here is to remove the rotten branches before they become missiles in a storm. This is good for the tree, too. It can prolong its life.

Decay is a natural process. Trimming can delay it, but when a tree trunk shows problems, that’s serious and needs quick attention.

Trees normally take care of themselves. They grow symmetrically to prevent “wind overloading,” an unbalanced condition that can topple them.

Trees near buildings may not have room to develop naturally. The result is they build branches on only side. They lose natural balance.

These are among the first trees to go in a storm. They simply topple over. Because they’re often near buildings, this will be costly. The fix is to trim the tree to restore its natural balance.

Tree damage often is manmade. Wounds from mowers and trimmers will invite trunk decay. Piling mulch against trunks leads to damage. Use a coarse mulch and move it away from the trunk.

Trees that thrive in wet areas often are unstable. The wet causes roots to grow shallowly. They will not hold up a tree in a storm. Solving the drainage problem might save the trees.

Girdling roots are those appearing at the soil surface, the ones you hit with your mower. Many trees you see damaged in a storm show these roots. The cause is the tree was not planted at the correct depth. Shallow watering that doesn’t reach the main roots can prompt this.

Elms and maples are native to flood plains. In urban areas they will form shallow, encircling roots that cannot support the tree in storms. Maples and elms are common examples.

Lightning is the bane of trees. Bolts can shatter a trunk and blast off branches. The tallest trees are the targets. Some historic trees are protected by lightning rods and grounding wires.

Liability for fallen trees rests with the owner. Your homeowner’s insurance may cover removal and damage costs, less your deductible. If your tree falls on a neighbor’s house, his insurance most likely will pay for the damage.

Jim Hillibish writes for The Repository in Canton, Ohio. Contact him at

Trees most susceptible to damage

European mountain ash

Red maple

Green ash

Amur cherry


Silver maple


Littleleaf linden


Source: University of Minnesota