by Emily Vanneman

As area residents learned with last week’s winter blast, not all trees can withstand the weight of inches of snow and ice. As trees were brought down onto main roads and side streets, many commuters were unable to make it to work or even make a trip to the gas station.

Preparing your trees for winter weather can have a significant impact on damage caused by snow. Having healthy trees can ensure that you do not lose power in the frigid winter months.

According to Mark Mercaldo, an arborist with Davey Tree Expert Company in Horsham, cavities in tree trunks can create a weak spot that could harm the tree’s structure. The recent temperature fluctuations have wreaked havoc upon the strength of the trees in Chestnut Hill.

Mercaldo also suggested that there are ways to identify a potentially harmful tree. Tree experts can evaluate the trees health by inspecting the tree species, soil conditions, wind exposure, defects and overall health.

Deadwood, cracks, wood decay, weak branch unions and heavy canopies can all cause limbs and trees to end up lying across a busy street.

Also, pruning trees on a regular basis can relieve some of the weight of the tree canopy, making it less prone to falls.

Just because a tree has a weakness, however, doesn’t necessarily mean it needs to be removed. Some cracks can be treated to help the tree survive a storm.

In some cases, not all trees have obvious risks, so it is important to have your trees inspected if they are a potential hazard.

According to Mercaldo, these are the signs residents should keep an eye out for during the final months of winter:

8 ways to identify a potentially damaging tree

There are several types of defects that can increase the risk of tree failure. These include:

 Deadwood – Dead trees and large, dead branches can fall at any time.

 Cracks – Deep splits through the bark extend into the wood of the tree. Internal or external cavities.

 Decay – In advanced stages, soft wood or cavities where wood is missing can create hazardous conditions.

 Weak branch unions – Two or more branches grow too closely together, with bark growing between them. This bark does not hold the branches together.

 Heavy canopies – Excessively thick branches and foliage catch more wind during stormy weather. This increases the risk of branch breakage and uprooting.

 Cankers – Caused by fungi, cankers occur on the stems or branches of trees (bark is sunken or missing). Stems or branches are prone to breaking off near cankers.

 Root problems – Without a strong root system, trees are more likely to be uprooted or blown over in stormy weather. Look out for nearby construction that may sever large roots or compact the soil too much to allow for healthy root growth.

 Poor tree architecture –his is characterized by excessive leaning of the tree, or branches growing out of proportion with the rest of the tree crown. Odd growth patterns may indicate general weakness or structural imbalance.

If you are determined to save your trees from the ice, Davey’s also recommends some way to prevent tree damage:


 Strong branches = stronger tree

 Although defective trees are dangerous, not all of them need to be removed immediately, and some defects can be treated to prolong the life of the tree.

 Arborists will evaluate tree species, soil conditions, wind exposure, defects, overall health and other factors to determine a tree’s hazard potential.

 Proper pruning thins the tree canopy, allowing wind to blow through it instead of against it as though it were a sail. Pruning also removes potentially hazardous dead or weak branches.

 Not all tree risks are visible or obvious.

 Advanced analysis, sometimes through the use of specialized arborist tools or techniques, may be necessary.

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  • Mike

    Good article and very relevant for CH with all our aging trees (and residents who often may skew away from proactively removing any branches or growth from trees to preserve the ‘nature-forward’ look around here). It’s all hindsight, but really wish this had been published prior to last Wednesday before some of my neighbors’ fallen trees took out our power lines… 😀