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b2ap3_thumbnail_oak_failure2.jpgb2ap3_thumbnail_mushroom.jpgb2ap3_thumbnail_mushroom2.JPGb2ap3_thumbnail_oak_failure.jpgToday I inspected a fallen oak tree in Windsor which broke off at the base and ended up in the neighbor's yard. As the tree fell, it broke several large limbs off an adjacent oak in the other neighbor's yard. The tree fortunately did not hit the neighbor's home but did knock part of the fence down and damaged shrubs and trees as it fell.

I inspected the root crown of the tree and found decay present--most likely caused by root fungus. The tree looked healthy, but under the ground the roots had slowly been rotting away. The tree was approximately 70 to 80 years old and the home and subdivision were built around the existing native oaks. When construction projects meet established heritage oak trees the results can be detrimental to the health and structure of the trees. Heavy equipment can cause extensive damage if operated over the roots of trees. Root fungus also develops If the soil level is changed around trees. Installation of utilities and trenching within the root zone of the tree can damage roots and lead to decay of major support roots. Equipment can also damage the branches or trunks of trees which leads to decay at these wound sites.

Currently there are stricter standards for protecting native trees during development. Cities such as Windsor, Santa Rosa, Sebastopol, Healdsburg and others have strict guidelines designed to prevent damage to heritage trees. In older developments built in the 70's and 80's many cities had yet to develop adequate protection measures for trees.

How to identify potential root fungus problems

In the case of this tree failure there were no obvious signs of decay at the root zone that led to the tree toppling over. The soil level at the root zone may have been changed. Trees that have buried root zones will have a trunk that does not widen at the soil level. Normally, older native oak trees show a widening where the main roots extend from the lower trunk area. This root "flare" indicates that the soil level has not be raised around the tree.

Another indication of potential root fungus or decay is the presence of mushrooms at the base of the tree during the winter. Honey-colored clusters of mushrooms are a strong indicator of armallaria mellea fungus that can cause damage and loss of structural integrity to the roots. There are also other "fruiting bodies" that may be found at the base of oak trees. Growths such Ganoderma appalnatum may indicate decay at the trunk of the tree.

Cavities or holes in the trunk may also indicate a structural defect in the tree that can extend into the main roots of the tree. Performing a root crown excavation where the soil is carefully removed around the trunk of the tree gives a more accurate appraisal of potential decay at the root zone. Certified Arborists are a good resource for completing root crown excavations.

Contact one of our Certified Arborists to inspect your trees for structure and overall health. In my next blog I'll discuss who is responsible when a tree falls from one property onto another and causes damage. The answer will surprise you unless you've had first hand experience of this situation.

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Usually when a tree branch or an entire tree falls it is considered an "Act of God". This designation has important implications for homeowners. If your neighbor's tree falls into your yard or onto your home you will likely be responsible for the cost to remove the tree and repair the damage.

When this situation occurs people are usually surprised by the answer they get from their Insurance Broker or Adjuster. Tree failures often occur without warning during storms with heavy rain and high winds that are considered "Acts of God".

In some cases your neighbor may be held liable if it can be established that they had prior knowledge of a hazardous condition and failed to address the problem. Some examples of obvious hazardous conditions include dead branches or trees in close proximity to an adjoining property or limbs that are broken and lodged in the tree.

The problem is that many tree hazards are not easily identified by most property owners. For example, one of the most common types of tree failures is when a tree has multiple trunks that meet in a "V" shaped attachment. This "V" shape occurs in many species of trees that have not been pruned for proper structure when they are young. In fact, most nursery grown tree trunks are cut so they will form a full rounded shape and there may be several trunks or limbs that join in one area. These multiple trunks create weak areas in the trunks of trees. Limbs with horizontal attachments to the main trunk have greater structural integrity.

Often trees may look healthy with full canopies and have hollow trunks that break and cause the tree to fall. Trees may also have a root fungus that has weakened the roots but the tree may still look healthy. One of the best ways to assess the health and structure of your trees is to have them inspected regularly by a Certified Arborist. We have two Certified Arborists at TreePro who can help to identify and reduce tree hazards in your home landscape.

What to expect in the event of a Tree Emergency

When a tree falls in your yard or on your home it can be a stressful and dangerous event. It may be raining and windy. There may be a hole in the roof where water damage may occur. Usually a tree will not fall completely into a home. Spreading branches on many species can cushion the fall. Trees most likely to cause severe damage are large single trunked trees. Trees located on hillsides above a home can also cause extensive damage because they have more momentum as they fall from above.

In the event of a tree failure it is important to get professional help. Utility lines may have been knocked down that are difficult to identify during stormy conditions, especially at night. Emergency services, utility services, and a tree service may all need to be contacted.

Insurance policies differ in what portions of an emergency tree removal are covered. Some policies limit coverage to removal of the tree from the home to allow inspection and repairs to be made. Your policy may limit the amount of debris removal from the fallen tree to as little as $500. Normally if a tree falls into your yard and does not damage a fence or personal property the cost to remove the tree may not be covered. Another issue involves a partial failure of the tree. For example, half your tree breaks and falls onto your home and has weakened the other half of the tree by splitting off a portion of the trunk area where the halves came together. Normally, your insurance company will not pay to remove the other half of the tree. This is not the kind of surprise you want when you are already facing damage to your home or property. If other trees or shrubs are damaged by a falling tree or limb the replacement cost will most likely be limited or excluded. I recommend consulting your homeowner's policy or with your agent to discuss the limits of your coverage prior to tree emergency.

The time to prepare for a potential tree emergency is before it happens. The larger the trees on your property, the greater the potential hazard. Regular inspections by a Certified Arborist will help to mitigate the hazards associated with trees at your home or business.

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