Signs a Tree Could Fall

Date: February 15, 2012      Publication: Bottom Line Personal      Source: Art  Morris       Print:

Storms with winds gusting as high as 75 miles per hour wreaked havoc on home owners’ trees in 2011, which saw 14 weather-related disasters across the US that each surpassed $1 billion in property damage. During storms, trees routinely shed branches and leaves, much of which you can clean up or prune yourself. But sometimes you have to bring in an expert to do the repair work.

Taking down a tree always is a last resort. Not only is it the most expensive work that arborists do—$500 to $2,500 or more per tree—but it can affect your property values and energy costs as well. Mature, shade-producing trees can contribute up to $10,000 per tree to the value of your home and save you more than 10% on your electricity bills.

Steps to take to determine if a tree needs to come down…


Check the roots of the tree, the trunk and lower branches first, then use binoculars or look from a top window in your house at the higher limbs and overall canopy. Pay special attention to trees that have lost large branches in previous storms…trees or large branches within the drop diameter of your home or where you park your car…and trees that don’t hold up that well in storms, including ash, cottonwood, pine, silver maple, sweet gum, sycamore and tulip poplar.


These are signs that you need to call in an arborist…

  • A root plate (the roots leading out from the base of the trunk) that has begun to pull out of the soil. If 50% or more is decayed or damaged, when the ground gets soaked in the next storm, the tree is likely to topple.
  • Mushrooms or fungus at the base of the trunk. This is a sign of possible dead or decaying roots.

  • A tight V-shaped fork at the point where a tree with two trunks or two large limbs meet. This is a natural imperfection that greatly increases the likelihood of splitting.

  • A noticeable change in how the tree leans.

  • More than one-third of the tree’s canopy is damaged or missing.

  • The diameter of a large broken limb measures more than one-third of the diameter of the tree’s trunk at the point that the limb broke off. Left untreated, a wound this large invites decay and structural stress. Also, if there are noticeable cracks in the trunk, there is a high risk of structural instability.

  • Dead or dying limbs. In warmer seasons, the limbs may have no leaves, brown ones crinkled at the edges or droopy green ones. In the winter, you can identify a dead limb because pieces of bark are falling off. If more than 25% of the large branches are dead, the tree typically can’t be nurtured back to health.


Ask friends and neighbors for recommendations or search for a certified professional at the International Society of Arboriculture, Get at least three estimates. There may be room for negotiation, especially in the off-season (colder months). Expect to pay about $80 per hour per person for tree work.

Call your local utility or municipality if a tree or its branches endanger phone or electric wires or a public roadway. You may be able to get the tree removed or pruned for free.

Source: Art Morris, an ISA-certified master arborist at Bartlett Tree Experts in Atlanta. He has served as a commissioner on the Atlanta Tree Conservation Commission.