If you’ve ever bought a tree, you know they can be a little pricey. I don’t mean one of those pencil-thin, root bare, vacuum pack trees that come from a forestry service or orchard catalogue, but a good 6 to 10 footer, with real leaves and a root ball. They’re expensive because it’s taken years of labor, gallons of water, and pounds of soil amendments to get it ready for transport, and market. If you have it planted, there are a few more dollars spent. For the most part, a tree this size will be pretty carefree for several years, with the exception of watering and any fertilizer you choose to add.
Trees that grow taller than the house they near, or over the house, require maintenance. If a tree is really close to a house, the roots can cause problems with the foundation. Trees growing directly over a house, left uncared for will cause a number of problems. Almost all trees shed foliage, fruit, nuts, limbs, twigs, seeds, and other natural debris. This all falls onto the roof, collecting in roof valleys, the house gutters, and a lot of times the downspouts. It’s not unusual to find small trees, growing from the very seeds the tree dropped, in the gutters. Little forests hanging on the facia, I’ve encountered snakes and rodents in these little landscapes. If a tree is allowed to grow low enough to the roof, the wind will sweep the roof with the tree branches and scuff the roof shingles, even damaging or knocking them off. Trees growing over houses are also susceptible to dropping branches in wind storms, and snow and ice events. Some limbs fall simply due to old age, weakness, and decay. All of these situations can cause damage to the roof, chimney, utility stacks, gutters, siding, and windows. As if trees growing directly over the house aren’t challenging enough, any tree growing closer to the house, than its actual height, is a threat. Watch the news after any spring storm, and a story of a tree falling on a car or house always comes on. So what to do? Preventive maintenance is key.
Like a lot of other care homes require, there won’t be a lot of bragging rights. $2300 spent on a big screen TV just before the Superbowl will win accolades from your guests that Sunday, but no one is really impressed by your well-maintained trees. So it’s harder to want to spend that money. Do it anyway. Get a reference from you neighbors. Invite at least three tree companies to come to view your property and access the trees near and over your house. Ask them if they have liability insurance. This is important because if you hire them, someone will likely be climbing high in the tree with things like chain saws and rope. If your trees are anywhere near power lines things get even more dangerous. They’ll also be showing up with a bunch of dangerous machines like bucket trucks, cranes, and chippers. Again, ask for proof of insurance to be emailed or texted to you by their insurance company, the day before the work begins. This is important because there are some unscrupulous companies that carry a copy of liability insurance they owned for one day and canceled.
If you have trees that are very special to you, feel free to ask to visit another customer’s garden to see their work. To some degree, tree shaping is an art. A lot of tree trimming practices are outdated, or just plain more damaging than not. It used to be quite popular to “top out” trees, but for the most part, this practice isn’t used much anymore. Some trimmers use “dressing” on wounds and some don’t. If you have questions, ask. Trust your guts. If the tree hanging near or over your house is old, has a lot of wounds, or looks like it could cause a lot of damage, don’t be afraid to have it removed. We ran into this at our house. I asked two tree companies their opinion on some old hardwood cherry trees in our front yard. They had been topped out, were full of woodpecker holes and leaned toward our house and driveway. Both companies said “keep them”, and said they shouldn’t be a problem. Within months, one of the trees fell onto two of our cars. I should have gone with my guts and had them removed sooner.
Some common work done to trees is shaping them into pleasing forms. This is usually done on ornamental trees. “Airing out the interior” removes much of the extra limbs under the canopy, allowing wind to pass through the tree easier, and reduces snow and ice loads. Depending on the tree, it will be a little easier to grow grass under the tree too. Removing all the deadwood and damaged limbs is a basic step, and adding cables up high from one vertical trunk to another adds stability to trees that may be less than perfect in shape and strength. If you have a fireplace, you can ask to have the timber cut to length and stacked. Those cherry trees we had cut down in our front yard were eventually milled on our driveway into 1″ lumber. We built the countertops in the house we live in now. Great memories, and the trees continue to live on in a different life. The ground under the tree is important too. Never pave under a tree. Many trees are especially sensitive to what is going on with the soil under the drip line. Be sure to keep that area free from landscape elements that may affect the tree’s health.
In the long run, caring for your trees will protect your house from un-necessary damage, the tree will look nicer, and live a longer healthier life. It’s money well spent, even if it’s just you and the trees that know it.