By Emily J. Weitz
With the recent storms and the promise of more unpredictable weather in years to come, some of a homeowner’s most beloved assets are starting to look like threats. Trees, some of them hundreds of years old, are part of what makes Sag Harbor charming. But as the wind whips through the branches, how can we protect ourselves from the dangers they pose?
One of the best tools to prevent damage from falling trees is maintaining a tree’s health from the start.
“Go with a tree you like,” says Mica Marder of Marder’s Nursery in Bridgehampton. “Then, it’s all about the placement. You need to place it in the right spot, with the right drainage. Then make sure they’re checked once a year, and see that they’re sprayed and they don’t have any problems.”
Jeff Peters of JCP Landscaping in Sag Harbor agrees that maintenance is key.
“If trees aren’t pruned correctly,” explains Peters, “the air can’t get through.”
In this situation, the winds of a strong storm will pummel the tree, making it more susceptible to losing limbs or falling.
“A tree should really be pruned every year,” Peters advises.
Different storms cause different problems for trees. Wind threatens branches while rain and flooding are more of a problem for roots.
“A lot of rain makes the soil loose,” says Peters. “Particularly for shallow rooted trees like locust, willow and Leland cypress trees, this is a problem.”
Trees in low-lying areas like swamps are particularly vulnerable, says Marder, because the roots get flooded and fall over more easily.
Cherry trees also have shallow roots, and they seem to have taken a beating in Hurricane Sandy. But cherry trees in the area have been problematic for a few years, Peters says. He’s noticed many cherry trees lost to disease in recent years, though he can’t say exactly why.
Signs that your cherry tree (or other tree) might be sick include any kind of fungus growing on the bark, like mushrooms. Also, if any branches don’t seem to be growing leaves, there could be an issue.
Other trees that grow locally, like oak, Peters explains, have much deeper root systems. However, since they are often older, they may be more susceptible to rot, which weakens them.
“The problem with rot,” says Marder, “is that it weakens the tree and you don’t necessarily see it. It forms a cavity in the tree, like a hole or a place where the bark is falling off.”
If you notice something like this, it’s a sign that your tree may have rot. Other signs that your tree has rot include fungus growing on it or a discoloration. It doesn’t necessarily mean the tree will need to come down, but it may. Marder says the best way to deal with rot is prevention, as opposed to looking for some sort of cure.
“You need to plant it in the right place and make sure it’s planted right,” he says. “If it’s not planted correctly, the tree will get sick.”
When looking to protect your house from falling limbs, of course placement is key. You don’t want the tree too close to the house, and any branches that are growing over the house are a threat. If the tree is leaning in the direction of the house, it could pose a problem and may need to be trimmed or taken down. Also, if there are vines or ivy growing on the side of the tree, it puts stress on the tree itself. Peters says that vines should really be removed.
“I would just stress that trees are a long term investment,” says Marder. “Your tree will grow over time. You want to think of it as that.”
Just as any long-term investment, trees require long-term attention and care.