Breakdown: Why soggy ground can bring trees down

Breakdown: Why some trees fall during storms, and others don’t

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - Have you ever wondered why one tree will fall over during a storm or high wind while the other is left standing tall? Let’s take a look at why this happens.

According to experts, when trees are uprooted the roots are to blame. A tree’s root system serves several purposes. The two main important jobs are to absorb water and nutrients from the soil and to anchor the tree, which will keep the tree straight and stable.

It’s all about those roots. If your tree has root issues, storms with lots of rain and high winds may cause your tree to topple over.

Here are some of the types of root issues that may make a tree more susceptible.

Root rot is a type of fungus that mostly occurs when there is too much moisture in the root zone. This can greatly increase the likelihood of a tree falling over during a storm or high wind.

Damage from construction: When construction takes place near the roots, they can be easily damaged. Sometimes contractors will cut the roots. When driveways and sidewalks are put in a tree’s critical root zone, the compacted soil can over time smother the tree roots. When the root system is struggling due to the soil compaction, it’s more likely to topple over during heavy rain and high winds.

Shallow roots can be another cause. When trees are planted in hard or compacted soils, the root systems may struggle to penetrate the ground and form roots at a specific depth. Other ways that trees can develop shallow roots are when they are watered incorrectly. Short, yet frequent watering will only allow water to enter the top of the soil. The tree roots will then only grow more shallow than they should. Shallow roots don’t anchor trees as well as roots that grow at the appropriate depth and can lead to a higher risk of uprooting.

Roots that are not established can also make trees more prone to falling. Newly planted trees can take several years to establish a stable root system. Since these root systems are what keep trees from falling, newly planted trees are most vulnerable to topple or get damaged during high winds.

Unfortunately, no tree is 100-percent safe from falling. If the wind is strong enough or the rain is excessive, even the strongest with great root systems will still be at risk.

There are some tree species that are most likely to fall in wind. Some of these species are the willow white spruce, cedar, and white pine. This is because they live in wetter soils. Taller trees with large canopies are also more susceptible.

Ways to reduce your tree from falling

Water uour trees slowly for long periods of time: Frequently watering your trees for a short amount of time will teach your tree’s roots to grow near the surface. Instead, if you water slowly for long periods of time less frequently, the water will be able to penetrate deeper into the soil. This allows your tree’s roots to grow at the correct depth.

The best way to water is to turn your hose on to a dribble, put your hose somewhere in the critical root zone, and leave it for 2-3 hours. Move the hose to a different spot in the critical root zone and leave for 2-3 hours. Repeat this step 1-3 times. This should be done 1-2 times a week.

Don’t overwater: Overwatering can cause root rot which in turn can make your tree susceptible to falling. You want the soil around your tree to be moist but not soaking. If you are able to make a mud ball out of the soil, you’ve overwatered your tree.

Don’t over do it on the mulch: Mulching is great for your tree; however, over mulching can cause your tree to develop shallow roots and may even suffocate your roots. Aim for 2-4 inches of mulch spread evenly and not touching the base of the tree.

Get a root collar excavation: If you think your tree may have root issues, invest in a root collar excavation. This is where you’re tree’s critical root zone is opened up with a high-velocity air tool. Once exposed, the arborist can look for root issues and strategically fix them before they get worse or cause your tree to fall.

To reduce risks of falling limbs and splitting trees

Prune for structure: Pruning your trees regularly before they are fully mature (during the first 2-10 years) is extremely important. When you do this, you can spot structural issues when they are first developing. This allows certified arborists to strategically prune or alter the tree to correct those structural issues before they become big problems later on.

Remove dead/weak limbs: If a limb is leafless when it should be in bloom, it’s a hint that the limb is dead or dying. These limbs are the ones that tend to come down in storms. Also look for limbs that have two equal size arms branching off of the trunk (Y-shaped). The point at which these branches connect may be weak and could break off during wind and rain storms.

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