Deciding when to replace a tree
By Ray Ridlen
Whether to remove an unhealthy tree is a tough decision to make. When should it be done and who is best to remove a questionable tree are questions to consider.
Dropping its leaves is the first sign of stress in a tree. As a tree's health declines, it develops a sparse canopy, often with bare or easily seen inner branches. Also, with fewer leaves, those that are left typically are lighter in color than normal.
If tree stress is temporary, when the time of stress is past new buds will emerge from nodes on the bare branches. Once stress has caused permanent damage, no buds swell and form new leaves after the stress has passed.
If a branch is bare, check to see if it is dead. One test is to lightly scrape some of the outer bark off and check the internal color. If the color just below the outer bark is green, the branch is still alive. If the color is cream, tan or brown, the branch is dead. Another way to test is to break the branch. Dead branches snap when bent, while living branches flex and return to their original shape when released. Move around the tree, continuing to test, to determine the percentage of dead to living branches.
It may be possible to reshape and train small or young trees back into an acceptable shape, even if major damage has occurred. Cut out all the dead limbs first, and determine if enough living branches are left to justify keeping the tree. Often it is better to replace an unhealthy young tree with a healthy one that has much better growth potential. Always consider the tree species and choose one that is best adapted to your area.
When an overall assessment has been made, it is time to decide whether the tree is healthy enough to have a chance of returning to good health or needs to be removed. For a large tree, it is time to schedule removal if 40 percent or less of the canopy is alive. As the percentage of living limbs increases, the chances of bringing a tree back to health increases. Each tree is unique and it is best to have an expert make an assessment.
Contact a certified arborist or company with a certified arborist on staff for removal of large trees. Removal of large trees can be dangerous and requires trained experts to properly remove them in order to avoid property damage and/or personal injury. If unsure about the credentials of a tree care business, ask. Firms with properly trained professionals, bonding and insurance will be happy to share their credentials.