Recognizing & Correcting Tree Hazards

Author(s): Graham Herbst
Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Trees should be inspected for defects and hazardous conditions after a severe storm. Some trees are in danger of falling and have a high immediate potential for serious injury or property damage. Others may have a lower immediate potential risk, but the long-term risk of significant injury or damage may still be too great to allow the questionable branch or tree to remain. Hazards in trees need to be eliminated either by removing the tree or the affected branches or by some kind of corrective treatment. Following are descriptions of

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Branches hanging over power lines are a major safety hazard. Special training is required by law to prune branches over power lines safely. Homeowners with tree branches that rub or may break power lines should contact the local power company or arborist trained in power line clearance to have the branches removed.


Trees and branches are hazards if they have a strong potential to fall and cause injury or property damage. In many cases, the only practical solution is to remove the damaged branch or tree. Cabling and bracing are sometimes used to strengthen high-value trees, but these techniques are not routinely recommended and should be done only by trained, certified arborists.

Following a severe storm, homeowners should check trees for several kinds of hazardous defects:

  • Loose or broken branches. These should be removed before they fall.
  • Split trunks. Trees with split trunks likely will fail completely in a later storm. They should be removed, or they can be cabled and braced if they have especially high value.
  • Trunks or branches with more than a third of their circumference lost. This occurs on the trunk or a large branch where a branch was pulled out. The tree has a high risk for breaking and this kind of damage cannot be repaired adequately. The tree or branch should be removed.
  • Leaning trees. A tree that is leaning after a storm has major root failure. Even a slight lean with a small area of raised soil at the base can mean a significant potential for additional failure. Trees leaning due to a storm should be removed.


  • Do not try to support a damaged tree with rope, cable, wire, bolts or other materials.
  • The effort likely will not increase the tree’s safety. If cabling and bracing are necessary, they should be done by a certified arborist.
  • Do not try to save a tree that was pushed over by a storm unless it was recently planted. The tree’s roots will likely never develop enough to support the tree adequately.
  • Do not top trees. Topping is the indiscriminate cutting of large branches back to long stubs. Cuts are made without regard to the location of side branches, and over the years the tree will become even more of a hazard.
  • Do not use paint or wound dressing to cover wounds. These interfere with the tree’s natural wound-sealing process.
  • Do not fertilize damaged trees. Nitrogen can make a stressed tree even more susceptible to insects and diseases and reduce its ability to deal with the damage.