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GardenSMART :: Is It Time to Break Up with Your Tree

Is It Time to Break Up with Your Tree

By The Davey Tree Expert Company
Photograph courtesy of The Davey Tree Expert Company

Just like any relationship, you and your tree are in this thing together! Trees provide you with shade in the summertime and wow you with their beautiful colors in the fall. But in return, they're counting on you to keep them safe and healthy.

"People often think that trees don't need any care, but they're just like any other plant," says Travis McDonald, a certified arborist at Davey Tree's South Minneapolis office. "They need water when it's dry, nutrients when the soil is lacking–and yes, inspections to make sure they're growing the right way."

He suggests getting outside to make sure you and your trees are still in a healthy, mutually-beneficial relationship.

"When trees are healthy, they provide a ton of benefits, like energy-savings and property value increases," says McDonald. "But trees can turn into a risk really fast if you don't keep a close eye on them."

Check the trees in your yard this season to make sure all is good. It's as simple as taking a quick stroll around the yard and giving trees a close look.

Start from the ground up. McDonald says if you see a problem at the base, chances are the tree has more significant issues at the top.

"If you catch problems early, you can often fix them, and your tree can keep on living for decades. But if you have a dead tree in your yard, that could be a huge risk, especially in our brutal winters. Wind, ice or snow from a bad storm could cause that dead tree to break or even fall over," McDonald says.

The good news is you can help reduce that risk in under a minute by simply scratching one of the tree's twigs. If it's moist and green underneath, your tree's alive. If it's brown and brittle, scrape a couple more to see if any are fresh green underneath.

If you suspect your tree's in trouble after the scratch test, perform McDonald's five-step inspection.

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5 Ways to See if Your Tree is Healthy

  • Start from the ground up.
  • Begin examining the roots. Look for severed roots, signs of decay, such as mushrooms, or areas where the ground is heaving up.
  • Then move to the tree's root collar, the area of the trunk just above the soil. Look for peeling or loose bark, cracks or deep slits in the tree.
  • Now scrutinize the rest of the trunk for signs of decay. Look for signs of swelling, cavities, soft wood, or small holes.
  • Finally, look up to the canopy, the upper layer of branches and leaves, for these issues:  
    • Dead or dying branches that hang low and lack bark.
    • Weak, V-shaped unions, where two branches have grown together.
    • Excessively thick, dense canopies that could easily break.
    • Cankers, dead sections of bark, on branches or limbs.
    • Leaning limbs or branches.

"If your tree failed the scratch test and you spotted a sign above, you should have an ISA Certified Arborist® out to inspect your tree," McDonald says. "Reputable companies, like Davey, often offer free consultations, so you can figure out what the problem is."

From there, an arborist can assess your tree using proper tools and determine if it can be saved or if it's best to remove and replace it.

"We know you love the trees in your yard. So we do our best to treat and save trees when we can," McDonald says. "But if it comes down to a safety issue, that's a risk you don't want to take."

Concerned about your beloved tree? Contact Travis McDonald, Davey's local arborist. Call 612-392-2405 or visit

With nearly 9,500 employees throughout North America, The Davey Tree Expert Company provides solutions for residential, utility, commercial and government clients. Rooted in research, the company's vision is to achieve balance among people, progress and the environment. Tree experts since 1880, Davey provides diversified tree services, grounds maintenance and environmental services. Celebrating 40 years of employee ownership, Davey is one of the largest employee-owned companies in the U.S. and is headquartered in Kent, Ohio. Want to join us? Discover your Davey career, and apply today.


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