Tips for healthy trees in 2020, from the Morristown Shade Tree Commission

Healthy trees enhance the community. Photo courtesy of the Morristown Shade Tree Commission.
By Kristin Ace

Beautiful, healthy trees are an invaluable asset to any community.

In addition to their beauty, they also filter and cool the air for our health and comfort. They provide homes for animals and insects. They filter water as it enters our waterways that ultimately filter our drinking water.

However, trees are also living beings, so proper care and close observation of our neighborhood trees is a necessity for our safety and peace of mind.

This brief article will discuss generally accepted methods for proper tree care and what to look for to determine what may be a problem or hazard tree.

For specific situations, consultation with a qualified tree expert is necessary.

Although some trees do fall with no warning or signs of deterioration, most failures can be detected and possibly prevented with careful periodic observation and maintenance by qualified arborists and observant homeowners and citizens.

  • Trees should be inspected before and after storms and after heavy snow has fallen to see if any damage has occurred.
  • Patches of fungus are a sign of decay in the wood beneath the fungus
  • Large splits passing through the trunk are a cause for removal of the tree because the tree can not heal from this type of damage and its health and structure have been compromised.
  • Ivy should be removed from trunks and branches because it conceals problem areas from detection. (see picture below )
  • Woodpecker holes indicate the tree is likely to have an insect infestation, like the destructive the Emerald Ash Borer, and should be inspected by a New Jersey Tree Expert.
  • Thin foliage or unusual leaf color may also be signs of problems.
  • Dead branches should be promptly removed with a sharp tool for a clean cut.
  • Tears in branches are ways for pests and disease to enter so pruning by qualified contractors using sharp tools is essential.

The previous safety problems can be observed even by an untrained observer but other flaws are concealed and very dangerous.

The first is Root Death. Many seemingly healthy trees will suddenly fall for no apparent reason.

Observation of the uprooted root ball shows that the major roots that support the tree have deteriorated to the point that they offer no support. The picture below shows an example of the root ball of a large tree that fell due to Root Death.

As you can see, the small roots were completely dried out and dead and there were no signs of the large roots needed for support. Signs of root problems to look for are cracks in the soil around the base of the tree, heaving of the soil near the trunk, and mushrooms growing near the base of the tree trunk.

Beware of Root Death. Photo courtesy of the Morristown Shade Tree Commission.

The second dangerous flaw is Internal Undetected Rot, which causes cavities in limbs that can grow to the point where the limb can no longer support itself.

Internal Undetected Rot can cause limbs to topple. Photo courtesy of the Morristown Shade Tree Commission.

Internal rot can also cause a cavity in the trunk, like this eighteen inch deep cavity in a standing tree. As the cavity grows, it will eventually cause the tree to fail.

Internal root can cause cavities that can bring down trees. Photo courtesy of the Morristown Shade Tree Commission.

After it is determined that a tree presents a danger to the neighbors and community, who is responsible for its removal? And if it falls, how is the cleanup and damage paid for?

Property owners are responsible for the health and well-being of trees on private property including any hazards they pose to the public. Homeowners are encouraged to be proactive about the health and safety of trees on their property to prevent damage and injury.

In Morristown, if a homeowner is concerned about the safety of a neighbor’s tree, a complaint can be filed to the Property Maintenance division in person, over the phone or online. You may also use the Town’s online complaint portal to report an issue about a private or public tree using the following steps.

  1. Go to the left side of the home page
  2. Press the tab titled “report a problem”.
  3. Press tab “Tree maintenance”.
  4. Fill out the questionnaire to document the issue and the location of the problem tree.
  5. Upon investigation by the authorities, you will be advised what action will be taken.

The Morristown STC needs your help in identifying issues with public trees. A public tree is any tree in the public right of way. This includes all parks and along the sidewalk. The trees right of way covers the ground between the street curb and the sidewalk, and sometimes the ground on other side of the sidewalk.

Such a tree cannot be pruned, cut down, or decorated by a town resident. The only authorized people to tend to a public tree are the Town of Morristown’s DPW Tree Crew or a tree crew that has been authorized by the Town of Morristown.

If you have a question or concern about the tree in front of your home/business, please contact us at here.

Kristin Ace is chairperson of the Morristown Shade Tree Commission.

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  1. Thank you for printing this article Kevin! The STC is hoping to bring deeper awareness to our community to avoid hazardous tree issues in the future. Preventative tree care is the best way to go to preserve our urban canopy.