Should a tree that is about to fall be removed if it is close to the cottage?

Should a tree that is about to fall be removed if it is close to the cottage? How can you tell if a tree is strong enough to remain standing?

It’s a hard decision to cut down a tree. People get attached to them. But people get attached to their roofs too. If a tree could cause injury to people or property when it falls, scope it out to assess the risk.

How can you tell? Major tree defects are obvious. At the top of the tree, look for an unhealthy crown (dead branches, lots of missing or small, off-coloured leaves); at the base of the tree, look for injuries, such as vertical cracks (from frost damage) or old wounds. A tree that’s completely rotten inside but has several solid layers of wood on the outside may be perfectly stable, but a decayed tree with an old wound at the base has a weak spot where it could break.

A tree can look perfectly healthy, and it can still fail. It can be perfectly healthy, and come down: A tree without deep roots, such as a pine on Canadian Shield bedrock, is at risk of getting blown over in a storm. So is a lone, unsheltered tree, especially if it used to have others surrounding it for protection; it’s not as “wind firm” as it will be in a few years. And a tree with poor architecture—say, one that is structurally unbalanced because a portion of branches has broken off—is a hazard too.

Whatever the tree’s condition, you have to make a judgment call. If a tree is really big, really old, and hanging directly over your cottage… you may decide you’re not okay with that. But if you’re uncomfortable determining Old Branchy’s fate yourself, ask an arborist.