Drought-stricken trees falling due to soaked soil

You can expect more danger from falling trees and limbs like the one that killed a Columbus woman last Wednesday, local tree experts say.

Years of drought weakened trees. Now non-stop rain has softened soil, leaving trees susceptible to toppling and disease. Falling trees and limbs in the state and region have created significant problems this year, ranging from closing hiking trails to damaging numerous buildings and killing or injuring Georgians.

The Columbus woman died when she went outside after a storm to check on a limb that had fallen on her house. A second limb fell and hit her.

“The ground is squishy now,” after months of constant rain, said Bob Delbridge, an Atlanta arborist and owner of 404-CUT-TREE, a tree removal and care firm.

Atlanta has not had a significant region-wide storm in some time. Thunderstorms have knocked over trees in neighborhoods. But, when something like a tropical storm comes through, watch out, he cautioned.

“The only thing saving us is a lack of high winds. Arborists are saying, if we get some high winds, we are going to have some real big problems. It’s bad,” Delbridge said.

Chris Heim, an arborist with The Davey Tree Expert Company’s Atlanta office, said the rains this year have helped trees, but also created problems. The water has incited trees to grow heavy foliage, but the added weight makes them susceptible to being pushed over during winds. The dampness also increases fungal growths and rot that weaken trees.

Like Delbridge, he predicted problems when we the inevitable big storm.

“We live in an urban forest here in Atlanta. We have a lot of trees. So when we have storms, trees are going to fail,” he said.

There are some things that homeowners can do to protect themselves, the experts said.

First check trees for signs of problems. Look for exposed roots or lack of soil, wilted leaves, dead tips of limbs, bark falling away or trees that are beginning to lean.

Weakened wood and winds from local storms may have already cracked or broken limbs that will come down during the next storm.

Other signs of problems are fungal growths on trunks or around roots, which could be signs of trunk or root weakness. If you see signs of problems, it may be time to take a tree down before it falls on its own.

Trees might also be saved with treatments such as fertilizer or elimination of pests.

“Trees are like human beings, each one’s different,” Heim said. “You have to look at all the factors to determine if it’s worth saving or whether it’s so damaged it should be removed.”

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