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Worried about big trees falling in stormy weather? Here are some danger signs

Arborist Kurt Stegen knows what happens when big storms hit, like the ones that have battered Northern California over the past week. Trees fall down, including some that have been standing for decades.

“I saw a couple of conifers go over (Tuesday), both cypress trees,” said the Loomis tree expert. “Redwoods have had a lot of root loss during the drought. If individually placed, they can fall over.”

All it takes is a strong gust of wind and soil saturation for some massive evergreen trees to be uprooted, he noted.

Local landscapes are already soggy. About 5.4 inches of rain fell on Sacramento between Saturday and Tuesday with more forecast Wednesday night and Thursday.

Conifers – redwood, pine, fir, spruce, yew, juniper, cypress, etc. – in particular are at risk, Stegen said. These evergreen trees retain their foliage year-round and can become top heavy. During storms, those needles become saturated with water, holding extra weight on a tree’s branches. That foliage also catches the wind.

“Once the ground is saturated, it doesn’t take much to push them over,” he said. “And the soil in some areas is almost liquefied.”

During this break in the rain, it’s a good opportunity to go outside and take a look at your trees, Stegen advised.

“There are warning signs (before a fall),” he said. “We’ll see cracks in the soil around the base of the tree; that means something’s happening (with the roots below). Or the tree will have a little lean to its trunk, and it starts leaning more.

“You may see the ground raise up around the base of the tree,” he added. “When the wind is blowing, you can see the ground actually move. That’s scary.”

Those signs may indicate imminent danger, he said. “Get some yellow tape out and rope off the area around the tree. You don’t want anyone under it.”

While checking trees, remember to look up, Stegen said. “Broken limbs may be up in the tree. Sometimes, they get caught up (in other branches) and just hang there.”

Heavy branches without sufficient support are at risk as are multitrunk trees, he said. “If you start to see a little crotch separation (where the trunks meet), those trees will fail.”

If those signs are present, call an arborist immediately, he said. “Use a qualified person. They’ll stabilize the tree, trim it back and reduce the size of the tree. That helps alleviate the weight. After several years, the tree will re-root and support itself.”

Debbie Arrington: 916-321-1075, @debarrington

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