Living Smart: Do I need to cut down that tree?

McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

Just like people and pets ó trees get sick.

Sometimes itís as minor as the common cold (perhaps, a damaged limb), while other ailments (trunk damage) may call for tree removal.

Several factors, such as old age, storm damage or environmental issues, can prematurely damage or kill trees.

But what if youíre not sure if a tree is sick, or on its last limb?

"Itís kind of like going to the doctor with a cough," says Carl Bogar, owner of Trees For Needs in Phoenix, Arizona. "The doctor has to diagnose it. Just like people, trees get older."

But instead of a doctor, a highly rated arborist can diagnose your tree to determine whether removal is necessary.

The most important reason to remove a tree ó instead of saving it ó is because of safety risks, highly rated arborists say.

"If there are structural defects and it looks like it could fall over, you want to remove it," Bogar says. "One of the biggest things is: Does it pose a risk? Is it monsoon ready, or would it blow over in heavy rain or a storm? If a tree has been damaged in a storm, it will need to be looked at to see if it can be fixed. If thereís a big piece of the trunk damaged, you donít want to consider it."

A damaged tree, Bogar says, invites disease and pathogens that weaken it further. Damaged trees also may have discolored leaves that form odd nodules and lack veins.

A sick tree may decay over the course of several years. Signs of internal decay include mushrooms around the treeís roots or twigs growing from the trunk. The bark may also form bumps or peel off, and fungus may grow around the trunk.

"If there is fungus growing on the tree, itís a sign of damage or decay," says Gary Cooper, a highly rated arborist with Nelson Tree Specialists in Highland, Md.

Cooper says serious root or trunk problems typically warrant removal but notes that proper care will extend the life of a tree.

"A homeowner can help trees by trimming, pruning, sometimes fertilizing and injecting them (with minerals that it may be lacking)," he says.

Pruning is the most important step, Bogar says. Some trees need pruning once a year, while others benefit from two or three prunings ó depending on the type of tree.

Arborists recommend pruning in late fall or winter when insects are dormant and sap isnít running. Select pruning increases a treeís wind resistance during storms, decreasing the chance it will fall during a storm.

If youíre considering tree replacement, contact a highly rated arborist for an assessment.

"An arborist has a lot of knowledge for the homeowner to utilize," Cooper says. "Sometimes it is simple fixes. An arborist can give you a risk assessment and talk to you on how to improve your trees. They can give you a plan for the next several years."

Check that the company has accreditations through the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA), the American Society of Consulting Arborists (ASCA) and the Tree Care Industry Association (TCIA).

Some companies, Bogar says, offer free consultations with an arborist. The cost of removing a tree depends on several factors, including its height. Many companies charge per foot. If the tree is 40 feet tall, for example, and the company charges $15 per foot, youíll pay $600.

According to recent Angieís List reviews, members reported paying as low as $400, and up to several thousand dollars for removal services.