The Smiths were shocked by the pricey estimate that the tree service quoted to remove a dead pine tree on their property. The landscaper felt he could do it for less. Indeed, he felled the tree, a brittle victim of pine beetles. He landed it squarely atop the house and inflicted $60,000 in damages.

“That was a painful reminder! When a large tree – or even a hefty branch – falls uncontrolled on your property, devastation can be swift and significant,” comments John Gugliotta of Paul Davis of Boston South, Boston Metro West, and Rhode Island, who says a leery neighbour captured the unfortunate incident on her cellphone. “The takeaways: pay attention to your trees and, if they need care, retain the right person. Don’t be tempted to do the work yourself or hire unqualified help.”

Keeping an eye on the health and shape of mature trees on your property is a sound recommendation for many reasons beyond damage control. Liability is one reason: if a dead or untrimmed tree injures a visitor you may be legally liable. Neighbourly goodwill is another: falling wood causes personal fallout from people next door, though most municipalities won’t require the tree’s owner to ante up repair and removal costs.

How do you know your trees need attention? Look for six common warning signs that your tree is becoming structurally unstable: 

  1. Sudden shifting or leaning
  1. Dead/dying branches and/or branches that fail to leaf out in the spring
  1. Large hollows
  1. Dropping limbs during still weather
  1. Mushroom growth at the tree’s base
  1. Nearby trees have died 

If you discover a concern, retain an insured, well-reviewed, certified and experienced company to evaluate, treat, trim and remove trees. Even for trained professionals, tree trimming is one of the five most dangerous U.S. occupations. 

As you eye your stately trees for fatal flaws, however, remember the sizable advantages that a lush canopy confers. “Mature trees provide so many benefits, among them shading your yard, protecting and feeding wildlife, cooling your property as water vapor emerges from the leaves, increasing your property values and protecting air quality,” concludes Gugliotta. “Don’t cut them down unless absolutely necessary. Care for them like the priceless assets they really are.”