Remove dead landscape trees ASAP

John E. Woodmansee

The emerald ash borer has done, and continues to do, great harm to our native ash trees. It is becoming easy to spot them in the woods, along roadsides and even in home lawns. Many have removed these and other dead trees from home landscapes, but if you have not, these trees should be removed as soon as possible.

A dead tree in the landscape becomes riskier and riskier to people and structures within its range. What is within its range? Anything it can fall on. So, dead trees should be removed as soon as possible. Waiting makes matters worse.

People who operate chain saws for tree removal recognize dead trees as potentially very dangerous.

“Dead wood can become rotten and brittle, and it is impossible to predict what will happen during tree removal,” said Don Carlson, Purdue forester. “It makes the trees more difficult to control during the felling process.”

Carlson added that tops or broken limbs from dead trees can break out and hit your head. He said that dead trees in this condition are sometimes given the ominous nickname, “widow makers.” Trees can also split longitudinally near the base, creating a “barber’s chair” with the base of the main log kicking back and potentially hurting someone.

In a woodland situation, some dead trees can actually benefit wildlife by providing den and nesting areas. Some of the same potential exists for trees to fall at some point, but typically no target is in range of the tree. In other words, it’s not likely to fall on a person or a building. Dead trees in woodland situations also do not receive direct, unabated wind pressure because of all the other trees unless they are on the outskirts of the woods.

Keep in mind, however, that if you do a timber harvest, trees that have died have declining value over time, and can present real, potential danger to anyone cutting them down. Trees that have completely lost their bark rapidly lose value.

Woodland owners can find professionals to help with woodland management and timber harvests at Find district foresters, consulting foresters and industrial foresters at this site.

One good use of dead or dying ash trees is firewood. Carlson said ash burns well, has a low moisture content and splits easily. Ease of splitting also contributes to the potential danger when felling ash trees.

If you have a risky tree of any kind in the landscape, you might consider employing a Certified Arborist for assessment, especially if potential litigation exists. Find certified arborists at

For homeowners who have unaffected ash trees they wish to protect against EAB, there are options. Some homeowner protection products are available that have good efficacy on trees up to about 20 inches in diameter. For larger trees, one should consider employing a professional with access to, and license to apply, more effective and longer lasting products. For more information, access Purdue’s EAB website at

Those who wish to conduct a successful timber harvest can mark your calendars for a seminar I will host on the subject, set for Feb. 20, 2018, in Columbia City. More details will be available in coming weeks. If you would like to inquire about the seminar, you may call the Purdue Extension office in Whitley County at 244-7615. I will have information available in upcoming office newsletters and on our website

John Woodmansee is an extension educator in Whitley and Noble counties.

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