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A mature Douglas fir stands on my property. Its Western half receives no sunlight, causing nearly all of its foliage to have grown Eastwards over my home. Due to its unfortunate growth trajectory, I'm trying to assess the risk that it will fall and cause property damage. We'd like to keep the tree if we can.

douglas fir

(The tree stands at the bottom left edge of the circle in the Google Maps photo.)

We're currently unable to change the tree line West of it, since any trees West are on a neighbor's property. Said neighbor is unresponsive, and their maple grows fully over their property (but blocks sunlight from the West onto my own). Any action I can take needs to be on my own property, along the property line (left border of the Google Maps photo).

I talked to a local arborist prior to this post. The options he laid out were:

  1. Crown reduction of upper foliage. This would put less pressure on the tree, but only reduce the risk of the fir falling. As it grows above the maple, we'd be at greater risk of winds toppling the tree.

  2. Remove the top of the tree. This would expose the tree to rot, and would greatly increase topple risk when the tree dies.

  3. Remove the tree. Safe, but costly, and reduces the foliage of our property.

So my question: when a Douglas fir grows severely lopsided (~50% of live branches in a hemicircle, East-leaning) along an outer treeline, how likely is it for high winds (>60mph) to topple the tree? I've already had my arborist and the county I live in give me an opinion, but I'm looking for a third opinion here to determine if there's any way to save this tree.

  • Do high winds (>60mph) characteristically come from the west? – Jim Young May 4 '16 at 5:51
  • Yes, they do. Our ground cover is protected by the side of a hill, but the top of this tree is not. I live in Washington, in an area characterized by sudden high winds, which prompted my original concern. – Tom May 7 '16 at 2:56
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I don't think you can get a better opinion than an arborist on site. I will note that topping any tree is not a solution and should not be recommended at all. It creates the conditions for rot to start and weakly attached growth at the cut.

Trees that fall have some things in common:

  • at the edge of the forest or fully exposed
  • thin layer of soil over bedrock
  • pre existing disease or poor growth habit
  • older trees have more weight up top than younger trees

I think that only crown reduction is a solution but this cannot guarantee anything. If the tree could fall and damage people or property then it is a potential hazard. Your decision should rest on what is in the path where it could fall. If there are things you don't want to take a chance with then it should be removed. Might be good idea to check your house insurance for potential coverage.

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