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I have an old oak tree (probably at least as old as the house, 1978) in my North Texas front yard. It appears to be pretty healthy. There aren't many dead branches on it each year, and it produces enormous quantities of acorns each fall.

However, the tree splits 4 ways at the base, and detritus collects in the middle. There are always ants living down there, and mushrooms when it is damp. Yesterday I was poking the detritus away with a stick and it felt like I accidentally poked right through to soil under the tree. This concerns me since 2 of the 4 "trunks" lean over the house.

How can I care for this tree? Do I need to be concerned it will all on the house during a Texas thunderstorm or an ice storm?

enter image description here

base of tree

  • See that root wrapping around the one trunk, at the base (left side in the lower picture)? Those can choke the tree as the diameter grows. I'd cut it at the base, and at ground level. – J. Musser Dec 17 '16 at 12:10
  • I don't know if I should be offended, or your oak, because "old oak tree" (1978 or younger). The oak is still young. – Giacomo Catenazzi Dec 17 '16 at 15:11
  • You are right Giacomo, this is a fine example of a middle aged Oak tree!! @J.Musser, that root is my only concern as well. See the darkness of the bark just above it? I would saw that root off to protect that trunk it is encircling. Bacteria are able to do damage and this close to one's home this would be a bad thing in a few years? – stormy Dec 17 '16 at 23:37
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Your tree looks very healthy. The depression between the trunks looks amazingly clean and dry! Keep on doing what you are doing because it is working.

I see that your neighbor to the west has an even larger tree. Have you talked with your neighbors/friends who have these mature oaks next to their home what they have done and how often these trees break big limbs?

The good thing about oaks is they have tough wood and branches are more horizontally attached. A larger angle is stronger than narrower angles of branches to trunks. These trees are the best to have if you've got large trees planted close to your home. They don't break easily.

The information I need to know would be 'what is the usual direction of the wind'? If it is from the south, I would not worry at all. Still, for insurance purposes call the closest Cooperative Extension Service and get a reference for a bona fide arborist (check their licenses and certifications).

They'll look at the health of your tree, recommend certain branches to be removed or none, discuss getting a soil sample tested to see what chemicals/fertilizers are deficient/in excess.

Some homeowner's insurance policies might have stipulations such as requiring large trees near the home to be diagnosed by an Arborist before they will insure the home for tree damage.

Upon a bit more circumspection of that girdling root, you should saw that off 1/2 inch from where it is connected to the trunk. Saw the other end off at the surface of the soil and remove this root/branch away from the bark of this tree. Where it is touching it is causing moisture to stay way too long and bacteria will eventually ruin that part of that trunk's vascular system. The arborist will be able to verify this necessary surgery, I am sure. I am sorry, I thought I had addressed this great example of a 'girdling root' allowed to continue growing. I am keeping this picture for visual aids...!!

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    That said, someone should have trimmed this tree properly when it was a sapling. Four fold crotches that close to the ground are far from ideal. At least it's not a Silver Maple. – Wayfaring Stranger Dec 17 '16 at 16:13
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    Silver Maple is close to a 'weed tree' because of the fast growth and acute angles of branches to trunk. Oak trees are designed for long term growth. This one looks incredibly healthy even with the 4 fold crotches! The canopy protects these crotches from too much rain and Phillip's instincts to clean this out was spot on. Also looks like he's got squirrels!! – stormy Dec 17 '16 at 23:34
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    @WayfaringStranger Four fold crotches and a bunch of girdling roots :( Somebody had no idea what they were doing or didn't care. – Philip Dec 18 '16 at 18:27

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