I just had an arborist look at a red maple with a long bark split in my yard. His diagnosis was that it was struck by lightning (there was a close lightning strike a few months ago) and the tree needs to come down.

The tree is approx 40-50 ft tall and roughly a 30" diameter. Not a giant, but no sapling for sure! Exact measurements coming.

The bark is split but the wood underneath is solid.

The tree is roughly between my house and my neighbor. It can fall in the back yard and hit nothing, any other direction and there will be structural damage.

Wife got some pictures, there is clearly something wrong with the tree. Here is a far shot, closeups of the crack coming soon: enter image description here

I was not overly impressed with the arborist. I have a second estimate scheduled. What questions do I need to be asking the expert?

I am considering keeping this tree for firewood. Seems daft to cut it down and haul it off only to turn around and buy a face cord later. Is this something that the pros will usually facilitate? I can handle stacking and splitting, but I need the tree sectioned.

Following up 8 months after the original post: The tree was stone dead this spring. One lonely branch had some green on it but it was clear it was done for. The bark had sloughed off the entire main trunk and was falling off in other places. I had it removed by a second local arborist. This is the place I called for a second opinion last fall. They were charging more than other places, but they gave good advice and were clearly more professional and capable than some dude with a saw and a chipper.

  • I'm pretty sure we'd need to see a picture to make any kind of good diagnosis.
    – wax eagle
    Sep 26, 2012 at 18:52
  • I can answer the firewood part... It depends somewhat on the tree's size. But they will have to cut it down. Then limb it (remove all the small branches, which can be a hassle if it hasn't dropped its leaves yet). Then cut it into firewood-size chunks (e.g. 16"). Then you have to split it and stack it. Felling is complex if you're in a dense neighborhood. With a maple tree about 12" dia, 60' tall, felling only takes a few minutes in a rural area. Conservatively: limbing ~30m; bucking ~60m, splitting ~60m, stacking ~60m.
    – bstpierre
    Sep 26, 2012 at 19:36
  • 1
    If it's close to your house, they'll have to cut it down in sections to avoid having it fall "the wrong way"... that can take quite a bit of time.
    – bstpierre
    Sep 26, 2012 at 19:37
  • whether it needs to come down requires a picture and even then an on site arborist will have more information than a picture. The real question is "What could happen if it fell?". If your car/house/close relative could be in danger then this adds significant risk.
    – kevinskio
    Sep 26, 2012 at 19:40
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    As regards questions to ask: My wife (until recently chair of the city's tree board) describes arborist/tree people as fitting three categories: the day laborer types (quick chainsaw to a limb; they'll throw in a broken window for no charge); the new-age types (a lot of serious amateurs; but suckers for anything that says organic on it without understanding; tend to want to save all trees regardless of health and practicality); and finally the more serious scientific types. Finding the latter is the problem! I'm going to post a couple of questions,but perhaps a community wiki would be better.
    – winwaed
    Sep 27, 2012 at 13:32

4 Answers 4


To work on winwaed's excellent rephrasing:

  • Will the crack heal itself over the next year or two? No, a crack will take many years to heal but the length of time it takes to heal does not bear upon the health or safety of the tree

  • Will the crack be a site for potential disease? Can this be avoided? Hard to tell without a picture. Current thinking in arboriculture is that letting trees do what they do without assistance is a valid course of action

  • Can wires (or other devices) be added so that if it does fall, it falls in a safe direction? Wires and cabling can be added if the split could lengthen but this will not prevent the tree from falling a particular way. Trees are heavy and winds are unpredictable. Bracing and cabling is primarily done to keep the tree together.

  • Now that a picture has been posted I see an immediate issue. The foliage appears to be dying from a point quite low on the tree to the top. If the dieback continues the apex of the tree will die and it's a tossup whether you can correct the shape to encourage a new leader. If this tree does not leaf out in the spring in the same area then your arborist could be correct in recommending removal.

  • On a similar vein, "If we take a wait and see attitude, how do I monitor this tree over time? How do I tell if this condition improves or worsens?"
    – Freiheit
    Sep 27, 2012 at 15:17

This tree is large, of significant caliper and in a tight spot. As to arborist' advice, get at least three opinions from known and/or reputable firms. Include in your questions of the arborists' all that you have mentioned above, especially if the tree is saveable through a 'watch and wait' approach, and do not hesitate to get information on their liability insurance, education and years in business. Ask others who have done significant work of this type in your area for references. It is imperative you get a good arborist! This may not mean the cheapest person but the most experienced because of the context in which you find your tree.

I do not recommend wiring unless there are significantly large limbs that can hold the tree together without creating pressure at the trees' crotch areas from which the wired limbs are tied. If you choose to remove the tree, I would not recommend a rope wrap, cut and lower method without a bucket and person in that bucket in the air with a bird's eye view of how the tree is behaving with each cut. This is dangerous work and not to be underestimated in this regard nor in cost.

Most good arborists will cut available wood into "biscuits", sized for fireplaces or, if requested, wood stoves. It takes a year to season this wood for efficient firing. I haven't met a good arborist without a splitter so make that part of your estimate. (Renting a splitter is prohibitive unless you can share the costs with others in the same situation.) Get an estimate that details every last necessary detail to remove and/or save your tree in writing. An experienced arborist will know this is a necessary part of doing business in removing such a large tree so close to structures.

  • Hi Suzanne - Welcome to the site, and thanks for such a great answer.
    – bstpierre
    Oct 1, 2012 at 0:30

Further to my comment above, it seems the OP is looking for questions to ask. We don't know the tree, and most (all?) of us are not professional arborists. So I'm going to post a few questions here, but I think a community wiki might be the best answer. Everyone could add questions to make a "Questions to ask an arborist" community wiki?

So to kick things off:

Will the crack heal itself over the next year or two?

Will the crack be a site for potential disease? Can this be avoided?

Can wires (or other devices) be added so that if it does fall, it falls in a safe direction?


Additional questions for the CW post:

How do the costs change for the arborist to: completely remove the tree, simply fell the tree, or fell and buck the tree into logs?

What certifications do you hold?

If I take this tree down, what do you recommend replacing it with?

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