People often see ants on their trees and wonder if they should be concerned for the tree and/or their house if it stands close by.
There are many different species of ants around, but there are two insects that have a significant relationship with wood: Carpenter Ants and Termites.
Carpenter Ants differ from Termites in appearance and behavior. Carpenter ants do not eat wood, but nest in moist, decayed cavities of trees or similarly damp, rotten wood on your home. They are generally not harmful to trees because they don’t tunnel into green/live wood and take up residence in spots that are already decayed. In homes, they are a nuisance pest due to their presence and usually don’t expand their nests into dry and sound lumber.
Termites ecological role is to break down wood into organic matter. They eat wood, nest underground and are only seen outside of their nest when the winged forms fly out to reproduce because they can’t survive in open air. Any old, exposed wood that is touching the ground such as firewood piles, dead branches, old stumps or lumber are attractive to termites. However, they probably won’t fell a live, healthy tree or endanger a home that has been adequately cared for.
For both pests, damp, rotten wood is attractive whether inside or outside the home. It’s smart to keep old wood away from your house and to have any exposed wooden elements of your house inspected and sealed up. Similarly, keep moisture away from your house by trimming trees and shrubs back and make sure gutters and grading keep rainwater away.
1. Anticipate the mature size of a tree when planting it, eventhough it may not be your problem in the long run. Don’t plant trees too close to each other, structures or utilities.
2. Overpruning is common but hard for trees to recover from. Never have your trees topped or overpruned (more than 25% per season)
3. If you have a tree with 2 trunks (co-dominant) or more (multi-stemmed) cabling and bracing can help to strengthen them.
4. Special forms, such as weeping, upright, spirals, etc. require more yearly care and attention than standard forms
5. Fertilizer should be used sparingly and only when needed to avoid your trees getting hooked
6. Keep an eye out for dead branches (with no leaves) because this can indicate a health problem or a hazard if they were to break
7. Cavities/Holes in trees are considered problematic mainly if they are very deep and collect water
8. Don’t postpone dead tree removal because with each passing year the tree becomes more dangerous as it looses it’s strength
9. If you see mushrooms on your tree or around its base these indicate wood or root decay and should be checked out
10. If you have many tree(s) around your property, get a management plan to prioritize which to prune, remove, cable and/or monitor and when
All trees clean and filter the air, provide shade and cooling, buffer noise and wind, add to neighborhood character and beauty, and provide homes and hiding for suburban wildlife that would otherwise be displaced or non-existent. Big trees with their much larger biomass can produce substantially more of these benefits than smaller trees.
Unfortunately the very thing that makes them great also makes us afraid; their size. Living under a great big tree brings many concerns for safety and property damage. Before calling for a removal or aggressive pruning such as topping, tree preservation should be considered. Some people think that topping a tree manages its size, but topping a tree causes decay and rot over the long term and the tree will resprout many fast growing suckers that will have to be continually recut, thinned or restored. For more info, see Why Topping Hurts Trees. Trees that are too big for your comfort level can be correctly reduced in size by making selective cuts but, similar to topping, it is costly and labor intensive to manage trees to be smaller than they are supposed to be. The best approach is to cultivate a strong and healthy tree that you can trust with the help from a certified arborist. If you just can’t accept the risk that comes with living under or near big trees, removal is your only option. Risk is greatly subjective, but an arborist can assess what risk level you are living with through a hazard assessment and can develop a maintenance plan for your tree(s).
If you have trees around your home and worry about a fall, one factor to consider is the direction and intensity with which the wind typically blows through your property. If you have been living on a property for many years, you may already know its unique weather patterns. However, if you are new to a property, it is worth taking time to think through before developing a removal or pruning plan.
You can measure the wind direction and speed with simple devices like wind socks or weather vanes or go high tech with digital anemometers and other gadgets. Check out your local prevailing wind data online which graphs direction and speed of winds over many years.
Think about whether your trees are protected on the larger landscape by hills, groups of trees and/or buildings, or are they fully exposed and stand alone on a flat landscape. If there are buffers, have they long been there or have there been recent site changes such as construction or land clearing?
Trees slowly adapt over many years to the site on which they are growing by sensing where additional strength is needed and adjusting height, branching, allocating root and wood growth in order to stand upright against wind forces. Sudden, strong changes in wind direction (like from a storm) or an abrupt change in exposure can drive a tree to the point of breaking or uprooting.