When to trim trees (and other pressing tree questions)

Mon Jun 24 2019

A gloved hand using clippers to trim a tree

Tree maintenance can help prevent damage to your home. Of course, summer is not the best time to prune your trees in most parts of North America, but it is a great season to give them some extra love and attention. This effort may include the application of regular water, a fresh skirt of mulch, and in some cases, selectively trimming a few branches.

Summertime is a season of extreme weather, and even the hardiest trees may be challenged by hurricane-strength winds or warm conditions that favor pests. Let’s look at summer tree care in more detail, including pruning, irrigation, pest control, and how to prevent storm damage. We’ll also explore a few ways to reduce tree damage risks, even if you have an awesome homeowners insurance policy that may cover this damage.

Tree maintenance can help prevent damage to your home.

Tree trimming tips: To trim or not to trim?

Tree trimming helps manage risk by removing branches that are likely to fall on the roof, smash through windows, interfere with power lines, or otherwise wreak havoc on your property and your life.

But before taking out your shears, study up on pruning essentials. If you’re new to tree maintenance, the Arbor Day Foundation provides a helpful guide to tree trimming along with instructional videos.

Summer is not typically the right season to prune your trees, as that’s an activity best reserved for when the trees are dormant in winter, but there are a few situations in which you may want to make cuts during this active season:

  1. In the event that a branch breaks or your tree is impacted by a storm, it may be appropriate to minimize tree damage by trimming back the broken area or branches. While you can always clean up after a hurricane or severe windstorm, it’s best to lop off any precarious branches as soon as you identify that they may pose a hazard.
  2. If a tree shows signs of rot or infestation, take action as soon as possible to prevent falling limbs or potential liability for injury or property damage. We're not arborists, but we do know falling limbs are often culprits for claims.
  3. Trimming your tree is an effective way to redirect growth. In early summer, right after seasonal growth is complete, you may want to trim any new branches that are headed in undesirable directions. This may be because they’re headed toward your home, a power line, or another structure. Or you may want to do this for aesthetic purposes. Both are fair reasons to make cuts.

You can always hire an arborist or yard specialist to help you out if you don’t feel confident making these changes yourself. Of course, if your plans include trimming back branches that hang over your roof or an insured structure, be sure you hire a qualified, insured professional to assist you.

Unsure about how to trim your trees to redirect growth? An arborist can help.

When to water your trees

Why water your trees? Dry trees are more likely to catch fire in the event of a lightning strike or live sparks from a power line. Minimize the likelihood of conflagrations with some basic watering.

It can be hard to know when to water your trees. To check the moisture level in your yard, in most climates, dig a small trough that’s two inches deep. Use your hand to check to see if the soil is dry. If so, your tree may need a drink. In most places, your best options are hand watering with a hose or installing a drip irrigation system to assist with a regular watering cycle.

Pay special attention to your youngest trees. During the first two years of growth, a newly planted tree may have trouble coping with extreme heat and drought.

You can ease heat-related stress on trees of any age by watering the tree regularly and covering the topsoil with mulch to help keep the moisture in the ground. This also helps nurture root growth. Even into July, it’s not too late to add a couple of inches of nutrient-rich material to insulate your tree's roots from extremes.

Of course, if you live in a dry climate with drought-ready trees, this advice does not apply. Whatever the climate, what’s important is to maintain healthy trees, especially those that could potentially fall onto your insured dwelling or outbuildings.

Dry trees are more likely to catch fire in the event of a lightning strike.

How to inspect for pests

Pests are dangerous because their activity can hollow out or even kill a tree, making it susceptible to crashing into your home in high winds. Prevent disaster by keeping an eye out for the early signs of unwanted visitors.

Pest populations largely depend on where you live, but you should be aware of the signs that local pests may be interested in snacking on your trees. There are a few obvious signs of trouble you can keep an eye out for in any region:

  1. If your tree didn’t send out new growth this spring or if it’s slower than the rest of the yard to regain its foliage, there may be something wrong. If you have evergreens, you may notice browning or dropped needles. Don’t ignore these signs of distress.
  2. Keep an eye out for insects like moths or beetles making their homes in the branches.
  3. Look for holes or damage to foliage and branches.
  4. Inspect your leaves and branches for galls (wart-like growths) or other evidence that someone has taken up residence inside the tree itself.

Know your regional pests and the signs of their presence. Most state websites offer guides to local agricultural troublemakers, and many of these also have an appetite for foliage. For example, check out Florida’s list of pests and how to identify them. Floridians, Georgians, and other homeowners on the Gulf Coast should keep an eye out for signs of termites, as they are a known issue in this area. Like many pests that pose a threat to tree health, termites are also potential troublemakers inside your home.

Know your regional pests and the signs of their presence.

Home insurance, storms, and tree damage

Storms can cause major damage to your home and the trees around it: thunderstorms, lightning, heavy winds, and floodwaters pose unique threats to your arbor and the things your trees may fall onto.

You may wonder, “If a tree falls on my insured structure, is it covered?” or “Does homeowners insurance cover tree removal after a storm?” Here’s what you need to know:

  1. If a tree falls in your yard, it probably doesn’t matter who owns the tree – it could be yours or it could come from your neighbor’s yard. Lightning and wind don’t know whose side of a property line they strike. After a major storm like a hurricane or flood, an insurance company is unlikely to spend time investigating where the tree came from. If your insured structure is hit by a tree, you can usually submit a claim.
  2. It may be the case if the tree came from a neighbor’s yard, that your insurance company may try to collect from the neighbor’s insurance company through a process called subrogation. Either way, this won’t happen until after they pay your claim.
  3. You may be covered by your homeowners' insurance for some or all of the cost of tree removal if the tree hits an insured structure. If no structure was damaged, it’s unlikely you’ll get help with the cost of debris removal or damage to your tree.

If, at the end of this list, you’re still wondering how this would apply to a tree incident you’ve experienced (or fear), here are two more common examples of tree trouble to help you answer the question, “Does home insurance cover…”

Example A: Does homeowners insurance cover tree removal?

An oak tree is struck by lightning and splits in two. Somehow, the tree misses your garage, the car parked in the driveway, and the house. Even if it’s partially obstructing the road and will need to be removed right away, homeowners insurance won’t help you cover the cost of removal.

If, however, a branch crushed a portion of the fence that now needs replacement, you may want to consider submitting a homeowners insurance claim.

Example B: What happens when a dead tree falls?

This could happen during a storm or on any given day, but when the dead tree in your neighbor’s yard falls onto your fence, it may cause major damage to your property. In this case, let’s say the whole fence line comes down, but the tree doesn’t hit your house.

Do you know the answer by now? If you have homeowners insurance and the fence was on your property, it’s likely covered by your policy.

Have the right insurance coverage before a storm arrives

The best preventative measure you can take is one this post has already covered: annual tree trimming can reduce the number of weak or damaged branches on your property, which will help reduce the risk of a branch breaking or falling onto an insured structure. There’s not much else you can do to prepare for the unexpected, aside from being properly insured.

After a storm or damage from weather, be sure to take photos to document any damage to your property. Then call your insurance agent. They’ll be happy to help you work through any questions or claims.


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