Top 5 Reasons a Tree Dies (and what to do when it does)

Many people take for granted that trees are living things that require nurturing and care. While trees are typically low maintenance, they are susceptible to disease and death just like we are. Here are some common reasons trees die:

Reason 1: Natural Disasters

While this is first on our list, it is one of the last things people typically think of when they imagine a tree dying. Think about it: Have you ever thought about the way a hurricane affects trees? We’re willing to bet you haven’t. But natural disasters—fires, hurricanes, and earthquakes, to name a few—are as deadly to trees as they are to humans. And even though trees help protect people in times of natural disaster, they are bad for the trees themselves.  Natural disasters like earthquakes and hurricanes uproot trees, killing them almost instantly. Unfortunately, cutting off a tree from its roots is akin to cutting off a human’s blood supply entirely. In the case of forest fires, the fire often does not kill the tree outright but weakens it for pests and disease to finish it off.

Reason 2: Disease

Disease is another often-overlooked tree killer. The worst part about tree diseases is that they are contagious.  So, when a disease kills a tree, that tree’s shell (often called a “snag”) is a risk to the live trees that surround it.

Unfortunately, most tree diseases are incurable. Diseases like Dutch elm disease and the chestnut blight have killed entire forests in North America. Since tree diseases cannot be cured, prevention is usually the only option. Like natural disasters, tree diseases don’t always kill outright. Oftentimes a disease kills part of a tree and the rest falls victim to pests.

Diseases often kill only one type of tree and don’t harm others. This is the case with the chestnut blight disease. Chestnut blight wiped out almost all of the chestnut trees in North America. Before the disease, an estimated one in five trees in North America was a chestnut. The disease survives today as a non-lethal parasite on chinkapin, Spanish chestnut, and post oak trees.

Reason 3: Pests

Insects are the most common kind of tree-killing pest. Pests are a double threat—not only do they kill trees by weakening them, but they often spread diseases from one tree to another. This happens because pests usually won’t go after a tree unless it’s already weakened, and disease is a big weakener of trees.

Reason 4: A Toxic or Unsuitable Environment

While there are some extremely hardy trees (evergreens, for example), there are many trees that are extremely sensitive to their environment. Soil chemistry, temperature, humidity, and amount of rainfall are all factors that influence a tree’s health. Some of these are obvious: you will never see a palm tree in Ohio because the winters here are too cold. However, some are less obvious. For example, soil chemistry (this includes relative acidity, salinity, and wetness) also plays an important role in a tree’s survival. So, pesticides leaking into the soil or climate change caused by global warming put delicate trees at risk.

Reason 5: Old Age

This is a tricky one, because scientists don’t agree on whether or not old age actually kills trees. It’s no question that trees die when they get too old, but what actually does the killing? Does a tree simply putter out like a car out of gas, or does an old tree become weakened and more susceptible to disease, pests, or climate change? Whatever the case, trees have lifespans. For some species, this lifespan is thousands of years. For others, like the palm tree, it is shorter—around 70 years or so. Once a tree’s health begins declining due to old age, there is often nothing to do but wait for it to die.

When in doubt, call Merriman

If you notice a tree might be dying, you should call us to assess it. We offer year-round maintenance, treatment, tree stump grinding and removal, and you can call us today for a free estimate on tree removal. The sooner you catch the problem, the less costly tree removal is—and there’s always the chance you could actually save the tree. We recommend you remove a dead tree from your yard, even if the tree died of something that doesn’t put your other trees at risk. Here are a few reasons why:

Dead trees attract pests

Dead trees that remain upright have another name: wildlife trees. As far as woodland critters are concerned, there is no better home than a nice, cozy dead tree. Oftentimes these critters are harmless, like birds and squirrels. But oftentimes these include rats, termites, and all sorts of nasties. You definitely don’t want those guys near your home.

Dead trees usually don’t look good

Let’s face it—dead trees can be ugly. Your lawn typically forms someone’s first impression of your house, and studies have shown that first impressions, though often wrong, are frustratingly difficult to change. Plus, if you’re selling your home, a nice-looking lawn is practically a necessity.

Dead trees are dangerous

A dead tree is a tree that is not structurally sound. Branches often fall off dead trees, and sometimes strong winds bring down the entire tree! On top of being dangerous, this is potentially a huge financial risk, especially if a falling branch or tree injures a neighbor or their property.

The 3 Best Ways to Replace a Tree Stump

You have an image of your ideal home and your yard plays a significant role in completing that image. After all, when your yard seems to be missing that “special something that makes it feel complete, it’s noticeable. Just like the canvas of any other work of art, your yard needs to be utilized to its fullest potential. This is especially important following the removal of a tree stump from your yard (check out our previous post on The 3 Best Ways to Remove a Stump!)

Why? Because, if you’ve already gone through the stress and labor of removing a tree stump from your yard, shouldn’t you have something more to show for it than just an empty hole in your yard? We believe so. That’s why it’s important to find a way to replace a tree stump and, ideally, find a replacement that makes your yard even more beautiful than it was before.

For most people, planting grass, flowers, or even a new tree are among the best decisions you can make in replacing a tree stump. Deciding which of these is the best option for your specific yard, however, requires some careful planning and attention. Here are some considerations to make when replacing a tree stump in your yard.

Replacing a Tree Stump with Grass

While easily overlooked, the grass in your yard puts in a lot of work. Grass is a great way to absorb water and runoff, aid in reducing carbon dioxide, and even cut down on noise pollution around your home. But, when it comes to replacing a tree stump, grass is perhaps the most obvious way of making your yard appear “complete” again.

When it comes to replacing a tree stump with grass, there are some special steps you will need to take in addition to just planting seeds.

  • Remove any remaining portions of your tree stump, including its roots and any sawdust that may have resulted from the original removal process. Leaving some sawdust mixed into your soil is OK, but a minimal amount is ideal.
  • Ensure that your soil has an adequate amount of nitrogen. Adding a nitrogen-rich fertilizer to topsoil that has been stripped of any remaining root will allow grass to grow at its optimal rate.
  • Ensure that your soil has a pH level of 7.0. As soil is able to best release nitrogen when it has a neutral pH level, this will ensure that your grass is receiving the nutrient it needs. Lime can be used to raise the pH level of your soil and sulfur can be used to lower its pH level as necessary.

Pay attention to these details as you put new grass seed down and you’ll be well on your way to a yard that’s complete with a lush, deep-green look again.

Replacing a Tree Stump with Flowers

For those looking to add a splash of color to their yard, consider replacing your tree stump with annuals or perennials. Bachelor Buttons, Blanket Flower, and Cosmos are all annual flowers that are known for thriving in less than ideal conditions and are safe choices for when you want to plan in a spot that was previously home to a stump. The Lenten Rose, Gaillardia Fanfare, and Black Jack Sedum are also options if you prefer perennials.

Similar to grass, you will still need to walk through the steps of removing any remaining root from your soil, ensuring the proper level of nutrients, and applying proper amounts of fertilizer if necessary. Deep tilling your soil before planting and taking steps to ensure proper drainage will also help you see success.

Replacing a Tree Stump with a New Tree

Of course, it goes without saying that one the best ways to replace the aesthetic value and natural benefits that your bygone tree once provided is by replacing it with a new tree.

Like with grass and flowers, you will need to pay attention to the amount of tree root remaining in your soil as well as the nitrogen and pH levels of your soil. But, unlike the former options, there are some additional factors you will need to consider.

First and foremost, it’s important that you understand that planting a tree immediately in the same spot as your previous one will not provide your new addition with all of the resources it will need to grow properly. While this is true for both grass and flowers, the resources necessary to grow a healthy tree are significantly more demanding. The more time you can give microorganisms to prepare adequate soil for you, the better your results will be.

It’s also important to choose a location that is slightly distant from the site of your former stump, preferably at least five feet away. If you are certain that you would prefer to plant a tree in the same spot, however, consider delaying the replacement as long as you can allow. Aside from poor mineral quality, there is often a cavity left behind after a stump is removed that would prevent the roots of a new tree from securely taking hold. Simply stated, your new tree would like structural stability it needs if the soil is not right.

While this route requires significantly more planning and patience, it can be done. Thankfully, you can also choose to hire an expert to install a tree for you so you can rest assured that your new tree is healthy and secure for years to come. For those looking for a stump replacement option that will add the most value to your property over its lifetime, replacing your stump with a new tree is the best choice.

Make Your Yard Complete

At Merriman Tree & Stump, we offer a comprehensive array of year-round tree care services. We have helped hundreds of Greater Cincinnati homeowners remove their tree stumps and replace them with new, healthy trees. Our friendly, experienced team of tree care professionals can help you, too. Call us at (513) 232-4822 with details about your project and we will provide you with a free quote for our tree care solutions. With Merriman on the job, you can sit back, relax, and start looking forward to your new tree!

The 3 Best Ways to Remove a Tree Stump

The traditional image of tree stump removal is an individual struggling with a chainsaw, an axe, or a shovel to forcibly remove a troublesome stump – and often to no avail. And while this method can entail an outrageous amount of physical stress and wasted time if you are not already well-experienced in removing tree stumps, it’s also extremely dangerous. Still, with the right tools, removing tree stumps from your property with your own two hands can be done.

But is it the easiest method?

Here are three ways you can remove a tree stump without creating a bigger problem during the process.

#1. Removing a Tree Stump with Fire

Challenge: Easy – medium

Time: Several hours

Tools and Materials Needed for Burning a Stump

  • Corded drill
  • 8-12 inch long drill bit extension
  • Extension cord
  • Potassium nitrate (saltpeter)
  • Scoop or trowel
  • Bucket of boiling water
  • Funnel
  • Dry scrap wood
  • Matches or other fire starter
  • Shovel
  • Safety glasses

If you have a large stump, you will also need a chainsaw. Using the chainsaw, remove as much of the stump as much as possible prior to beginning your project.

Steps for Burning a Stump

Before removing a tree stump with fire, it’s vital that you contact your local fire department to ensure that it’s okay to burn your stump. In some areas, especially in ones that frequently experience drought conditions, there may be a burn or fire ban in effect.

  1. Drill a hole down in the top of the stump using the bit and extender. The hole should be at least 10 inches deep.
  2. Remove the debris out of the hole.
  3. Drill additional holes into the top of the stump. Holes should be about 10 inches deep and 3-4 inches apart.
  4. Pour 3-4 ounces of potassium nitrate into each hole.
  5. Pour boiling water down each hole. Pour water until the potassium nitrate is fully dissolved. The potassium nitrate will soften the wood and the hot water will help distribute it throughout the stump.
  6. Place scrap wood on top of the stump or align the scraps around the stump creating a cone shape.
  7. Light the scrap wood and allow it to set the stump alight. Allow several hours for the stump to thoroughly burn to ash.
  8. Use your shovel to break down any remaining pieces and remove the ash. You can use soil or sawdust to fill the hole as needed.

#2. Removing a Tree Stump with Chemicals

Challenge: Easy

Time: About an hour to set up and several weeks to administer

The idea of using chemicals to remove a tree stump may invoke images of pouring corrosive chemicals over dead wood until nothing is left behind. This seems as dangerous – if not more dangerous – than using equipment to remove a stump by hand, right? In truth, using nitrogen to remove a tree stump is simply a way of expediting the natural rotting process that already occurs once a tree can no longer produce new cells. In fact, many people may find using nitrogen to remove a tree stump is more convenient than burning it away if time is not a restriction.

There are many removal products available on the market that come as either a liquid chemical or powder. Bromide Stump-Out, Spectracide Stump Remover, and Grow More Stump Remover are popular choices, just to name a few. Keep in mind, however, that if you do opt for a liquid remover, they can also evaporate over time rendering them as a less effective method. Alternatively, in lieu of a store bought item, you can also use substances that are generally high in nitrogen including compost or fresh manure.

Tools and Materials Needed to Rot a Stump

  • Corded drill
  • 8-12 inch long drill bit extension
  • Extension cord
  • Stump remover or potassium nitrate, or another high-nitrogen substance
  • Scoop or trowel
  • Bucket of water
  • Funnel
  • Safety glasses

Similar to burning a stump, you will also need a chainsaw in order to remove as much of the stump as possible prior to applying chemicals.

Steps for Rotting a Stump

  1. Drill holes down in the top of the stump using the spade bit and extender. Holes should be spaced 2-3 inches apart, at least 10 inches deep, and be at least 3/8 in. in diameter.
  2. Drill holes parallel to the ground around the perimeter of the stump. Holes should be about 12 inches deep and at least 3-4 inches from the rim. These holes should connect with your surface holes creating a vent.
  3. Pour 3-4 ounces of stump remover into each hole.
  4. Pour water down each hole. It is important to pour the amount of water specified by your particular product.

It will take several weeks for stump remover to completely take effect. In the meantime, cover the stump in order to keep children and animals away from it.

Check the condition of the stump periodically over several weeks. Over time, it will become easy to break. At this point, you may choose to let the stump continue to rot, remove it manually, or douse what’s left of it in kerosene in order to burn it at a future time.

#3. Employing a Professional to Remove a Tree Stump

Challenge: Minimal

Time: Minimal

Employing a professional to remove unsightly tree stumps from your property is without a doubt the easiest and most convenient way of handling your needs. On top of avoiding an otherwise laborious and time-consuming ordeal, employing a professional, fully-insured tree professional is the only way to be 100% certain that you, your family, and your property are protected against any potential harm.

With that said, if your project requires multiple stumps to be removed from your property, employing a tree removal expert is the absolute best choice.

And while hiring an expert is easier said than done, here are steps you can take to find the right tree care professional for your project.

Steps for Choosing a Tree Care Professional

  1. Ask to see the company’s tree maintenance license where applicable. In cities where a tree maintenance license is required, this information can also be verified online.
  2. Ask to see the company’s general liability insurance.
  3. Ask if the arborist handling your project is certified by any professional tree care organizations. A listing of certified arborists from the most prominent organizations are also available online.
  4. Ask about the safety precautions the company will take during the project.
  5. Ask for the company’s professional references. A reputable company should be forthcoming about this.
  6. Ask about the company’s clean up procedure. You don’t want to be left with another problem after your initial one is taken care of.

At Merriman Tree & Stump we provide fully-insured tree care. We happily provide a copy of our Ohio Workman’s Compensation and Liability Insurance as well as customer reviews so our customers can have peace that we are the best choice for them. Your home and your safety are paramount – don’t settle for anything less!

Conclusion

Manual labor may be one of the most frequently employed methods of removing tree stumps from a property but it is, by no means, your only option. If you are able to dedicate an afternoon to burning away your stump or are patient enough to wait several weeks for chemicals to rot away your stump for you, there are alternative routes you can take aside from the extreme labor and sheer willpower it takes to remove a stump by hand.

If you’re looking for the route that saves you the most work and the most time, however, it’s time to hire a trusted tree care professional.

At Merriman Tree & Stump we provide tree stump removal that is available year-round, fully-insured, and affordable. We proudly provide Greater Cincinnati homeowners with all of the tree services they need including stump removal as well as tree pruning, insect treatment, and  other tree-related services. Have a question or need your tree stumps professionally removed? Call us at (513) 232-4822 and let all of your troubles melt – burn, or rot – away.