Having tree problems in Topeka? Bad care and pruning may be root of tree woes

Dead leaves, dropping branches hint at problem

How do you tell if an elm tree has Dutch elm disease? How do you know if an ash tree is succumbing to emerald ash borer?


How do you know if your seemingly healthy tree is about to croak and collapse on your house in the next storm?

The answer is it’s not always easy. Not unless there are obvious signs of trauma, like multiple dead branches or leaves changing color or falling early.

You shouldn’t feel bad if you can’t tell, said Greg Gathers, owner of Custom Tree Care Inc., 3722 S.W. Spring Creek Lane. That’s what arborists are for.

“There are a lot of tree problems that are not easily identified by a homeowner that is not trained,” Gathers said. “We’re in the business of trying to preserve the health of the tree.”

In some cases, that may mean pruning branches to help make the tree healthier and stronger, but a homeowner isn’t going to know which branches to trim. Gathers said the right pruning techniques can help eliminate problems and reduce hazards from weak branches.

“A lot of the problems we see are directly related to bad tree care, bad pruning or cuts,” he said. “If it’s done improperly, it can cause trouble down the road.”

Another common problem Gathers sees is homeowners planting trees too close to the house. Over time, those trees grow and need room, but homeowners don’t account for that when the tree is just a sapling.

Signs of trouble

Michael Young, owner of Topeka Tree Care Inc., 4141 N.W. 25th St., said homeowners can look for some obvious signs.

“Make sure there is no die-back at the top of the tree,” he advised. “If you’re getting a lot of dead branches, that could be a problem.”

Like Gathers, Young’s company can help with finding problems and recommending solutions.

“We can usually identify if it’s a bug, a fungus, something in the soil, if the tree has a disease,” he said.

There are other things they can spot, too.

“Branches crossing or rubbing can cause decay and result in a branch falling on your house,” he noted.

They also can check for branches growing over your house or power lines, and those rubbing against the shingles of your home.

Disease and pests

Young and Gathers noted that the emerald ash borer was just confirmed in Shawnee County.

“Our company hasn’t found any yet, but others have,” Young noted.

The beetle, which is native to Asia, has been spreading across North America for years now, leaving dead ash trees behind.

This presents a dilemma for homeowners: Do they treat their ash tree or have it cut down?

“You can use an injection to save the tree, but you’re committing to a lifetime of treatment for the tree,” Young noted.

Injections, which in the case of ash trees are usually done every two years and cost $200 or more, can be used to treat for emerald ash borer, Dutch elm disease, pine wilt and other problems. There is no permanent cure for most tree ailments.

Gathers isn’t confident the injection for emerald ash borer will work.

“Some companies claim they can treat for it,” he said. “I’ve heard mixed results.”

He thinks it’s best to go ahead and remove ash trees.

Finding new trees

If you’re looking to replace a tree, or simply fill an open space in your yard, there are some good options out there.

Young said any tree from the red oak family is a safe choice.

“They’re hardy trees that grow well in our climate,” he said.

He also recommends shumard oaks, which grow to 80 feet tall with a spread of 50 to 60 feet. They have similarities to red oaks.

As for trees to avoid, the ash is obvious. Gathers said homeowners also should stay away from Scotch pine because they’re a host for pine wilt.

Bradford pears are another poor choice, because their branches are weak and tend to break easily.