Why Do Trees Fall Down?

Why Do Trees Fall Down 2If you’ve seen one tree toppled by high winds while another similar tree in the same yard weathered the storm you may be asking yourself, Why Do Trees Fall Down?

In the case of trees uprooting, you can almost always blame it on the roots. A tree’s root system serves multiple purposes. Its 2 most important jobs are to absorb water and nutrients from the soil and to act as the tree’s anchor, keeping the tree straight and stable.

If your tree has root issues, storms with lots of rain and high winds may uproot your tree. But what causes root issues?

Why Do Trees Fall Down – Types Of Root Issues:

Root Rot: Root rot is a type of fungus that typically occurs when there is too much moisture in the root zone. Common types of root rot include Armillaria and Phytophothera. These fungi rot the roots of the tree which greatly increases its risk of uprooting during a storm with high winds.

Why Do Trees Fall Down?

Damaged Roots From Construction: Roots typically extend 1-2.5 times the radius of the branches (the trees’ canopy) When construction is being performed within this vicinity roots can be easily damaged. In some cases, contractors even cut roots so that they do not interfere with the project they are installing. When contractors install driveways and sidewalks in a tree’s critical root zone, they compact the soil and over time smother the tree roots. When the root system is struggling from construction damage and compaction it’s much more likely to give way and fall during heavy rain and high winds.

Shallow Roots: When trees are planted in hard, compacted soils root systems may struggle to penetrate the ground and form roots at the correct depth. Trees can also develop shallow roots when they are watered incorrectly. Short, frequent watering only allows water to enter the top part of the soil. This requires your tree to grow its roots shallower than they should. Shallow roots do not anchor trees as well as roots that grew at the appropriate depth and can lead to a higher risk of uprooting.

Unestablished Root System: When it comes to newly planted trees, it can take a few years to establish a stable root system.  Since these root systems are what keep trees from falling, newly planted trees are more likely to topple or get damaged during high winds.

Storms: Unfortunately, no tree is 100% safe from falling. If winds and rain start to get excessive, like what you see during major hurricanes and tornados, even the healthiest trees are at risk.

Trees Most Likely To Fall In Wind

The tree species most likely to fall in wind tend to be willow white spruce, cedar, and white pine. These species also tend to live in wetter soils which can also contribute to a tree’s likelihood of falling. Taller trees with large canopies are also more susceptible to a phenomenon known as “windthrow” where the tree’s trunk and it’s “sail area”/canopy acts as a lever which uproots the tree.

Know that we’ve answered the question, why do trees fall down? We can learn how to spot the warning signs, reduce our tree’s risk of falling, splitting, and dropping limbs.

Why Do Trees Fall Down

Uprooted Tree In Annandale

To Reduce Your Tree’s Risk Of Uprooting:

Water Your Trees Slowly For Long Periods Of Time: Frequently watering your trees for a short amount of time will teach your tree’s roots to grow near the surface. Instead, if you water slowly for long periods of time less frequently, the water will be able to penetrate deeper into the soil. This allows your tree’s roots to grow at the correct depth.

The best way to water is to turn your hose on to a dribble, put your hose somewhere in the critical root zone, and leave it for 2-3 hours. Move the hose to a different spot in the critical root zone and leave for 2-3 hours. Repeat this step 1-3 times. This should be done 1-2 times a week.

But Don’t Over WaterOverwatering can cause root rot which in turn can make your tree susceptible to falling. You want the soil around your tree to be moist but not soaking. If you are able to make a mud ball out of the soil, you’ve overwatered your tree.

Don’t Over Mulch: Mulching is great for your tree; however, over mulching can cause your tree to develop shallow roots and may even suffocate your roots. Aim for 2-4 inches of mulch spread evenly and not touching the base of the tree.

why do trees fall downGet A Root Collar Excavation: If you think your tree may have root issues, invest in a root collar excavation. This is where you’re tree’s critical root zone is opened up with a high-velocity air tool. Once exposed the Arborist can look for root issues and strategically fix them before they get worse or cause your tree to fall.

To Reduce Risks Of Falling Limbs & Splitting Trees:

Prune For StructurePruning your trees regularly before they are fully mature (during the first 2-10 years) is extremely important. When you do this, you can spot structural issues when they are first developing. This allows Certified Arborists to strategically prune or alter the tree to correct those structural issues before they become big problems later on.

Remove Dead/Weak Limbs: If a limb is leafless when it should be in bloom it’s a hint that the limb is dead/dying. These limbs are the ones that tend to come down in storms. Also look for limbs that have two equal size arms branching off of the trunk (Y-shaped). The point at which these branches connect may be weak and could break off during wind and rain storms.

Know that we’ve answered the question, Why Do Trees Fall Down, take the right precautions to keep your tree structurally healthy.

12 thoughts on “Why Do Trees Fall Down?”

  1. Jan LaRosa says:

    This is such truth! Nearly 5 years later my daughter and I remain seriously injured from the injuries sustained when our car was hit by a 6 story, 5,000 pound silver maple that fell as we were driving on a SUNNY day!
    Exactly what was stated here happened to us.
    It was no fault of the tree (previous to the accident I happily worked at the Chicago Botanic Garden and was and still am an absolute TREE LOVER), but conplete human error that made that tree fall as it did!

    1. Rtectree says:

      Jan, we’re so sorry to hear that! Trees can be so dangerous when not properly maintained. And sadly so many homeowners don’t know how to properly maintain their trees, especially when it comes to the tree’s root system. These types of accidents are heartbreaking. We wish you and your daughter the best of luck in your recovery.

  2. Arlene Adams says:

    I have 6 very large tree’s at least 60 feet high and around 80-100 yrs. old along my property that have grown leaning towards the street. Many roots grown above ground. Are these tree’s a threat to falling?

    1. Rtectree says:


      Unfortunately, without an arborist going out and taking a look at your trees we won’t be able to tell you if they are dangerous. If you’re looking for a risk assessment (this would tell you if they are safe or not) I recommend you hire a consulting arborist. This type of arborist will be able to perform the risk assessment for you. If you’re located around the DC Metro Area, I can recommend Keith Pitchford of Pitchford Associates. He can be reached at 202-333-3851 or contacted through his website http://pitchfordtrees.com/.

  3. We have a similar situation with fallen trees who can we contact in Detroit, MI?

    1. Rtectree says:


      We suggest hiring a company that is TCIA accredited. If you go to https://www.tcia.org/TCIA/MEMBERSHIP/Find_Quality_Tree_Care/TCIA/Directories/FindQualifiedTreeCare.aspx you will be able to search accredited companies in your zip code. Hope this helps!

      -Samantha H.

  4. Linda says:

    I just pruned my 150-years-old chestnut oak tree on March 6, removed 3 lower branches touching my roof. Should i worry about oak wilt? This tree is close to my house and very tall. What can i do to reduce the risk of oak wilt now? I am regretting for not googling information before hiring a contractor.

    1. Rtectree says:

      Hi, Linda. Thanks for your question! Oak Wilt is best addressed through prevention. Pruning your trees during the proper time is certainly a good precaution to take. Depending on the climate where you live, March 6th may still have been an appropriate time for your pruning work. Check out the following resource from the USDA for more information on how to manage Oak Wilt: https://www.fs.usda.gov/naspf/sites/default/files/naspf/pdf/g3590.pdf

  5. Roxanne Wilderman says:

    Hello, My neighbor’s large spruce tree is about 30 feet from my house. It is about 2-3 feet in diameter and is about 5-6 stories tall. It has been cared for but I am becoming more and more alarmed that it could fall on my house in a bad wind storm (one similar but smaller just fell (broke off near the base) nearby in 50 mph winds). Where can I find information that could help my neighbor decide how to lessen the risk of this tree to my property? He has agree to have an arborist look at it but I liked to prepare for that visit with info/questions. I live in Denver, CO. Thank you very much.

    1. Rtectree says:

      Hello, Ms. Wilderman. Thank you for your inquiry. You and your neighbor may benefit from a Tree Risk Assessment, which is performed by an Arborist with a specific set of credentials (Tree Risk Assessment Qualification, or TRAQ). You can find an Arborist with this qualification by going to the following website, searching by your location, and looking for an Arborist who has “ISA Tree Risk Assessment Qualification” listed in the “Credentials” column on the far right side. The website you can use is https://www.treesaregood.org/findanarborist/findanarborist. I hope this helps!

  6. Afton Jackson says:

    The way you described shallow roots and how they can be a sign of a dangerous tree really helped to read. This is because we’ve become suspicious about the large tree that’s been growing in the middle of my property and my neighbor’s property, as we don’t think it will last long if the storms continue to be this strong. To be sure about this, we’ll call up a tree service and consult them about it so they can figure out if it can still be secured or if it needs removal.

  7. Zachary Tomlinson says:

    It totally made sense when you said that you should take care of your trees more to prevent them from falling or getting damaged. My uncle’s retirement home purchase came with a couple of pine trees on it. He should probably look for a tree service expert that can take care of this for him.

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