a home owner’s tough decision: taking down an old oak tree

treephoto

In the four year’s since we’ve been living in the suburbs of New Jersey, we’ve seen the damage falling trees can do. During Super Storm Sandy, one neighbor’s house was whalloped by two trees, one on each side. Neither of them were theirs, but that didn’t make the holes they created any less big. We’ve seen mere limbs fall and smash cars, decks and playgrounds. Just the other afternoon, after a few rainy days in a row, we heard a crackling in the distance followed by a thud. Turns out a tree fell in a backyard a few houses down, hitting a playground that was occupied by children less than a half an hour earlier.

All this destruction has had made us look at the large oak tree in the corner of our front yard in a whole new way. Actually, we learned after consulting several arborists, that it was two trees competing for the same place. One went straight up, the other leaned precariously towards the corner of our house — the corner of the house that happens to house our daughter’s room. But the tree was by no means dead. In fact, it was teaming with life. Acorns littered our yard, delighting the generations of squirrels that called it home. In the summer, it kept the front yard shaded, allowing for hours of sidewalk drawing with little fear of sunburn. The leaves would hang on tight until late October or even November, before falling like a blanket overnight. For the past four years, we have spent hundreds each summer pruning branches and attempting to strengthen the two trees by tying them together with metal chords. Every storm that came through town caused a smattering of limbs to tumble down. One large one was caught on a powerline above and had to be removed by truck. But so far, nothing terrible had happened.

As I mentioned, we called in several arborists. Each gave an extremely vague assessment of the trees and their life span potential. The space they were in is too small for their competing roots. If one fell down it would take the other one with it. But it could be fine. No one was willing to lay their reputation on the line and say not to worry. So… we worried.

Last summer, after the tree specialists said they couldn’t say that the tree was safe, we applied for a town permit to have it removed. They turned us down and I was secretly relieved. Someone else had made a decision for us! We can’t cut it down. This spring rolled around and my diligent husband reapplied for the permit, just to see what would happen. Perhaps the town is worried about the upcoming storm season, or the unusually wet spring we had — because to our surprise they approved the removal. I was hoping we could wait to the end of summer to decide what to do, but it turns out that the tree removal business is booming. Our preferred local vendor told us he was booked through July and August but had a window to do the job if we did it soon. Was he giving us a line? Perhaps, but we went for it. (Note – cutting down a large tree is expensive! Ours cost thousands of dollars and we went with the lowest quote.)

Last week, the tree came down. We set up a web cam so I could watch from my office in New York City. It took two days due to rain, which seemed like cruel torture. I came home one night and the tree was still there, but stripped down of all its mighty branches. The remaining trunks came down fast the next morning. I cried as I watched. We managed to save two stumps that I hope we can dry out and turn into side tables. I was hoping for more, but having the removal company’s price would have been much higher if we needed them to cut us firewood as well. They take the tree and resell its mulch and wood, and that factor is worked into the quote they give you.

The day after our tree was removed, a wild storm hit our area. As usual, I stood listening after each loud clap of lightening, wondering what damage it may have caused. I definitely enjoyed the relief of knowing that at least our house and our family was safe from immediate tree-falling damage.

treedown

Now, in the place of our tree, we have a huge pile of mulch. We spread as much as we could around our yard, and neighbors have been coming by wheelbarrows to help themselves as well. A landscaper will come soon to smooth out the area, reseed it with grass, and give us ideas about what to plant next. I cannot wait to plant another tree! I know until we do there will be a hole in our yard, in more ways than one. What kind of tree will we plant? The jury’s out. If you have suggestions and recommendations, please send them my way.