Storm Damage Prevention Using Properly Installed Steel Cabling On Old Large Trees

By Wendell Phillips (Phil) Berwick,
Certified ISA Arborist

I happened to be in Gulfport Mississippi, the day after a large section recently ripped out of a 500-year-old ‘Live Oak’, named the “Friendship Oak” on the Southern Mississippi University campus.

It might have been avoided with proper installation of two or three steel cables. There were two poorly installed cables, one which had been left dangling for years. Sometimes storm damage is preventable and sometimes it isn’t.

I don’t drive around bidding on broken trees anymore because I pulled all tree care ads years ago, except for the Healthy Planet, where my Merferd and the Treetoons make an occasional plug for me. The readership here are thankfully pretty much tree lovers. It pays to have an arborist inspect your trees periodically and do preventative pruning or as a last resort, removal, if upon thorough hazard tree inspection, irreparable flaws can be detected. But I want to discuss a common sense step of tree failure prevention that tree surgeons, used to do, before our trade name was changed to Arborists; cabling and bracing of trees that might be susceptible to splitting, especially tight crouched (trees with V-shapes crotches). I have been to the seminars, that in the course of the day, warn against offering cabling, due to liability. I prefer to take the risk, and don’t guarantee that it’s fail proof. But if properly installed, and periodically inspected, tree cabling systems rarely fail. People finish life in peace and safety with pins and bolts in them, so can trees.

I do not install modern synthetic cabling systems anymore, ever since a squirrel chewed one of mine in half. Steel cable, and strong lag bolts drilled into the limbs, 3/4 of the height of the tree is the way tree surgeons did it over 100 years ago, and it still works. And now, with the aircraft steel cable that’s available, a system can last the lifetime of the tree. In fact the longer a properly installed system is in the tree, the less likelihood it will pull out, for it get’s imbedded into the wood as the tree’s tissues envelop it. I never make the cable so tight that a tree can’t still flex it’s own muscles ( tissues ). Nor do I make it so slack that it does no good. It should be barely taut with the slightest slack. I want the tree to be able to sway some, and grow strong in diameter, supporting itself, yet held fast, with a little help from a (tree) friend, should a 70 mile hour wind whip it’s way.

Wendell Phillips (Phil) Berwick. Certified ISA Arborist/Founder, Living Tree Care Inc./ livingtree@earthlink.net.