We delight in the urban and suburban forests that make the Pacific Northwest such a beautiful place to live. But if you have trees near your home and driveway, or on your parking strip, check their health and growth before the winter storms come roaring in. The region’s wet weather and powerful winds can be a dangerous combination, downing heavy branches and even toppling whole trees onto houses, cars and power lines.

“This is the time of year to get outside, walk around and check for problems,” says Chris Selle, a certified arborist with Eastside Tree Works. Founded in 2005, Eastside provides commercial and residential tree services to Seattle, the greater Eastside, and North Bend, including tree removal, tree maintenance and tree pruning.

Spot problems now

Our famously wet climate takes part of the blame for the downed trees we see in yards and roadways after a heavy storm. Trees like the western hemlock send out a lot of surface roots rather than digging down for a firm grip on the soil. So when rain soaks the dirt, all it takes in strong gust of wind to tip the towering tree right over.

“Western hemlocks and Douglas firs are the first to uproot during a storm,” Selle says. “You also want to keep an eye on those big maples. They don’t have the problem of uprooting, but you get really big dead branches coming down.”

For large deciduous trees like maples, Selle recommends have an arborist do a “crown cleaning.” This is a systematic pruning of damaged or weak branches that can remove 20% to 25% of the tree.

When you inspect your trees, look for branches that failed to leaf out in the spring, cracked bark, vertical splits in the trunk, or a heavy flow of sap.

Your diseased tree may need pruning or special care to recover — or it might be time for the tree to be removed. Keep in mind that some tall trees, such as poplar, ash and cottonwood, have short life spans.

Unsure about your trees’ health? An inspection by professionals will set you back a few hundred dollars — far less than the cost of dealing with damage to your roof or your car if the tree falls over.

Protect your power lines

Sadly, even a perfectly healthy tree can be a storm hazard — if it’s the wrong tree for the location. It’s often the case that a tree planted near power lines grows much taller or wider than expected. When checking for this sort of hazard, keep in mind that when tree branches get loaded with snow and ice, they can droop a foot or more.

“You don’t want tree branches rubbing against the service line in the wind, or putting weight or tension on it,” Selle says.

An experienced arborist can remove overextended branches that threaten service lines on your property. If your trees affect power lines along the roads beyond your property, you’ll need to contact the utility and coordinate with them to remove the hazard, Selle says.

Need motivation to take action? Keep in mind that winter storms are bad enough without having to try to get through them without electrical power.

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Good trees, good neighbors

What if your trees loom over your neighbor’s house or driveway — or theirs are threatening yours? Trees are a classic source of neighborhood disputes.

“In the state of Washington you can cut back whatever overhangs your property, back to the marked property line, just as long as you don’t damage or harm the tree,” Selle says. It’s important to take action if trees are a danger to houses or power lines, but he cautions against cutting without first talking with the neighbors. “Trust me, this is something you want to agree on first.”

Municipalities are less emotional than neighbors when it comes to tree control, but they do have rules. In Seattle, the requirement is that trees on your property must allow 8 feet of clearance over the public sidewalk and 14 feet over the street.

Special requirements for street trees

You are responsible for the trees on your parking strip. However, taking down or extensively pruning a tree on the parking strip requires a permit in Seattle and in some other cities. (So does planting new trees.) If you have questions, call before you clip. The Seattle Urban Forestry information number is (206) 684-TREE (8733). They can issue permits and connect you with a registered tree service provider such as Eastside Tree Works.

Eastside Tree Works has been providing commercial and residential tree services to Seattle and the Eastside area since 2005. From 24-hour emergency service to tree pruning or removal and stump grinding, Eastside Tree Works delivers professional workmanship at competitive rates.