Tag Archives: Dead Trees

Maybe you should leave that dead tree in your yard…here’s why

Life is a complicated and connected chain comprised of countless threads that are all tightly interwoven. Each one is co-dependent for its survival on the other. A dead tree figures prominently into this intricate web of life. How so, you may ask? Let’s explore this idea together.

As a tree care provider for nearly 50 years, for most of that time, on encountering a dead tree, the automatic, even thoughtless, reaction has been to remove it. However, now we realize that there are times when leaving a dead tree is the right thing to do in order to help preserve the delicate balance of nature and protect the chain of life that depends of that dead tree.

Without a doubt, if leaving a dead tree standing will imperil life and property, it must be removed; this is because it’s a liability and a hazard. However, what if that tree is in a place where it won’t be dangerous to life and property, when it starts to decay and fall apart? Or what if we can reduce the tree in size so that it is no longer a hazard, thus allowing it “live” after it has died?

It’s a fact of nature that dead trees play an important role in the balance of nature. As they are decaying, they provide food, protection and habitation for many things such as the soil, insects, birds, amphibians, mammals, plants and fungi. Next time you’re walking in a forest and you spot a dead tree snag, a rotten log or an old tree stump, don’t take it for granted and pass it by. Rather, stop and look at the microcosm of life that surrounds that piece of rotting wood debris. Notice how many life forms depend on it. In fact, there are some that will spend their entire life in, on and around that piece of rotting wood. They need it, and without it, they will cease to exist.

Consider how a selfless tree keeps on giving life long after the last living cell has died within it. And even then, when it has decomposed and melted into the earth, the topsoil that derives from that tree will continue to give life for hundreds or thousands of years. It takes about a hundred years of plant debris to make an inch of topsoil. Just try to imagine how many trees went into making that one inch. It’s an amazing wonder of nature!

The great thing is that you can be part of helping to preserve the earth by leaving stumps or snags in your garden and even working them into your landscaping. It may take some creativity, but it can be done if you stretch your gardening mind and creatively think outside the traditional box. The forest are full of stumps, dead trees and rotten logs, and we think it’s beautiful. How about importing this idea into your own garden?

Here are some photos I have taken that illustrate the points made above. Please enjoy. The captions will explain what’s going on.

This old tree snag located in the Columbia River Gorge is literally a high-rise apartment complex for all sorts of wildlife. This is how it works. First the woodpeckers arrive and begin to poke a few holes through the bark into a tree that has died. Then fungal pathogens arrive and begin to rot the wood in that hole. Then the woodpecker returns to the softened wood and chisels its way deeper into the tree. This process goes on for a while until the wood is soft enough and the hole is large enough for the woodpecker to make a nest inside the tree. Wood eating insects like termites and ants might get into the act as well and help to enlarge the hole. This helps the woodpecker in two way: the insects provides it with food all the while also acting as excavators helping to enlarge the bird’s home. But this is just the beginning of the repurposing of a dead snag…
Once the woodpecker has used the home, the rotting process continues and the hole gets progressively larger, so that other birds like nuthatches, owls and wood ducks can use it. Eventually, small rodents and mammals will find a home here. As the hole gets expands in size, even larger mammals like raccoons and opossums can make a home here. But there is still more to come. The old snag hasn’t yet fulfilled its final destiny.
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