Can This Tree Be Saved?

How about it, Tree Stewards and arborists?

What’s your prognosis for an Eastern redbud Cercis canadensis ‘Forest Pansy’ with a see-through split trunk? Click each image for a better view:

This perky redbud caught our fancy as we conducted the census of specimens planted by Arlington County’s Tree Canopy Fund in the Langston-Brown/Halls Hill neighborhoods. It was decked with plastic Mardi Gras beads, and its owner said that in New Orleans, such bejeweled trees are called “Tree of Life.”

Our tree, however, has several problems. Obvious is its mulch volcano. And although the strands of beads are lightweight, they could burden the branches.

CLUE: Our tree had crossing branches. The one on top sprouted from the back of the larger branch it is weighing down. The trunk split near where these branches originated.

When we examined the trunk, we found that it had been badly split long enough ago for the heartwood to have dried. Tell us what you think!

Can it be saved?

How could it have been prevented?

Is this typical of redbuds?

Is it typical of the Forest Pansy variety?

Comment below with your thoughts!

Many thanks,

Tree Stewards Kit Norland and Jo Allen

Master Naturalist Marian Flynn

About tsaajoallen

Tree Stewards of Arlington and Alexandria 2015. Arlington Regional Master Naturalist Fall 2014. Casey Trees planting Team Leader Fall 2016. Led RiPs in Madison Manor Park and East Falls Church Park for 4 years. Adores pinkster azaleas.
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5 Responses to Can This Tree Be Saved?

  1. tonytomeo says:

    Prune it aggressively to decrease the weight and wind resistance as much as possible. While at it, remove the branches that wrap around each other, and other structural deficiencies that can be removed. Aggressive pruning will promote growth lower in the canopy too, so the tree will be more compact and stout in the long run. This compensated for structural deficiency. do not bother with cabling or bracing such a young tree. The well developed callus indicates that the damaged split stems have already lignified in that position. Just leave them there while the wound heals. It may take many years, but the tree is not heavy. Tend to the mulch volcano. (I can not see how bad it is, but it was mentioned here.)
    So, the tree can be salvaged. I do not particularly like ‘Forest Pansy’ so would be inclined to cut it down instead.

  2. Jo Allen says:

    Thanks for your replies, John, Bonnie, and George! You’re all on the same track too.

  3. George says:

    Certainly, it can be saved by someone who is experienced installing screw rods, not threaded rods, there is a difference. I’ve installed screw rods in very large elm trees that have split, pulling the trunks together with a winch before drilling holes to install rods.

  4. Bonnie Petry says:

    Hello, all,

    Here is a link to a video from Merrifield Garden Center on repairing a split in a small ornamental tree:

    As to the viability/safety of doing this to a larger shade tree, I wouldn’t want to comment. I would leave that most certainly to an arborist! Big trees bring big safety considerations

    However for a smaller ornamental species like a Red Bud or Weeping Cherry, I would feel very comfortable with the simple technique shown in the video…

    Have a great day,


    Sent from my iPad

  5. John Wingard says:

    I would try to save the tree. Since it is a small, non-hazardous tree, there is little risk from trying.

    For a low tech temporary fix, just tie the two halves together above the split with rope. Do not tie all the way around the branches to avoid undue constriction of the trunk.

    For a fix that might allow it to grow back together over time, drill through both halves at the top of the split and insert a bolt and tighten as much as possible. A similar bolt farther down would add to the repair.

    Three is also the possibility to just cleanly cut off the less dominant half at the bottom of the trunk, clean as many splinter out of the wound as much as possible and hope the the tree will grow over the wound before it rots away. With a young tree there is a good chance of that.

    John Wingard, Tree Steward

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