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Reinforcing Defective Trees with Cables

The decision to cable a tree should never be taken lightly. Cabling is not a permanent "fix" -- it should never be a substitute for good tree management. At best, cabling buys time to get replacement trees started. At worst, improperly installed or deteriorated cable systems can create a false sense of security that can be lead to disaster.


Trees so severely damaged that they should be removed

Cabling should be done only if thorough inspection indicates that it can be done safely; and it should always be part of a regular program of inspection and care.

Cabling requires experience, a good eye for materials, and an understanding of how trees grow and how they deal with injury and decay. Before deciding to cable a tree, understand forks and "included bark." 

click to enlarge

Installation of Cable to Reinforce a Weak Fork

Here are the general steps in installing a cable to reinforce a weak fork:


                1. Do all needed pruning first.


                2. Drill each pair of holes exactly aligned with each other to prevent the

                fasteners from wallowing, low enough in the tree to involve important,

                well-attached branches with reliable wood, but high enough for good mechanical

                advantage. Usually cables should be installed about 2/3 of the distance from the

                weak fork to the top of the tree, but this is a judgment call that depends on

                the size and shape of the tree.


                3. There will be some decay associated with each drill hole, and to some extent

                this decay will spread vertically within the tree. DON'T PUT RODS OR CABLE

                FASTENERS IN VERTICAL ALIGNMENT. The columns of decay are likely to join,

                resulting in large weak areas where cracks and breakage can occur.


                4. Instead of lag screws use threaded rod all the way through the branch or

                leader. At each end of each hole, use flat washers (round, not pointed) seated

                flat on bare wood; set square or hex nuts to hold the rod snugly in place, and

                attach the cable to "Ammon nuts" (commonly used on power pole installations).

                See the drawing below.


                5. Don't paint the hardware or the wounds.


                6. Install cables snugly, but not tight enough to prevent the cabled branches

                from moving somewhat. Cables installed when leaves are absent should be

                moderately tight, never slack, to prevent the added load of leaves from placing

                additional stress on the fork.


                7. Inspect all cables annually. Remember that bad forks always get worse, not

                better; and they never "heal." The long-term power of a cable to strengthen a

                tree comes from the tree's closure of sound wood over the hardware. If decay is

                advancing faster than the wound is closing, consider removing the cabled parts

                or the entire tree. When the time comes to remove the tree, don't take chances

                -- DO IT!


                8. Take photographs of the installation, and notes on how and when the work was done.



Bolting cracks together doesn't work: the crack will extend at both ends as the branch flexes.

Prune out cracked branches.

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Contact: cell: 830.257.8871
                     Jim Rediker - Nurseryman -  Arborist  - TDA Certified

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