6 reasons DC area’s toppling tree issue could get worse before improving

WASHINGTON — Trees are coming down all over the D.C. area, and an arborist with the National Arboretum warns the situation could get worse before it gets better.

In Prince George’s County, Maryland, the citizen call center received 33 tree removal requests between Friday and Monday afternoon. Montgomery County had road closures in 10 spots due to downed trees over the weekend. Lanes on the Capital Beltway were blocked Sunday in three different counties by fallen trees.

One tree coming down can cause a domino effect.

“All of the trees that are growing roadside have their roots sort of interconnected,” said Scott Aker, head of horticulture and education at the U.S. National Arboretum.

So, Aker said, if one tree goes down, the root system of its neighbors could be compromised.

Also, when an open patch is created by the downed tree, neighboring trees are exposed to wind they’ve never dealt with before.

More rain could be coming Tuesday, and Aker said that too is bad news for trees and soil that could use some time to dry out. Long-term soil saturation can lead to the death of some of the trees’ fine roots, which is bad for anchorage.

More rain also helps foliage stay pumped up and heavy, which can make a root-weakened tree more susceptible to even a small breeze knocking it over.

Root system anchorage already isn’t what it could be because so little rain fell last fall.

“Trees didn’t really have the ability to grow a lot of new roots when they should have been growing them last fall when it was so dry,” Aker said.

It’s unlikely the ground will dry out soon, he said, and he thinks more damage is coming. “Probably, particularly if we see any wind — we’re going to see more trees come down.”

Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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