Avoid becoming the next victim of dangerous trees

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HOUSTON, Texas -- Next week, the first wheelchair-bound man ever to be elected Texas governor will be inaugurated. But Greg Abbott wasn't always in that chair. Thirty-one years ago, he used to jog through the neighborhood in River Oaks.  In fact, he was running down a sidewalk on Inwood Drive when an oak tree fell on him, paralyzing him. With trees everywhere you look here in Houston, it kind of makes you wonder, 'Who's next?'

But Barry Ward, executive director with Trees for Houston, says it's really not something to worry about. "Realize that the vast majority of those injuries are to tree workers. They're climbing in them, they're deliberately cutting off branches," Ward says. "When you get into a non-tree care worker who just happens to be standing or walking, and a tree actually falls on them, those events are exceedingly rare."

But it does happen. In Spring last October, a guy was killed after a tree blew over and crushed his SUV. Then there's actress Molly Glynn from "Chicago Fire" who was out riding her bike in a Chicago-area park last year when a tree collapsed, killing her.

So, how do you prevent yourself from becoming that one in a million victim? Ward says, start at home. "If you don't take basic care of the trees around you and your home," he warns, "you do take what is a negligible risk and get it to where all of a sudden, maybe it is a real threat."

He suggests avoiding over-pruning your trees, "It would be the equivalent of stapling your own stomach. You now have less capacity to take in nutrients." And in that state, trees can become weakened and more likely to fall. He also advises pulling down ball moss, which competes for food with the tree's branches. "It won't kill your tree," he says, "but it can be the reason why something else gets in and does kill your tree."

Ward recommends contacting an arborist, or tree surgeon, to have older trees looked at fairly regularly, "Nobody builds a home and thinks they never have to do any maintenance. It is counterintuitive to think that you can have a 90 foot tree that's 50 feet wide and think you never have to do anything to take care of it."

To learn more about tree care or for help finding a tree professional, contact Trees for Houston. And for more on this story, pick up a copy of this month's Houstonia.