Texas Living

How to Care for Your Trees and Protect Your Property

By Peter Simek 10.1.20

Trees add more than landscaping and shade to our lives and homes: They offer shelter for some of the little creatures who share our world. Their branches may offer necessary respite for traveling birds. Their slow growth, shedding leaves, and springtime rebirth mark the passing of time with what the poet Philip Larkin calls the “yearly trick of looking new.”

But trees can also be powerful forces of destruction. Tree limbs falling on a house, branches scraping on roof shingling, and large roots disrupting a foundation can all cause property damage. You can’t quite grasp how heavy a tree branch or trunk is until it crashes down in a storm, onto a home’s roof or an automobile in the driveway. This power deserves our respect, attention, and care.

Well-maintained trees are typically healthier, live longer, and pose less risk to your property. If you have trees in your yard, it is important to make sure they stay healthy and strong to avoid property damage — and to make sure your property insurance policy has you properly covered in case damage does occur.

Caring for Trees

Most trees do a pretty good job of taking care of themselves. One thing we need to do, however, is avoid introducing harmful toxins or obstructions into their environment. It’s also important to know what types of trees you have, how strong or brittle their branches are, and how often they need to be pruned.

Tree care starts with the roots, which means taking care of your tree’s soil. The soil shouldn’t be too compact — it needs to breathe to allow water and oxygen access to the tree’s roots. This means protecting the soil that comes up against the trunk and that falls within a tree’s drip line. Imagine a circle around your tree that’s as wide as the furthest reach of its branches. This roughly corresponds to the width of the root base under the ground.

Mulching soil under trees can help them stay healthy by insulating roots and trapping moisture in the soil. However, be careful not to over-mulch or mulch over the base of the trunk, as this can cause long-term damage to your tree. Two to 4 inches of mulch around the drip line of the tree should be sufficient.

Liability and Negligence

Fallen tree limbs and toppled trees are common property insurance claims. Powerful Texas storms often cause tree branches to fall on one’s house or a neighbor’s house. Property insurance policies may or may not cover tree damage. Carmella Hawkins, a Texas Farm Bureau Insurance Agent in Jacksonville, says tree claims ultimately come down to a question of liability and negligence.

“If the tree was alive, then there is not likely to be negligence,” Hawkins says. “There are some scenarios where this might not be the case; one of our adjusters will investigate and make that determination. But if I have a tree in my yard that is dead or it’s got dead limbs, and if my tree falls on your house, there’s likely going to be negligence.”

The first thing an adjuster will analyze when looking into a claim is the weather around the time of the damage. Often in Texas, powerful storms can be blamed for falling trees, and so policies will cover most damage. But there is some gray area: If a homeowner hasn’t taken care of a tree (if the tree or tree limbs are dead, for instance) then it is possible an adjuster will find a homeowner negligent.

Trimming Trees

You can reduce your liability exposure for tree-related property damage by making sure your trees are regularly maintained. Trim mature trees every three to five years and younger trees every two to three years. Fruit trees need pruning once a year, while other kinds of trees, like some pines and evergreens, can go several years without needing any pruning.

Hawkins says that before Texas Farm Bureau Insurance writes a new policy, they take a look at the trees on the property to make sure that they are well groomed. “If there is a limb touching the house, we’re going to make you trim those back,” she says.

Aside from removing dangerous dangling branches, regular pruning helps trees grow strong and healthy by reducing the number of dead branches and conserving its food and water. Pruning also increases airflow through the tree and reduces the weight of the canopy, making trees more resilient in storms.

If you have any questions about the details your property insurance policy, you can always contact your Texas Farm Bureau Insurance Agent. Learn more about protecting your property from Texas weather here.

Coverage and discounts are subject to qualifications and policy terms and may vary by situation. © 2020 Texas Farm Bureau Insurance