Dear Angie: Does a tree have to be removed just because it shares a root system with another tree that is being removed due to storm damage? One tree on my property was severely damaged by Superstorm Sandy. I am being told that the tree behind it needs to be removed as well because they share a root system. The other tree does not appear to have suffered any storm damage. — Eric. C. Chesapeake, VA.
Answer: Generally, trees don't actually "share" a root system. The more plausible scenario is their two root systems have interlocked and are sharing a common space.
As long as the two trees are not abutting each other and removing the damaged tree doesn't cause harm to the undamaged tree, you shouldn't need to remove the healthy tree.
If the tree's cambium layer — the layer just under the bark — is damaged, though, it can lead to decay. Also, if the damaged tree was uprooted, then it could have damaged the root system of the remaining tree. Though that tree might look healthy now, it probably will die if the root system is damaged.
I do want to warn you to be cautious in dealing with tree-removal contractors. There are many highly qualified pros who can do good work for you and advise you about the specifics of your trees. But please watch out for a common occurrence after big weather incidents.
We call them storm chasers because they tend to come in to areas hit by storms and offer quick work for cash. Some of them have no qualifications at all. They prey on homeowners who are vulnerable because they have repair needs and are anxious to address them and get their lives back to normal as soon as they can.
These storm chasers offer quick work for cash upfront but generally disappear with the money before they either start or finish the work. They're usually not insured or bonded, so any damage they cause will come back on your homeowners insurance.
Clearing tree limbs and damaged trees is one of the most popular chores for storm chasers. That's why it's especially important to research the companies you hire after a storm to ensure they're qualified and insured, and to not trust the word of the first person who comes to your yard offering to clean up your damaged trees
With tree removal, finding a certified arborist is the way to go. An arborist has extensive training to address all areas of tree care. He or she should be able to evaluate your presumably healthy tree to determine whether it is undamaged and if the damaged tree can be removed without harming the healthy tree. Be sure the company doing the work carries property damage and workers' compensation insurance by asking to see their certificate of insurance.
Ask the company how it will dispose of the tree and wether grinding of the stump is included in the cost. Get multiple estimates and assessments of your situation, and never pay for the job in full until the work is done to your satisfaction.