The Widowmaker - A tragic tale from the woods

Saturday, 19 August 2017

Few people have probably heard of a phenomenon known rather morbidly as the widowmaker. Like so many tales, it originates from the dark and mysterious world of woods and forests. But it might just strike closer to home, especially if you have trees in your garden.

Widowmaker is the term given to broken branches that are left hanging in limbo on mature trees. Usually caused by decay, these branches can hang on trees for months and even years. However, a strong gust of wind can dislodge them and they can come crashing down, sadly very occasionally on top of some poor individual underneath them. And all too often, in ages past, the unfortunate victim was a forestry worker.

This is why it is important to check trees for any ‘widowmakers’. Deciduous trees are readily checked in the autumn and winter when their leaves fall; the problem is greatest with evergreens as these dead branches can often be concealed.

August is a great time to check any evergreen trees, cut out any diseased or dead branches and also to prune them. One of the many reasons for pruning a tree is to ensure it is kept healthy and can continue to grow without insects and decay spreading to adjacent areas, and so avoid conditions that could later create a widowmaker. A damaged tree is much more susceptible to disease which can spread to other plants and trees nearby.

Evergreen trees are seen within folklore as symbols of immortality, so it is rather ironic that they are often associated with widowmakers. To keep evergreens flourishing a large amount of pruning is often needed. Light pruning can be done now, but if you are undertaking anything more substantial do it in late winter or early spring before there is any new growth.

Here at Botanica we have many rare and unusual specimens – evergreen and deciduous – with experts on hand to give you advice about the right tree for your location. You can see our full range on our website, but our extraordinary tree field really is worth a visit.