Swinging on a rope from a tree branch is one of the oldest forms of play. Kids have been doing it since before playgrounds were invented, and long before safety regulations made it almost impossible to get hurt on playground equipment. However, that doesn't mean your kids can't get hurt in their own backyard. If you plan to hang a tire, a wooden seat or just a rope for your kids to swing on, you need to make sure the branch won't break. Here are some ways to choose the safest tree branch.
1. Only hang swings from hardwood trees. Hardwood trees have dense wood that can support weight without breaking. Softwood trees can actually have hard wood, but the wood is more prone to splitting under stress. This is why softwood species are used for construction: It's easy to split them and turn them into lumber, and the wood is easy to penetrate with nails. Hardwoods are more durable. Experts say that oaks, sycamores and maples are safe, while pines, willows and poplars are not.
2. Choose a branch at least eight to 10 inches in diameter. Smaller branches are probably too young and pliable to support a child on a swing.
3. Don't hang swings from branches that are dead or decayed. Mushrooms, fungus growth and ants on a tree mean there is decaying wood nearby. Dead branches may look solid and strong, but they are inherently weak. When they die they begin to dry out, and dry wood snaps easily. Dead branches can also be hollow, but you won't be able to tell by looking.
4. Don't use branches that have defects like swelling or bulging. These defects usually mean the branch has been damaged in some way, either by disease, trauma or an insect infestation. A sign of damage is a weak spot, and a weak branch will probably break.
5. Avoid branches that have any other signs of ill health, like dead twigs, misshapen or dying leaves, or that are joined to the trunk in weird ways. Branches should be reasonably smooth with new twig growth and vibrant leaves. Joins should be smooth without bumps, rings, cracks or indentations. These are all signs that a branch could break away from the trunk.
6. Don't use ash or elm trees. These species are susceptible to the Asian Longhorned Beetle, a fast-spreading invasive insect that eats its way through tree branches and trunks. Ash trees are targets for the Emerald Ash Borer, which also bores through trees and kills them. Until these pests are eradicated, these trees will always be risky because early damage isn't always easy to see.
Despite all the possible risks with defective tree branches, rope swings can be safe when they are installed on strong, healthy trees. If you want to make sure your tree is suitable for your child's swing, have a professional tree service inspect and test it. Go to this site or others to see professionals who will inspect the tree for you. Many tree services offer swing installation and annual inspections to help keep your children safe.