When I was younger, we'd go to my aunt's house every year for a Memorial Day fish fry. I loved playing kickball with my cousins in her side yard, visiting with my family and enjoying all the delicious food and desserts my relatives brought to the party. But, most importantly, I simply enjoyed the opportunity to be outside for the entire day in the crisp, cool air.
What I loved most about my aunt's yard was the abundance of trees in front of the house and along the edges of the property. Each year, I never missed the opportunity to enjoy a few moments in the hammock my aunt placed between two trees on the slight hill behind the house. With the exception of being obligated to take turns with my cousins, I knew I could enjoy those few peaceful moments as I stared into the canopy of the two trees and their neighbors, gently swaying back and forth in the cool breeze.
After I grew older and had a home of my own, I wondered how I could place hammocks and swings under my trees and enjoy their company on pleasant spring and summer afternoons.
"People recognize the value of being around trees," says R.J. Laverne, a board certified master arborist and Davey's manager of education and training. "People want to be in tree swings, tree houses and in the shade - which is good."
Tree swings attract people beneath the canopy, so pruned trees, void of dead, broken or hanging branches, are your best option for swing location. Laverne says the No. 1 rule for tree swing placement is to thoroughly inspect the tree beforehand. "Cracks, openings and signs of decay are all evidence of previous damage," he says. "Adequately inspect the entire tree, not just the branch that will support the swing. One should never drill holes into damaged bark in an effort to hang tree swings."
Proper equipment is essential to tree swing safety. "Use a rope with sufficient strength to support 10 kids," Laverne says. He suggests loosely looping the rope over the branch and then tying a knot so the rope does not restrict the branch over time. "The looser the attachment initially, the longer the rope will last without replacement," he says. "It's ideal to use a protective material, such as canvas, between the bark and rope to reduce friction."
Laverne says it's important to inspect the point of attachment each year because the rope will need to be removed or replaced as the diameter of the branch grows wider. "We can promote being around trees, but we need to make sure it's safe," he explains. "The rope, swing, branch and tree must all be structurally sound to limit risks."
Laverne says most healthy trees have sufficient strength to hold the weight of tree swings, but more durable trees generally have denser woods and grow slower. Sugar maples, red maples, ashes and oaks all make great homes for tree swings. However, avoid using trees that typically grow fast or ones with weak wood, such as willows and boxelders. "Also avoid trees that are likely to break overhead during wind or ice storms," Laverne says.
As the weather warms up and you gradually spend more time outdoors, you'll discover more ways to enjoy your spare time among the trees. However, keep their health in mind when deciding whether to swing from their branches or enjoy a nap in a hammock beneath their shade. Healthy trees will live longer and continue to provide a pleasant outdoor atmosphere for years to come.