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Plant a Tree for Arbor Day

Posted on April 4th, 2018

By Guest Blogger Christian Siewert

The Arbor Day Foundation says it best: “Trees are simply amazing. They clean air and water, ease poverty and hunger, and feed the human soul.” All we have to do is take care of them.

That is easier said than done. The tree care industry has changed drastically due to advancements in tree care, which has caused a drastic change to how we care for trees over the past 20 years, and, we have a better understanding of the value of trees. As a certified arborist, I am often called to consult on complex tree issues that sometimes end up in court where large sums of money are debated. Before things get to this point, knowing what to do and what not to do with your trees, and how to screen for a qualified tree expert, can go a long way to keeping you out of court and out of a lot of money.

Here’s an example of what can happen: You have an 80-year-old Oak in your front yard that shades your house. It has not been touched for 80 years, but you feel the need to trim it, so you call the local tree company. They clean it up for $600. Seven years later, some limbs break out of the tree. You call the same company, which offers to prune the tree for $950 so you don’t lose any more limbs. Nine years later, you notice the tree seems to really be struggling. Its canopy is dying back, the trunk has some dead spots, and there is decay in the wounds where the limbs were removed. You call the tree company back for another $700 cleaning. After another five years or so, the tree looks even worse and you call one more time. They point out the large dead limbs, the large wounds, the decaying trunk and tell you the tree is dying and should be removed. So, your poor 100-year old Oak gets the axe and you lose the shade to your house. The stump is ground, and you replant grass because you don’t want the hassle of a large oak again. Over the 21 years, you paid $4550 for what you thought was good tree care. The ‘care’ it received actually caused all the issues that lead to its removal. Excessive pruning causes limbs to break out, soil compaction from large trunks causes root rot, and over pruning leaves large decaying wounds.

How do you avoid this?

Here are Five Tips for Taking Care of Your Trees

1.      Don’t “top” your trees.  Topping is the removal of large branches to reduce the height of the tree.  This causes decay that leads to large branch failures in the future.

2.      Don’t “spike” your trees. Spiking causes wounds that lead to infection and tree decline.  Anyone who spikes trees is causing long-term damage to the trees.

3.      Avoid damage to the roots.  Large trucks cause soil compaction, digging up roots causes frayed wounds that can’t heal and create access points for pathogens (fungi) that start root rot and weaken the trees structural stability. Lawn mowers can also cause damage to the root flares.

4.      Protect the roots out to the drip line from any activity other than foot traffic.  The drip line is simply the outside edge of the canopy.  On a mature open grown oak, it can be a circle of 60 feet in diameter.

5.      Consult an ISA Certified Arborist before doing anything to your tree.  In the story above, an expert would have recommended mulching out to the dripline and removing any hazardous dead limbs. Twenty years later you would have had a prized 100-year-old oak that cost you no more than $600.

…and five suggestions for selecting a tree care expert:

1.      Look for credentials or some type of continuing education (e.g., International Society of Arboriculture, Tree Care Industry Association, American Society of Consulting Arborists). Being bonded and insured is not a credential. Neither is having some type of license or contractor’s registration. Don’t base your decision solely on customer reviews! 

2.      Ask them why they consider themselves an expert. If someone can’t reasonably explain why they feel they are an expert without getting mad or defensive, this may be a red flag. Experience alone (“I’ve been doing this for 35 years!”) does not means that they are up-to-date.    

3.      A consultant will charge for their time if you have tree questions. If you want professional knowledge, you won’t get it in a “free estimate”.  That is a sales call and the salesperson is there to sell you tree work. Whether you need the tree work or not may not be the driving force. 

4.      Do they abide by an industry code of ethics?  Another tough question that can lead to some interesting conversation. 

5.      Finally, do you hear a passion in their voice?  When I go to conferences, I am always surprised by the passion that many tree professionals have.  It is something that we feel is instilled directly from the trees. 

As I come to understand more and more about the largest living organism this planet has, there is a sense of respect that leaves me in awe. The ability of trees to survive, adapt and change inspires me to continue to learn more about them. I hope you will be inspired to learn more too and to plant a tree on Arbor Day, which this year is on April 27.

About the Author

Christian Siewert has been working in the tree service industry since 1987. He is the owner of C&A Arborists, the first tree service in Harbor Country to be owned and operated by a certified arborist. Christian studied arboriculture at Merristwood College in Guildford, England and received his certified arborist status from The International Society of Arboriculture  in 1997. 

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