Lawn and Garden

Hiring a Professional Tree-Care Company

Karen G. Cox, Marshall County WVU Extension Service agriculture program assistant

Trees are an important part of the urban landscape for more reasons than their value-enhancing beauty. Trees reduce air pollution by collecting greenhouse gasses and dust particles. They shade homes and yards, reducing air-conditioning needs. In the winter they offer protection from cold winter winds. Finally, trees reduce flood hazards, slow water runoff and soil erosion and improve water quality.

Caring for trees

tree Trees have countless benefits but, as with any living thing, they need proper care. Trees are large, slow-growing plants that can quickly become a liability. One bad trimming can damage your tree for life, destroying its structure, health and beauty. A poorly trimmed tree often has large wounds and is more prone to disease and insect attack. Bad trimming can increase management costs by requiring frequent additional trimming. It can also lead to property damage and injuries caused by poorly attached limbs.

Types of trimming

topping-tree The most common form of tree trimming is often the most harmful. The technique known as “topping trees” removes all parts of a tree above a certain height or limb diameter. This technique leaves stumpy limbs and opens the tree to many problems. While the crown will grow back after this trimming, the new limbs are spindly and break easily. After a few years, the new limbs may begin to break due to their own weight, requiring another trimming.

Alternative pruning techniques such as crown reduction (pruning back lateral branches to reduce height) and crown thinning (selective removal of branches to reduce wind damage or increase air circulation) will leave your tree much stronger and healthier than a smooth “lollipop style” cut across the outer edge.

Only remove necessary branches

While it is important to remove dead, diseased or infested branches, no branch should ever be removed unless necessary. Choose a professional who uses good pruning practices, including crown reduction and crown thinning instead of topping. These selective pruning techniques may be more time consuming and costly up front but will reduce the expenses associated with long-term care and will leave a healthier, stronger and more beautiful tree.

Protecting your tree

You can help protect yourself and your tree by taking the following steps: tree-service-3

  1. Be very wary of someone who comes to you soliciting work. Most trees do not need to be pruned. A tree is not an immediate hazard simply because it is large. Healthy limbs can usually resist wind, snow and ice without breaking. Be sure your tree needs to be pruned before a single branch is cut.
  2. Get at least three estimates. If possible, at least one estimate should be from an arborist who is certified by the International Society of Arboriculture.
  3. Ask how long the owner has been in business and get a list of references. Call the references and ask questions about the quality of the work. If the only thing they can say is, “the owner’s a really nice guy,” that isn’t sufficient proof that the work is good.
  4. Check all licensures and verify memberships.
  5. Verify that their current business and liability insurance is valid by calling the number on their card. If they give you false/expired insurance information, you should not hire the company for the job. If you don’t take this very important step and an accident occurs, you may be liable.
  6. Before you hire them, try to observe them on other pruning operations. What kind of safety equipment do they wear? Do they use a harness? Do they wear hard hats, chaps and safety glasses? If they don’t protect their workers’ safety, they may not take the proper safety steps when working on your property.
  7. Ask question about how the pruning will be done:
    • Why does the tree need pruned?
    • Will you cut the main tree stem?
    • Will you cut outside the branch collar or flush cut?
    • Will you use the 3-cut method?
    • How much of the crown will be removed?
    • What happens if the pruning damages another tree?
    • What is your protocol for working around power lines?
    • Will you park the bucket truck in my yard?
    • Will hanging limbs be left on my tree?
    • What happens if someone gets hurt?
    • What happens if a limb falls on my house?
    • If the tree is being removed ask if they will grind out the stump or how much of the stump will be left in the ground.

If these questions confuse you that’s ok; it’s not your job to be an expert. It is, however, the company’s job to explain things to you in a satisfactory manner. If any of these questions confuse or bother them, don’t hire the company.

8. Insist on a signed contract before work begins. The contract should outline

  • Exact cost
  • Dates of work
  • Exact specifications of what will be done. Knowing how the pruning will be done, and how long it will take are just as important in comparing contracts as dollar amounts.

You are looking for value not price. “Trim tree,” “reduce height,” or “remove tree” are not adequate descriptions of work to be done. Remember detailed descriptions in the contract will protect you and the company and prevent a poor trimming that cannot be undone. If the contract is not detailed, you may be very disappointed once the job is done.

9. tree-on-car Once you’ve decided to have the work done, be sure to contact your own insurance company. Are you covered if a limb falls on your home or your neighbor’s car? Are you covered if someone gets hurt?

Finally, one of the best things you can do before choosing a tree care professional is to educate yourself about some of the basic principles of tree care. There are great sources available online.

Recommended sources:

  • Arbor Day Foundation
  • International Society of Arboriculture
  • American Society of Consulting Arborists
  • Tree Care Industry Association
  • TREESAREGOOD.ORG.

Your local WVU Extension Agent can be an excellent source of information.

This article contains information from West Virginia University Extension Service, Arbor Day Foundation, International Society of Arboriculture, American Society of Consulting Arborists, Tree Care Industry Association and TREESAREGOOD.ORG.