13 Things Your Arborist Won’t Tell You

Find out what you need to know about keeping your trees healthy and lush from the professionals.

By Michelle Crouch
Also in Reader's Digest Magazine September 2011

| Reader's Digest September 2011
13 Things Your Arborist Won’t Tell You© iStockphoto/Thinkstock

1. Routinely pruning your trees every three to five years is not necessary, but it is a good idea to prune a tree with dead wood — especially when the dead branches are more than two inches in diameter.

2. If you see mushrooms or other fungi growing on your tree, or if a big limb breaks off during a storm, have me out for a tree inspection before it’s too late. Those can both be signs of a bigger problem.

3. When you get the estimate for the work and you think we’re gouging you, remember this: A three-man crew probably has more than $200,000 in equipment on your property, each guy is probably making less than $20 an hour, and we pay 33 percent in worker compensation, one of the highest rates of any industry. We probably aren’t making a big profit.

4. If you get a high price in May to take a tree down and the job isn’t time-sensitive, ask, “What would the winter price be?” That’s a ghost time for us, especially between Thanksgiving and Christmas, so we’re more likely to cut you a break.

5. Ask your “tree expert” if he or she is certified. Ideally, you want someone who’s a member of the American Society of Consulting Arborists, the International Society of Arboriculture, the Tree Care Industry Association, or your local/state arborists’ association.

6. Trees advertised as fast-growing typically are weak-wooded and decay-prone, and they often have limbs that break off easily in wind and ice.

7. If someone offers to “top” your tree to make it safer, kick him off your property. Topping was accepted 45 years ago, but science has since shown that’s the worst thing you can do to a tree. Another bad sign: someone who wants to sell you fertilizer without testing your soil first.

8. Never hire an arborist who uses any kind of climbing spikes, unless he’s taking the tree down. Every time he takes a step, he’s making another wound in the tree and creating a decay pocket.

9. Always get a second opinion if someone tells you a healthy-looking tree needs to come down, especially if he wants to charge several thousand dollars.

10. Be wary of people who knock on your door and say they want to trim your tree. Good arborists don’t need to canvas neighborhoods looking for customers.

11. Here’s one thing we hate: when we make a tree really beautiful and you comment on what a good job we did cleaning up. That’s like telling the barber how well he cleaned the hair up off the floor.

12. If you pile mulch up against the trunk of the tree (we call that a mulch volcano), the moisture can’t escape, and the trunk and root can rot more easily. Make sure there’s a mulch-free doughnut shape around the base.

13. I once hung a swing for a client from a branch 35 feet off the ground. And I’ve rescued a few cats too.

Plus: 10 More Things Your Arborist Won’t Tell You

Sources: Jud Scott, a consulting arborist in Carmel, Indiana; Dennis Panu, a consulting arborist in Thompson, Connecticut; Ed Milhous, a consulting arborist in Haymarket, Virginia; and Aaron Dickinson, a master arborist in Glastonbury, Connecticut.

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