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Need a Tree Guy? 20 Secrets Your Arborist Won’t Tell You

Read these before you let anyone touch your trees.

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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.

istock/Nikita Petrov

These signs mean your tree might be in big trouble

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. If the branches of your tree are dying back from the tips, especially at the top, your tree is probably already a goner. Another bad sign: The tree goes straight down into the ground like a telephone pole, instead of flaring out at the bottom.

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When you get the estimate for the work and 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.

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Don’t just ask if I have liability insurance and workers’ comp

Ask to see a copy of the certificate and perhaps even call the company. Then if the arborist falls the wrong way, you’ll remain lawsuit free.

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Schedule work for the off season to get better deals

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.

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I don't have time to help your neighbor out

If I come for an appointment between April and October, I probably don’t have time to go over to your neighbor’s or daughter’s house and talk to them too. If you have a friend who needs my advice, mention it when you’re scheduling me.

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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.

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Be wary of 'fast growing' trees

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.

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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.

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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.

View Slides 11-20
Originally Published in Reader's Digest