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A Trusted Friend in a Complicated World

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

Read these before you let anyone touch your trees.

1 / 20

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 / 20
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.

3 / 20

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.

4 / 20

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.

5 / 20

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.

6 / 20

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.

7 / 20

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.

8 / 20

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.

9 / 20

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.

10 / 20

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.

11 / 20

Always get a second opinion

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.

12 / 20
istock/Ken Tannenbaum

Be careful of people who knock on your door and offer to trim your tree

Good arborists don’t need to canvas neighborhoods looking for customers. A lot of you hire so-called tree experts who are really just a guy with a chainsaw and a pickup truck. You think you got a great deal, but the work is atrocious and you won’t even realize it until the tree has already started to decay.

13 / 20

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.

14 / 20

Don’t pile mulch up against your tree trunk

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.

15 / 20
istock/Maartje van Caspel

I’m a jack of all trades

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

16 / 20

Wonder why I’m rescheduling?

If I call you and say, “Mrs. Jones, I’m really sorry, but can we reschedule? We’ve had an emergency, and we’re taking a tree off a roof,” that may be true. Or I might have just snagged a job for that day that pays a lot more.

17 / 20

Yes, you do need to water your trees

People think they have these giant root systems that go way down to the water table, but most roots are in the top 12 to 18 inches of soil. Trees need about an inch of water a week during dry periods.

18 / 20

It really irritates me when you do this:

One thing that gets my goat is when people say, “I’m calling everyone in the book to get the cheapest price.” I usually jack the price up when I hear that.

19 / 20

I don’t like your pets

I’ve been bitten by plenty of “happy and friendly” dogs. So if I ask you to leave your dog inside, please respect that.

20 / 20

Real arborists never talk about ‘feeding’ your trees

Trees make their own food, arborists manage a tree’s soil.

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.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest