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Hamptons Life

Sep 19, 2014 6:56 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Tree Care: Don't Go Out On A Limb

Sep 21, 2014 10:35 AM

What people do and pay to have done in their landscapes never ceases to amaze me. Actually, it’s the money, time and effort they pay and end up getting mediocre or worse results in return that amazes me. Even more, I’m continually amazed at how well-educated, business-savvy and seemingly successful people get taken for a ride when it comes to their landscapes.

This week, it’s some of the tree work that I’m seeing that has me wondering just what these folk are thinking. A quartet of incidents follows, then some suggestions.I’m driving down one of the more affluent tree-lined, well-hedged, perfectly-lawned streets out here and in front of one of these properties is a truck parked on the road that says something like “John’s Expert Tree Service.”

OK, maybe I’ll take John’s word for that, but why does he have lawn mowers, leaf blowers, bags of cement, drainage pipe, bags of grass seed, bags of fertilizer, irrigation pipe and a rack full of weed whackers on his truck while the air reeks of gasoline coming from the six 5-gallon jugs of gas and 2-cycle fuel sitting and leaking on the street? For some reason I don’t think John is the one I want working on my valuable trees, and yet there’s one of his guys up in a tall ladder cutting a horizontal limb off an old maple.

As this laborer makes his incorrect cut to the limb I can’t help but notice that he’s not wearing any protective gear. No head protection, no ear protection and no eye protection as the chainsaw buzzes away. The chips fly at his face and then the limb snaps and flops, hanging in midair, as the cut that’s been made to drop the limb is incorrect, and the puzzled laborer looks at his botched surgery. I’m absolutely certain the property owner got a great deal and saved at least half the cost of calling in a qualified tree person. Of course no one is going to tell him about the damage done to his tree that’s going to cost him a bundle to repair in years to come. If the tree survives.

Then there’s the landscaping company that does the mowing, mulching and planting at the condo complex. They’ve been working there for nearly 10 years and in spite of some of the condo owners’ complaints to the condo board about sloppy and questionable work. The condo board, which has no members with any gardening or horticultural background and an outside management company that is nearly as clueless, likes this company, though, because they consistently come in on budget, which, by the way, is lower than the other bidders that they’ve talked to in years.

But they also use this landscaping company for snowplowing, tree and shrub work. These are guys that artistically prune the invasive Rosa rugosa every summer, trim back the forsythia every July, thus removing 80 percent of next year’s flower buds, and prune the crabapple trees by removing 6-inch limbs from the trunks with the pruning cuts flush or even slightly concave against the trunk ... a big no-no that’s just asking for future rot and disease issues.

And then there are my issues. For the past 18 years I’ve been using a tree company that was originally small, local and trusted. Then the company merged with a slightly larger company. The arborist that I liked and who handled my account decided to leave. I liked the new arborist even better and I knew that since he wasn’t working on commission he would be straight with me on pricing and he really knew his stuff. Then it happened again. The once small tree company that was swallowed by a slightly larger tree company was bought out by a huge tree company. And seeing the writing on the trees, my arborist pal decided to accept an offer from Big Tree and took early retirement. I have not been too happy with Big Tree.

Which brings us back to the main question. If you have tree work that needs to be done, how do you choose the person or company that’s best suited to do the work? Well, my first answer is simple. Don’t hire expert John or anyone like him. Yes, there are large landscaping companies out here that have divisions and crews that are well qualified to do tree work, and some tree companies will also do some landscaping, but keep on reading.

First of all, if you have serious tree issues or just a lot of tree work that needs to be done you can start by trying to find a consultant who has nothing to sell but advice. I stumbled on someone like this last month. He refers to himself as an urban forester, has a Ph.D. in plant pathology and for $300 he came over, looked at a 100-year-old sugar maple that’s a feature tree on a magnificent property, and within 48 hours I had a full report that essentially said the tree is dying and should be removed. He told me why it was dying, how long it might last before it became a threat to life and limb, and some measures I could take to give the tree a few more years of life.

I knew the tree was dying but now I knew why. And I didn’t have to put up with a tree company telling me they could cable it, prune it, spray it, spend $10,000 and then in three years end up taking it down anyway. I had an objective outside opinion from an expert with nothing to sell but knowledge and suggestions. Yes, they’re around, but you have to look carefully. And now that I was an informed consumer, I was able to tell my tree company what I wanted instead of relying on them telling me what they wanted to do.

My friend John wanted to know what the white stuff was on his hemlocks and what he should do. I told him his hemlocks were infested with the woolly adelgid, a small sucking insect that would eventually kill the trees. I said the trees could be sprayed with a non-chemical treatment that would control the insects and that if the spraying was done at the right times that would be all he needed. He called in a tree company and was told that not only did the trees need to be sprayed but they needed special fertilizer treatments, root stimulation and that there were other trees on his property that needed lots of work as well. John has about a half-acre lot. His estimate for all the work was well over $2,500. He called me very confused and I simply said, “John, tell them all you want is to have the trees sprayed for the adelgid.”

So here’s my advice to you. Before you have any tree work done, do some reading. Try to hire an arborist who is certified by the International Society of Arboriculture and take a look at what the ISA requires for certification at http://goo.gl/omI4NJ. Then go to this site, where you’ll find recommendations on how to find a qualified arborist: http://www.dec.ny.gov/lands/5291.html.

Don’t be penny-wise and pound-foolish. Cheap work leads to poor results that will eventually cost you more. Be an educated horticultural consumer and you’ll be able to ... keep growing.

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I wish people would prune privet when it's dormant. First, privet makes an excellent nesting area for songbirds who are insect eaters. Yet I see people pruning privet at the height of nesting season, killing nestlings. Second, the smell of blooming privet is one of nature's most lovely natural air fresheners, plus hummingbirds adore privet flowers. Yet I see people out there pruning just as the bloom is about to begin. How can you not want to smell booming privet? It doesn't have a noxious, heavy ...more
By btdt (449), water mill on Nov 20, 14 12:14 PM