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Care and Maintenance

Hiring a Tree Care Professional

Many important tree care practices such as pruning, watering, mulching and fertilization of young trees can be accomplished by the homeowner. However, as trees become established and larger, some of these tasks, especially pruning, become more difficult and potentially dangerous. Professional arborists are available to assist homeowners with the proper care of their trees from the beginning of the trees life to the time they must be removed from the landscape.

Owning a truck and a chainsaw does not automatically qualify someone as a tree care professional. Most folks in the tree care profession call themselves arborists. Arborists are persons that specialize in the management and care of individual trees, and their education and/or training is in the field of tree care. There are qualified arborists throughout the state, but to protect yourself and your property consider some of the following suggestions when hiring individuals or companies for tree care services. 

  1. Make sure the tree or trees in question are on your property. And if the tree is on public property, check with the city before having work done on the tree. Many cities have ordinances that regulate the management of vegetation on public property; this usually includes trees in the area between the street and sidewalk.
  2. Beware of people knocking on your door offering to work on your tree, because they noticed it needed some work and they can offer you a bargain rate to take care of it. These so-called "arborists" may not have you or your trees' best interests in mind. Most established arborists are busy, and they do not create new business by going door-to-door.
  3. In some communities arborists must be licensed to work within city limits, so check with city hall to see if this is a requirement and for a possible list of licensed arborists. If you live outside of a community or there is no list available from city hall, check the yellow pages in the phone book for a listing of tree care professionals, under the heading Tree Services or Tree Care. Also, check with friends or neighbors that have had work done by a reputable company or individual.
  4. Once you have started to contact arborists, make sure the individual or company has insurance for personal and property damage, and workers compensation. Ask for evidence of this insurance. In some cases communities have ordinances that specify insurance requirements for arborists; contact city hall for this information.
  5. Ask for, and check local references or past clients. Also, check to see if they are a member of a state and/or national association or society. These groups often have training and certification programs for their members. The International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) is one example of an organization with a certification program for arborists. Check their home page for ISA-certified arborists in your area.
  6. If time permits, obtain tree work estimates from several arborists. Make sure to get a written estimate listing all work to be done. Read through the details carefully, and be sure you understand what will be done. The cost of good tree care is not cheap. Most arborists have a heavy investment in equipment, labor, safety training and insurance; a bid for a job has to reflect many of those costs.
  7. If they say your tree should be "topped" or they use spikes to climb trees, they are not the company or individual you want to hire. "Topping" is basically the indiscriminate removal of branches with no consideration of proper cuts that promote proper tree response. When trees are topped, they will respond with a flush of new growth the next season that is weakly attached to the open pruning wounds, and susceptible to breakage and decay. Using tree spikes to climb trees can create wounds on the tree that are open to attack by decay organisms.
  8. Before the work starts, obtain some type of written contract that specifies what will be done, how it will be accomplished, the costs, and the start and completion dates for the job.
  9. Don't pay for the job until everything agreed upon is completed.