Jason LaRose ISA Certified Arborist, CTSP Staunton, Virginia
#1 Chainsaw- This one is easy. Commercial grade top handle Arborist saw. Preferably a Stihl 200T which is the best climbing saw ever made (except maybe it’s predecessor the “020”). Good luck finding one though, this saw went out of production 9 years ago. Prices are high for a decent specimen that runs and they don't last long on the open market, because we all know how awesome they are. Be warned: most tree guys will at least consider using it for a pillow the first few nights after it arrives. Price Range: $500-$1000 Brands: Stihl and everyone else
#2 Rope- There are many kinds of rope and cordage that get used in day to day tree work. Lets focus on climbing rope here. So many options to choose from and none of them are “bad”. I personally like to have several different climbing lines on the truck every day. The one I get most excited about is my new 200ft “hank” of static line, touting kernmantle construction with spliced eyes at both ends. Your tree buddy may want to get the rope out and roll around in it on delivery day, to get his scent on it and vice versa. Price Range: $175-$300 Brands: Sterling, Yale, Teufelberger
#3 Boots- Specifically boots made for tree climbing, not to be confused with high quality logging boots or even the cheaply made look alikes at the local shoe store. In this author's opinion the best arborist climbing boots are made in Italy (big surprise) and are akin to having frog feet on in the tree. Comfortable ankle support, rubber coping around the toes and sides, kevlar laces and vibram soles. Your arborist sweetie will want to wear them for date night tonight, you know, to “break them in”. Price Range: $225-$375 Brands: Arborpro, La Sportiva, Salewa
#4 Pants- Arborist climbing pants have come a long way from the old days of blue jeans or canvas. Sure we could still get ‘er done with that stuff on but we would need an attitude adjustment at the end of the day. These days we have options like breathable fabric touting 4 way stretch technology with kevlar threaded support, gusseted crotch for extra maneuverability, reinforced knees and ankles, and zipper pockets to keep the man glitter out. Often used as lounge pants on snow days. Price Range: $75-$350 Brands: Arborwear, Pfanner, Stein
#5 Handsaw- Not surprisingly another item used for cutting appears on the list. However handsaws are more than a cutting implement, they become a working part of the body, an extension of the arm. Used almost as much for retrieving items that are just out of reach as it is for removing branches from the tree. Old school handsaws resembled carpentry saws, they were long, not real sharp, and cumbersome to use and move around with. Today we have blades with hundreds of razor sharp teeth made from hardened japanese steel (I love saying that), and pistol grip configuration, that attach beautifully to the lower leg for ease of access even in the most awkward positions aloft. People at the local convenience store may give you some weird looks when you forget it’s on and walk in to get a gatorade at the end of the day. Price Range: $35-$125 Brands: Silky, Samurai, ARS
Jason LaRose Certified Arborist, CTSP Staunton, VA
-This is perhaps the most frequently asked question we get. So let's break it down.
Tree service companies by nature are busiest in the spring. After being cooped up inside all winter, which is a very reasonable 4 months here in Staunton, VA, yard work becomes a top priority for homeowners. Perhaps you are out pulling weeds in the fine sunshine and you notice the large pin oak (Quercus palustris) in the front that the previous owners planted back in the 70s. It somehow managed to escape the topping expertise of the local "trimmers" and it has a rather nice, albeit crowded upper crown. The branches are reaching for the sun, and with no competition nearby they are getting plenty of it. The lower 1/3 of the tree is a different story. An interwoven mat of sickly, half dead and crispy branches meets the eye. Something must be done.
A phone call to your local certified Arborist, an appointment, and you're on the schedule for a crown cleaning and thinning before barbecue season sets in. Unless...you don't get around to calling till after the 4th, and the company has a very respectable "backlog" of clients all anxious to get the crew 'round to them. Your Arborist knows full well that the phone basically stops ringing between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and might not start again till the following spring. Maybe he can give you a great deal on pruning this tree, if you wait till January? If he is an honest sort you may be inclined to agree, and perhaps you all reach an agreement on structure pruning the redbuds (Cercis canadensis) you planted back in 2012.
Perhaps the fellow you called isn’t a certified Arborist, nor a CTSP, and has never even heard of the Tree Care Industry Association and its ongoing mission to promote safety, education, and standards in the field of arboriculture? GASP.
Either way you can easily imagine how dirty rumors like “you should only prune your trees in the winter” get started.
The truth is that the only “bad” time to prune a healthy tree is the two week period in which it is flowering, and during times of moderate to severe drought. The exception is pruning fruit trees to maximize production. I’m not an expert on pruning for fruit production and am not going there.
To be clear, pruning cuts made at different times of the year will generate growth in different ways. The Godfather of modern arboriculture, Dr. Alex Shigo, said it best “pruning is not about what you take, rather about what you leave behind.” Shigo mapped the process by which trees protect themselves after an injury like pruning. He coined this system CODIT, controlled order of decay in trees.
The most important factors to take into account for a pruning job are (in no particular order):
The position of the cuts in the crown i.e. tips, trunk, laterals etc
The age of the tree
4. Size of the cut/size of wound the tree must now seal 5. Cleanliness of cut and placement- No stubs, no flush cuts 6. Volume of leaf bearing material being removed, no more than 20% -Anytime is a good time to remove dead wood or crown clean.
As always these tasks should be carried out by a trained professional, no ladders, no loppers, no gas powered pole saws. Even a bucket truck can’t get everywhere in every tree, trust me I’ve tried. Climbers that love to climb will do the best job, the bigger the tree the happier he will be.
Certified Arborist, CTSP, owner Queen City Silviculture
If I ask you to picture a tree what image comes to mind? A majestic white oak (Quercus Alba) in the Winter? Maybe a dogwood (Cornus florida) flowering in the early Spring? Or rather a row of crape myrtles (Lagerstroemia sp.) in the shimmering Summer heat? Perhaps the one nearest to my heart, a blazing sugar maple (Acer saccharum) in the crisp Fall? Trees come in endless varieties of shapes, sizes, colors and smells.
I doubt that any of you brought to mind a picture of a tree that has been “topped”. We have all seen an example of this poor excuse for tree “care” before, haven’t we? So what's the deal?
“Topping” is the common name for make a heading cut throughout the crown of a mature tree, usually carried out on the deciduous hardwoods that grow so well here in the east. According to the Urban Tree Foundation a heading cut made in this way;“Reduces the length of the stem or branch back to a point without regard to the position or diameter of the nearby lateral branches.”I would add without regard to the tree as a whole as well.
I’ll take a moment to make a distinction between the aforementioned practice and a reductioncut. A reduction cut is performed by cutting back to a lateral branch not less than ⅓ the size of the parent stem. This is to ensure that the limb has the available resources to carry on its life processes of growth and defense. We also take into account the gross volume of material being removed from the tree. Never to exceed 20% in a given year. Again many factors are involved when making a determination on what to remove and leave during proper pruning, including safety, aesthetics, tree response etc.
Any time I have talked to someone that has had a tree topped, or have been approached by a person that would like me to top their tree, I find one thing in common. FEAR. They are afraid. To be fair, I might be afraid too, if I didn't understand tree mechanics, bioengineering, and I was looking up at a monstrous northern red oak (Quercus rubra) arching over my house where my family sleeps at night.
Trees have evolved over nearly 200 million years to withstand, wind, rain, drought, insects, bacteria, fungi, and GRAVITY. They have yet to find a way to repel human ignorance.
It is our job as Arborists to constantly educate ourselves and the folks we encounter about trees and the greater forces at work in the natural world.
Trees start growing in the Spring at the extreme ends of the terminal buds. As these open, extend and “harden off” the scaffold branches fire up, swell and strengthen to support the increased weight and length. As Spring turns to summer the procession continues, down into the large upright leaders, encapsulating the new wood and supporting the new growth. Next, the trunk swells, and adds a new layer around the base of those branch collars like the finest mortise and tenon construction. Anyone who's ever split wood knows how tough these spots are, right? As Summer wanes to Fall, the magic continues in the lower extremities, anchoring this new tree to the ground through the incredibly strong buttress roots. Because you see, if a tree is in its 100th Summer, there are 99 trees still present underneath.
Topping does not take any of this into account. Heading cuts sever through all of those individual trees and the results are disastrous for the specimen. Here is what follows in a nutshell: The tree goes into survival mode and uses all or most of its energetic reserves to push out new growth in a valiant attempt to survive. Meanwhile it has no energy for defense against the wood decay organisms that have just attached themselves to all of the newly opened wounds.
Some species especially maples and elms appear to do pretty well by the next year or so. These families of trees grow rapidly and at first glance don’t seem “too bad”. In fact they may even be a candidate forrestructuringin about 5 or 10 years. This is a pruning practice in which a previously topped tree is judiciously thinned by an experienced Arborist to help recall some of its former glory. However these trees will always have large decay pockets, sun scalding on the branches that were left originally, and be more hazardous in the long run because the new growth always attaches poorly to the main stem. In fact, I had a limb rip out on me during a thinning and restructuring operation a few years ago and if I hadn’t been secured with a secondary point of attachment may have fallen to the ground. (hashtag backups!)
Trees in the landscape do require regular attention. They have evolved over time to grow tightly together in the forest with very little sun, waiting for their chance to reach up to the top floor of the canopy. Out in the yard they go “sun crazy” and do not typically have ideal structure especially if allowed to grow for 30 years before an expert is called. The trained Arborist’s loving hand saw will make all the difference for the tree and your peace of mind.
“The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit.” -Nelson Henderson
So what is an arborist anyway? If you answered that with some degree of satisfaction, then maybe you can answer this: what is arboriculture?
Maybe I should start with a few things that arborists (those who are skilled in the art of Arboriculture) are NOT.
First of all, we are not tree trimmers. Trimming is something you do with a weed eater or to your finger nails. Arborists never trim, we prune. If someone says they want to trim your tree, extricate yourself from the conversation ASAP. I don't care if they have a really nice ladder that goes really high and they’ve been “cuttin” trees down for a really long time. Ladders are bad enough without a chainsaw… I digress.
Arborists are also not foresters. We don't clear cut large tracts of land to make money off the timber. True, we use some of the same tools, and yes, we can fell big trees with the best of them, but can the forester sneak that tall skinny maple between the garage and the fence? Maybe. Does he employ ropes, pulleys and working knowledge of geometry and physics to safely bring the specimen down without hitting nearby targets? Maybe, maybe not. These guys work in the woods. As long as they know where their buddies are before making that cut, its all good, right? And what if the tree cannot be felled from the ground? This is very often the case and scenarios we arborists see everyday. Has the forestry industry trained its workers to safely ascend the tree, dismantle it, lower it piece by piece to the ground over top of your brand new shingle roof, without anything but sawdust landing on it? I think not.
What I am getting at here is that Arboriculture and the men and women who make it happen out there every day are “specialists”, highly trained, highly motivated, intelligent, miracle workers. Not kidding.
Finally, we are not line clearance workers. These folks are trained to keep the utility lines free from impeding branches. They perform a valuable service, and here in the eastern deciduous forest region of North America, they are kept busy. True, the cuts on the trees are usually ragged, and the trees themselves often look like Edward Scissorhands had a bad day. This is for several reasons, First the folks doing the work are contracted to cut anything closer than 10’ from the line. Period. They are not trained in making proper pruning cuts because the goal here is not a beautiful healthy tree, it is to keep the lights on. Another reason is the species of tree growing under the lines. Planting a Norway Maple which has the genetics to grow 60-80 feet tall under a power line that is 40 feet off the ground is not advised. Pick a smaller variety. There are plenty to choose from.
So, next time you meet an arborist and you're tempted to ask if he works for Asplundh, maybe pass on that one. But, if you think to ask if he’s been in any cool trees lately, you will have a friend for life.