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Tree clean-up easier, safer with arborist
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Along with budding flowers and buzzing bees come spring storms, and resulting damage to trees may require a professional's help.
Steve Dicke, a Mississippi State University Extension Service forestry professor, said homeowners should choose a licensed, certified arborist to repair or remove damaged yard trees. Dicke, now a member of the International Society of Arboriculture, said he learned this lesson the hard way.
"Someone came to my door and told me they'd cut down a tree in my back yard for $250," Dicke said. "It sounded like a good deal, so I agreed. The person wound up hitting my house with the tree and getting hurt at the same time."
Fortunately, Dicke did not get sued for medical expenses. He did, however, have to pay to repair his home.
"I learned the importance of hiring a professional who knows how to safely prune and remove trees and not hit your house. And if something bad does happen, they have workman's compensation and liability insurance to cover it," Dicke said.
A certified arborist also knows how to properly manage trees through pruning, bracing for added support and other techniques. Dicke said untrained people have many misconceptions about trees, which often leads to damage or loss of these economically and environmentally significant objects.
"About half the things people believe about trees are wrong. The No. 1 thing people don't realize is that the size of a tree's root system is two to three times larger than the tree we see," Dicke said. "No. 2 is that trees never heal; instead they compartmentalize damage and try to grow over it. Whatever damage you do to a tree will never be healed."
A professional arborist is aware of these issues and knows how to minimize damage as much as possible, Dicke said.
The forester said the third misconception is one he sees evidence of regularly. The damage caused by this common practice shortens the life of a tree by at least 10 years and may kill it immediately.
"Topping a tree, or cutting off all the top branches, is one of the worst things you can do to a tree. It cuts all the energy off from the tree and removes its scaffolding branches that held the foliage out where it needed to be," Dicke said. "The tree will chemically compartmentalize the damaged areas and go into the death spiral."
Benny Graves, division director for plant pest programs with the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce's Bureau of Plant Industry, said his agency is responsible for licensing tree surgeons in the state. If a person advertises or presents himself or herself as a licensed tree surgeon, that person must have a license with the Bureau.
"A license with the Bureau of Plant Industry means the person has passed licensing exams and demonstrates a minimum level of competence in the tree surgeon area," Graves said. "We test people every quarter, and currently we have about 127 licensed tree surgeons in Mississippi."
The license does not have to be renewed, and Graves said the Bureau keeps a record of tree surgeons who are licensed and insured. A list of licensed tree surgeons is available to the public upon request to the Bureau.
"One of the key points after passing the licensing test is that the tree surgeons have to provide proof that they have general liability insurance coverage," Graves said. "That's the first thing a homeowner needs to ask a potential tree surgeon: 'Do you have general liability insurance, and can I see a copy of it?'"
Graves said Mississippi law does not require a tree surgeon to join a professional arborist organization, but he recommends homeowners seek those who are members of an organization like the International Society of Arboriculture. This demonstrates a willingness by the arborist to remain up-to-date on the latest techniques and information for proper tree removal.
The ISA's Web site, http://www.treesaregood.com, advises homeowners to shop around and take bids from several tree care companies. Ask for references and do not hesitate to check those references.
An arborist also can provide preventive services, which could keep trees healthy enough to withstand storms or other damage.