Check Your Trees Before Summer Storms Hurricanes Arrive

Daniel Gill, Merrill, Thomas A.  |  5/26/2005 11:15:04 PM

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Get It Growing News For 06/10/05

By Dan Gill
LSU AgCenter Horticulturist

Violent thunderstorms can occur across the state during the summer, and in South Louisiana high winds from hurricanes are a concern in summer and fall.

Although trees add immeasurably to our home grounds, trees with problems can be a liability during storms or hurricanes.

So now is an excellent time to take a look at trees in your landscape and determine if they’re ready to face such conditions.

Here are some tips on what to look for.

First, check for trees that have large dead branches or are completely dead. These should be dealt with as soon as possible. Dead branches should be pruned off, and dead trees removed entirely.

Look at the overall condition of your trees. A tree that is sickly, low in vigor and shows significant signs of rotten or decayed areas in the trunk may need to be removed if it poses a threat to buildings. Trees with trunks that have large cavities with extensive decay should be considered for removal, because rot weakens the trunk and reduces a tree’s ability to withstand strong winds.

After the extreme rain associated with hurricanes or other storms that drop huge amounts of rain, the soil may be so soft that trees topple over if the weight is not properly proportioned. So trees that are very one sided or leaning significantly also may need attention. Selective pruning can relieve the weight on the heavier side – balancing out the weight distribution of the canopy.

Also, look for branches that hang over the house near the roof. Although the branches may not be touching the roof under normal conditions, the high winds of violent storms or hurricanes can cause trees to bend and branches to flail around considerably. These branches can cause extensive damage to the roof and generally should be removed.

Normally, it is best to have this kind of work done by a professional – a licensed arborist. Arborists are trained individuals that make a career of caring for the urban forest. Some arborists are self-employed; others work for tree-care companies, municipalities or public parks.

The areas in which arborists can help you include planting, transplanting, pruning, fertilizing, pest management (such as spraying for caterpillars or treating for termites), tree removal, value appraisals and protecting trees during construction.

Selecting the right arborist to do the work is an important decision. Here are some tips to help you make a selection:

– Check in the Yellow Pages under "Trees" for local companies that do tree-care work. Having an ad in the phone book indicates the company has some degree of permanence.

–Beware of "door-knockers," the people who simply appear and offer to work on your trees. This is especially common after storms when nonprofessionals see a chance to earn some quick money.

–Never let yourself be rushed by bargains such as, "If you sign an agreement today, I can take 10 percent off the price."

–Ask to see a state arborist’s license. All practicing arborists in this state must be licensed by the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry.

–Ask to see certificates of insurance, including proof of liability for personal and property damage and worker’s compensation. Then phone the insurance company to make certain the policy is current.

–Ask for local references, and look at other jobs the company has done. Also check with the Better Business Bureau.

–Have more than one arborist look at the job and give you estimates to ensure you get a fair price. This also allows you to get other opinions on what work needs to be done. But don’t expect one arborist to lower his bid to match another arborist’s estimate.

–A good arborist will never recommend – or agree to – topping a tree except under rare circumstances (such as to save the tree after severe physical damage to the crown).

–Unless you simply need a tree removed, choose a company that offers a wide range of services (such as pruning, fertilizing, cabling/bracing, pest control and so forth).

–Do not allow an arborist to use climbing spikes to climb a tree, unless the tree is being removed.

To make sure the work is performed to the standards you expect, a written contract is recommended.

The contract should include the dates when the work will start and finish, exactly what work will be done, what cleanup work will be done and when and the total dollar amount you will be charged. For example, if a tree is to be removed and the stump ground down, make sure the company agrees to remove all of the wood chips.

I strongly recommend that you be present while the work is being done, even if you have to take time off from work. It’s the best way to avoid surprises after the work is finished. And don’t be shy about asking questions. You need to understand fully what the arborist proposes to do and why.

Get It Growing is a weekly feature on home lawn and garden topics prepared by experts in the LSU AgCenter. For more information on such topics, contact your parish LSU AgCenter Extension office or visit our Web site at www.lsuagcenter.com. A wide range of publications and a variety of other resources are available.

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Contact: Dan Gill at (225) 578-2222 or dgill@agcenter.lsu.edu
Editor: Tom Merrill at (225) 578-2263 or tmerrill@agcenter.lsu.edu

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