Deal with hurricane-damaged trees properly

Richard Bogren, Gill, Daniel J.  |  9/6/2012 12:10:27 AM

For Release On Or After 09/07/12

By Dan Gill
LSU AgCenter Horticulturist

Much of the work dealing with trees after a hurricane should be done by professionals who have the equipment and training to do the job safely. Most people do not have the equipment or expertise to safely remove large trees or fallen trunks. That means hiring an arborist.

Selecting an arborist

Selecting the right arborist to do the work you need requires some consideration. By law in Louisiana, any individual or company you hire to do tree work must be licensed by the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry and carry the proper insurance.

LDAF recommends that you ask to see an arborist license and proof of insurance before hiring an individual or company.

Carefully supervise any tree work being done, and do not pay for the work until it is done to your satisfaction. The LDAF will provide regulatory oversight of this work should there be any problems or complaints.

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. To see an online list of licensed arborists by parish, go to www.ldaf.louisiana.gov and follow the link “find a licensed horticulture professional.” Use this list to ensure you are selecting from licensed companies and individuals.

Beware of “door knockers.” 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 for local references, and look at other jobs the company has done. Check with the Better Business Bureau to see how well they resolve complaints.

Have more than one licensed arborist look at the job and give you estimates to ensure you get a proper assessment and diagnosis and a fair price for the work. This also allows you to get other opinions on what work needs to be done. Don’t expect one arborist to lower his bid to match another arborist’s estimate. And don’t be shy about asking questions. You need to fully understand what the arborist proposes to do and why.

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, etc.

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, get a written contract. It should include the dates when the work will start and finish, exactly what work will be done, what and when cleanup work will be done and the total dollar amount you will be charged. If a tree is to be removed and the stump ground down, make sure the company agrees to remove all of the wood chips if you don’t want them.

If at all possible, you should be present and watch while the work is being done, even if you have to take off from work. It’s the best way to make sure the work done is what you wanted and expected, and to avoid surprises after the work is finished.

Work to be done

Remove fallen trees as soon as it is practical – obviously, trees that fall on or near the house get top priority. Professional arborists should generally do this type of work.

Smaller trees and branches can be handled by homeowners with hand saws or chainsaws. It is critical that you understand the safe use of such equipment and follow manufacturer’s safety precautions carefully. Do not attempt to tackle jobs that are beyond your ability to carry out safely.

Have arborists remove any large branches that are broken but still hanging in a tree. These branches pose a significant risk because they can fall at any time. This should be taken care of as soon as possible.

Young trees planted within the past few years are often blown over by high winds or may be leaning. These trees, generally less than 10 inches in diameter and planted within about seven years, should be saved. Straighten them as soon as possible, and they will usually survive and recover. If the roots are exposed, cover them with soil or mulch to keep them moist until you get a chance to straighten the tree.

Newly reset trees will need to be supported until they reestablish a strong, new root system. This can be done with stakes or guy lines, depending on the size of the tree and the situation. Leave the support in place until after next year’s hurricane season – around November.

Limited pruning may be done at the time of resetting to remove damaged branches and to lighten the weight of the canopy, but do not prune excessively. It is generally not practical to straighten larger, more-mature trees that have blown over.

Trees whose foliage has been stripped away or burned or damaged by high winds are not dead despite their appearance, and they will usually recover. Do not immediately cut down trees that have lost foliage from high winds. If they do not produce new growth the following spring, however, they should be removed.

Rick Bogren

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