Arborists: A resource for tree concerns

We are fortunate here in Gwinnett County to have lots of trees growing in the landscape. They give us shade and are aesthetically pleasing, and they boost property values, too.

But trees can also present a plethora of problems. Gwinnett Extension receives numerous calls about trees from Gwinnett County homeowners. The drought and recent storms, along with construction, have caused excess stress on many of our trees.

Damaged trees can present lots of hazards. They can fall, or parts can break off and fall, on people or cause property damage. They can also fall on power lines, causing serious problems.

How can you tell if the trees on your own property are possibly hazardous? Start by asking several questions.

Are there large dead branches? Are there mushrooms growing out from the base of the tree? Is the trunk leaning over in a particular direction? Has there recently been any construction or land disturbing activity around the tree's critical root zone?

If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then the tree may be suffering.

What should be done? The best course of action is to contact a certified arborist. An arborist, by definition, is trained in the art and science of planting, caring for and maintaining individual trees.

An arborist can help you assess the risks of the trees on your property and can provide treatments to help make your trees safer.

Most tree care companies have certified arborists. Upon examining the tree or trees in question, the arborist will make several recommendations. Thinning out branches, removing dead branches, or removing branches that are hanging over roads, driveways or structures may be needed to help the tree maintain its health and vigor.

If the tree is dead or dying, if it presents a major hazard or if it's in the way of new construction, removing the tree completely might be warranted.

Arborists can also provide preventative health care steps that can help the tree become more resistant to insect and disease damage or environmental stresses.

What do you look for in searching for a qualified arborist and tree care company? Make sure the person in question is certified through the International Society of Arboriculture. Ask for proof of insurance, including the name and contact information of the insurance company. Check to make sure the company has the necessary licenses and permits. Ask for references and visit sites the company has performed work on.

Get more than one estimate, and do not always accept the lowest bid. Compare bids and choose the best combination of price, skill and professionalism to protect your substantial investment.

Get it in writing. Most reputable arborists have their clients sign a contract. Be sure to read the contract carefully, and ask: When will the work be started and finished? Who is responsible for cleanup? Is this the total costs, or are there hidden fees? Is stump grinding included, or is that an additional charge?

One of the best ways to choose a good arborist is to learn some of the basic principles of tree care yourself. Garden centers, extension services, the International Society of Arboriculture (www.isa-arbor.org) or the Georgia Arborist Association (www.georgiaarborist.org/) are excellent sources of information.

Of course, feel free to contact Gwinnett County Extension for information on trees as well.

Timothy Daly is an agricultural and natural resource agent with the Gwinnett

County Extension Service. He can be reached at 678-377-4010 or timothy.daly@gwinnettcounty.com.