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Gardening in Gwinnett: For tree problems, consider hiring a certified arborist

We are fortunate here in Gwinnett County to have lots of trees growing in the landscape. They give us shade and are aesthetically pleasing, as well as boost property values. 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. Trees in the landscape present numerous hazards. They can fall, or parts can break off and fall on people or cause property damage. Additionally, they can fall on power lines, causing serious problems.

If trees are on your property, how should you go about dealing with possible hazards with them? Ask 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 is yes to any of these questions, then the tree may be suffering.

What should be done? The best course of action is to contact an arborist certified through the International Society of Arboriculture. An arborist is trained in the art and science of planting, caring for, and maintaining individual trees. Certification provides a measurable assessment of an individual's knowledge and competence required to provide proper tree care. Most tree care companies have certified arborists.

An arborist can assess the trees on your property and provide solutions to reduce the risks associated with hazardous trees. Upon examining the trees in question, the arborist will make several recommendations. Pruning branches or parts of the tree to maintain its health and vigor may be needed. This may include thinning out branches, removing dead branches or removing branches that are hanging over roads, driveways or structures. Sometimes, complete removal of the tree is recommended. This is necessary if the tree is dead or dying, presents a major hazard, causes obstructions or is in the way of new construction.

Arborists can also provide integrated plant health care, a preventative maintenance program to maximize the health of the tree to be more resistant to insect and disease damage or environmental stress.

What should you look for in searching for a qualified arborist and tree care company? Make sure the arborist is certified through the ISA. Ask for proof of insurance and the name and contact information of the insurance company.

Check to make sure the company has the necessary licenses and permits. Ask for references, call those references, and visit sites that the company has performed work on.

Get more than one estimate, and do not always accept the lowest bid. You should examine the credentials and the written specifications of the firms that submitted bids and compare price, work to be done, skill and professionalism. Get the details in writing. Most reputable arborists have their clients sign a contract. Be sure to read the contract carefully and ask the following questions: When will the work be started and finished? Who is responsible for cleanup? Is this the total cost, or are there hidden fees? Is stump grinding included, or is there an additional charge?

To assist in choosing an arborist, learn some of the basic principles of tree care. Garden centers, extension services, the International Society of Arboriculture (www.isa-arbor.org) and 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.