Certified arborists can help determine health of tree

One of the most frequent calls we receive at the Gwinnett Extension office is from residents concerned about the conditions of trees in their yards. With news reports of trees falling over and causing damage to property and injuries and even deaths, homeowners are worried about whether the trees on their properties are at risk. In our area trees of all types have been under high stress levels as a result of the drought, construction activities and insects and disease 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 a Certified Arborist (through the International Society of Arboriculture). An arborist by definition is an individual who 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.

An arborist can help you assess the risks of the trees on your property and can provide treatments helping to make your tree safer, thus reducing the risk associated with hazardous trees. Most tree care companies have certified arborists. Upon examining the tree(s) in question, the arborist will make several recommendations. Pruning branches or parts of the tree to maintain its health and vigor may bee needed. This may included thinning out branches, removing dead branches, removing branches that are hanging over roads, driveways or structures. Sometimes complete removal of the tree is warranted. This is necessary if the tree is dead or dying, presents a major hazard, causing obstructions or in the way of new construction. Arborists can also provide integrated plant health care (IPHM), a concept of preventative maintenance to maximize the health of the tree to be 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 a certified arborist through the ISA. Ask for proof of insurance, 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 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. Get it in writing. Most reputable arborists have their clients sign a contract.

One of the best methods to use in choosing an arborist is to learn some of the basic principles of tree care. 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 and arborists as well.

Timothy Daly, MS is an agricultural and natural resource agent with the Gwinnett County Extension Service. He can be reached at timothy.daly@gwinnettcounty.com.