The Homeowners Column

The Homeowners Column

Suggestions For Selecting An Arborist

Photo of Sandra Mason

Sandra Mason
State Master Gardener Coordinator

After spending two days at the Illinois Arborist Association annual meeting I have added respect for arborists. Imagine a surgeon having to work with a chainsaw while balancing on a tree limb while trying not to fall off the operating table.

Trees need to be pruned to improve tree health, for public and private safety and to maintain power lines. Homeowners should know proper pruning techniques and they should only prune limbs they can reach while standing on the ground. Tree care requires experience, education and skill, therefore professionals should be carefully selected. The Tree City USA Bulletin from the National Arbor Day Foundation offers tips for selecting an arborist:

  • Check phone directory under tree service or tree care. A phone ad is no guarantee of good work, but at least indicates some degree of permanence.

  • Beware of door knockers. Most reputable companies have plenty of work without door knocking. Door knockers are especially common after a storm.

  • Never let yourself be rushed by bargains.

  • Ask for certificates of insurance including proof of liability for personal and property damage (your house and your neighbor's) and workman's compensation. Then phone the insurance company to make certain the policy is current.

  • Ask for local references. Ask neighbors and friends if they have used an arborist. A good reputation is a sign of a good arborist.

  • Check if they are members of professional arborist organizations such as the Illinois Arborist Association.

  • Check to see if they are certified through the International Society of Arboriculture. To be certified they are required to take a test every three years and participate in continuing education units. Unfortunately tree experts are not required by law to be certified.

  • Get more than one estimate.

  • Good arborists generally offer a full range of services such as pruning, fertilizing and pest control.

  • A good arborist will seldom ever recommend topping a tree and only then after severe physical damage to the tree's crown. Branches should be carefully selected for removal.

  • A conscientious arborist will not use climbing spikes on living trees.

Be sure to have a contract. Most companies have their own forms. Suggested items to include in a contract:

  • The dates the work will begin and end.

  • Exactly what work will be done, such as prune all dead, dying and diseased branches 1-1/2 inches or greater in diameter. If the tree is to be sprayed, get a written statement detailing the specific insect or disease to be treated and the chemical to be used. If fertilizing is to be done, it should be stated how much fertilizer will be applied by what method.

  • Specify what cleanup work will be done and when. Determine who gets the firewood and if it is you, determine where the wood will be stacked and the size of the logs.

  • Clarify if removal of the tree includes grinding out the stump and even filling with soil and planting grass.

  • Clarify the total charge amount. Work may be charged as a single price or on an hourly basis plus materials. With the latter, be sure to include the wording "...but not to exceed..."

If you have questions about proper pruning procedures, consult your University of Illinois Extension Office, or your city's arborist.

Trees experienced a great deal of stress this year. Many of the trees have lost their leaves early. Don't be too quick to have a tree removed. A qualified arborist can give you a proper diagnosis.

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