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Picking a Pro: Asking the Right Questions

How does one decide who to hire?

Why shouldn’t I just go with the lowest price?

How do I know I am not paying too much?

Will I receive quality work?

These are all very important questions…and definitely necessary to ask every time you are thinking of a home improvement project.  There is an old saying, “You get what you pay for.”  Most often this is true.  Things generally cost what they cost for a reason, but we all have to be careful to not become victim to bad practices and price gougers.

Service industries are particularly difficult to assess costs with, from the perspective of a non-skilled client that is.  Why does one tree cost more to prune than another? Why was one contractor able to do the job last time for less money or less time?  The answer is always in the details.  As for a tree, size, species, location, and condition all play a factor in the work involved.  As for comparing contractors or jobs, this is where you must be diligent and careful.  If you want quality work done by a true professional for a fair price, you need to know what separates true professionals from hired “help”.

Here are some helpful tips below, to help you find the best contractor for you.  These tips are specific for Arborists, but you can apply the general list to just about any industry.

1.  Check for CERTIFICATIONS:  Arborists in CT must have a license issued by the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.  Beyond that, the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) issues a certification for those who pass an exam as well as maintain their certification through continued education.

2. Get it in Writing:  Any professional should be able to provide you with a detailed contract, specifying the work to be done.  As well, the arborist should be able and willing to walk through the scope of work with you if necessary and explain the job in detail, letting you know just what to expect for the money being spent.

3.  Compare Apples to Apples:  When getting quotes, be sure that they are similar in nature.  With any industry, services can vary greatly from what the client actually expects.  All too often the lower price is tempting, but leads us into having poor work done, leading to costly repairs.  In the tree industry, there are various types of pruning with a wide range of cost.  Be sure that whoever you hire is going to perform work that will enhance your trees and keep them healthy, not cause permanent damage for money.

4. Insurance:  Make sure that the company you hire is insured.  If not, their mistakes could be your liability!

5.  Memberships:  A reputable firm will likely be a member in one, but usually several industry associations, as they realize the value that their membership provides.  Checking your local BBB or Consumer Protection Department may help you get some background information on your potential contractors.

6.  Understand Your Objectives:  Knowing what you need always helps.  Sometimes we might know there is a problem but don’t know what we need to fix it, or what the best fix is.  Usually it is best explained in value, rather than price.  If you know the value of what you are protecting, you can then start to assess what it will be worth to protect it.  With your trees, a reputable arborist can help you assess a tree’s value, and what steps are necessary in order to assure its health

7.  Making your Final Decision:  The decision rests with you, so take time and ask questions if necessary.  Remember, most companies offer something a little different, and the best companies will be able to offer more options.  That being said, they like to lead with the best options for your trees, which would make them generally more expensive.  That is not always the case as an experienced company may be more efficient than an unseasoned one.  Don’t be shy to ask contractors to help you understand different services and justify their approaches.  It is in your best interest to do so, and any person for hire should understand and address your concerns.

Good Luck!

Plant Selection: Knowing Your Environment

“What trees are good to plant?”

“What shrubs are good in shade?”

“Why do I have moss in my lawn?”

These are all questions I as well as other professionals hear on a consistent basis.  The answer is simple yet perhaps not obvious.  That is because it is heavily dependent on your objectives and your environment.  If you start with asking yourself the question, “What do I want to accomplish?” and combine that with “What are my limitations?”, you will be off to a great start in decision making.

I will focus primarily on the limitations or “Environment” aspect, because chances are only you know the answer to the first question.  I will also specify these limitations to the Northeastern United States, specifically Connecticut, as this is where I reside and work.

Climate:  In general, the climate in CT has four seasons; Spring, Summer, Fall, & Winter.  This is obvious, but what they bring may not be so.  Springs in CT are generally damp/humid and cool.  Humid is the more important factor as humidity brings about fungal issues with plants.  Foliar fungi is common in CT and if you do not choose plants suitable for this environment routine annual fungicide applications will become part of your routine.  Among the most common fungal problems are Rust Disease, Scab, Leaf Spot, and Anthracnose.  There are fungal problems with roots, but this is generally a result of soil conditions.  Summers can be hot and drought is certainly a concern.  Deep watering and a good soil profile will help get your trees, shrubs, and turfgrass through the drier times.  Fall is generally the best time to regain root growth lost during the drier season.  Winter can be cold, so when choosing plants choose plants hardy enough for this zone or be prepared otherwise to protect them from freezing temperatures.

Soil:  Soil types can be amended, but this can be costly.  The best time to improve soil is during construction or renovation, but thanks to technology, amendments can be made even around established trees without causing damage to roots.

Sunlight:  Some plants need full sun to thrive, some are shade tolerant but do well in sun, and some need a certain amount of shade to thrive.  Knowing your sunlight requirements and amount of sunlight you have are important to success.

Physical limitations:  Some trees and shrubs can get very big.  Put these in a space where they need to stay small and you’ve got a lot of work to do and often.  Pay more attention to growth rates rather than mature size.  If a plant is not growing,its dying.  Trees and shrubs, even grass does not grow to a cetain size and just stop.  They will eventually need to be maintained.  Frequency and cost can be reduced by choosing slower growing and/or more pruning friendly plants.  Some examples of spatial limitations are property lines, overhead wires, space around foundatios, patios, gardens, etc.

Insects:  Most insect problems with plants are secondary, meaning there is a pre-existing condition which allows the insect access to the plant.  Some insects will attack healthy trees such as Hemlock Wooly Adelgid and Emerald Ash Borer.  Avoiding their host plants and finding alternative plants can help reduce future treatment costs.

One last thing to think about is not only creating a beautiful landscape, but creating one which functions well AND provides you with energy and water savings.  With some foresight you CAN create a landscape which will look beautiful yet require minimal maintenance.

Good Luck! – Kevin

Soil Ecology: A Healthier Yard

There is an old saying, or perhaps its new.  “If your not testing, your guessing.”  Our landscapes are far more dynamic than we have ever really known, until now.  One of the most important things one can do to properly manage their landscape is to periodically test their soil.  Without testing it, who really knows what is going on.  Not only that, we are not far from testing being a mandatory part of management.

Farmers and growers test their soil often because it effects big money decisions on soil remediation.  One way or another, if you are not testing your soil, you are throwing your money away.  There are several different places to have your soil tested, such as your local Agricultural Experiment Station or Extension Service (i.e. UConn Extension ).

Testing will reveal such things as soil pH, organic matter, soil type, and nutrient content.  Maintaining  the proper levels of these is important because if the system is not balanced, plant growth and/or crop production will not be optimal, plant defenses will be weaker leaving them more succeptible to disease, insects, or even drought conditions.  Once you know what the results of the test are, only then can you really start to make informed decisions about your lawn, trees, and shrubs.

The key thing to realize, as your third grade science teacher will tell you is that the soil is “ALIVE”, meaning it is full of beneficial bacteria, myccorhizal fungi, earthworms, as well as things we are still unaware of.  All of these things play a critical role in keeping your plants healthy, but if the soil is imbalanced these things start to disappear.

Fortunately, a local reputable arborist, or turf grass specialist can assist you with testing properly and how to interpret the results.  If you’re a DIYourselfer, I am sure there is a YouTube video on it somewhere.

Generally, soil pH is too low.  It can be raised with dolomitic limestone.  Thats what the true pros use as it is more stable and long lasting than other “quick” limes.  Organic matter should almost always be considered, especially with trees and shrubs.  Wood mulch is superior to other types of “mulches” ( stone, rubber) as it is organic, meaning comes from something living, and helps to retain soil moisture.  As it breaks down, it turns to humus, (not hummus), which contains nutrients for trees and shrubs and grass.  Organic matter also has buffering capabilities, meaning it can help to retain other nutrients and release them as necessary and “hold up” pollutants from leaching until those pollutants break down into a safer form, therefor acting as a filter to protect our groundwater resources.

Much of this may sound technical or too complex, but once you get into it, you will likely find it is relatively simple and makes a lot of sense.  Of course, we are always here to help, whether it is providing the services to keep your landscape healthy and thriving, or just for good advice.

Winter Dessication

For anyone reading this blog….. it is a common, particularly in broadleaf evergreens to experience winter “burn”.  The reason for this is temperature extremes.  When we have warmer temperatures like in the week of 1-13 to 1-20, plants tend to begin sapflow again as during the growing season.  This in turn leaves them more tender and transpiring water.  When temperatures drop again, this leaves the plants succeptable to winter injury.  Think of it as kind of a “frostbite” as the plant is more exposed and vulnerable to cold conditions at this point.  An application of an anti-dessicant can be done during the warm weather to help protect plant tissues for when the temperatures drop again.  These products are available at your neighborhood agricultural supply stores.

Winter: Time to plan for Spring

As the holidays wrap up and a new year begins, winter gives us more time to reflect on the previous year as well as prepare for the new one.  Unless we are not prepared for winter to begin with.  Winter can often be typical or as we’ve seen in New England the past two years anthing but.  Whether it was constant snow or just one ill timed dumping of it, Mother Nature can and has quickly halted and diverted our plans.

There is only so much you can do to prepare for these occurences, but with regards to trees there may be a lot more than you might think.  Trees and shrubs that are properly maintained through pruning and plant health care generally are more resilient and bounce back considerably better than ones that are stressed and overgrown.  Combining proper pruning with good soil management can and will provide your trees shrubs and even turf with stronger roots and crowns.  This in turn gives plants more vitality and defenses against disease and stronger structure to bear heavier wind or snow/ice loads.

Winter is a great time to repair the damaged canopies of trees and shrubs in preparation for spring growth.  As for turf care, it is a good time to recall what issues if any were affecting your yard the previous year and strategize a plan for correcting these issues, so that plan can be implemented without delay come spring.

We of course are always happy to help!

Most Common Tree Problems

Cultural

Most of the problems that occur in landscapes today are as a result of poor planning, or improper installation of plants. Many plants are either planted too deeply or in poor soil, which does not allow for proper establishment. Often times, the burlap or even wire basket is left on the root ball during planting. These critical errors may not become evident for many years, but when it does remediation is often expensive and many times unsuccessful. Also, plants that are not able to become established have to work harder to stay alive. This results in a loss of vigor, and in turn reduces their ability to fight off insects and diseases. Poor planning and execution of installation can dramatically increase maintenance costs and reduce aesthetic value for the life of the plant.

Girdling Roots

When the soil around a tree is too compact for roots to penetrate, roots often grow in a circular pattern around the trunk. As these roots grow in diameter, they strangle the trunk resulting in decreased vascular circulation, therefore strangling the tree. Though usually not evident until years after planting, they are a result of installing pot bound plants, or not removing the burlap and/or wire basket during planting. Many people may tell you that the burlap is biodegradable and not to worry about it. This is ill advise because it may take years to biodegrade, and by then tree roots have already started a poor growth pattern, which is extremely difficult to correct.

Secondary Pests

There are many insects and diseases that usually do not become a problem, unless a tree or plant is already stressed. A tree’s inability to either outgrow damage caused by feeding, or prevent fungal or bacterial invasion is often a result in loss of vigor due to many possible factors that lead to nutrient deficiency and lack of water. Among these secondary pests are wood boring beetles such as Bronze Birch Borer and IPS Beetles, root rot fungi such as Armillaria, and canker diseases such as Nectria Canker.

Caterpillars

Caterpillars can weaken many trees and shrubs, increasing the chance of a secondary infestation. Some of the most virulent are Gypsy Moth, Forest and Eastern Tent Caterpillars, Sawfly Caterpillars, and Fall Webworm. Winter moth has become a problem in the Boston Area, and could soon become a serious pest in Connecticut.
Borers

Borers are attracted to unhealthy trees, burrowing in and laying eggs inside the trunk. The best defense against borers is to keep your trees healthy and unstressed. Proper irrigation is critical, especially during periods of drought.

Hemlock Woolly Adelgid

One of the most common pests, these insects can cause the death of a tree if left untreated. They leave behind a telltale white wax and target primarily older trees. There are many effective treatments including dormant and horticultural oil sprays and systemic treatment. Also Canadian Hemlocks tend to be more resistant than Carolina Hemlocks.

Scale Insects

These insects are problematic on both hardwoods and conifers. They may be evident on the undersides of leaves and needles, such as Elongate Hemlock Scale, or on branches and twigs, such as Lecanium and Oystershell Scales. Timing of treatment is especially critical with these insects.

Anthracnose Disease

This fungal disease affects deciduous and flowering trees. Especially prominent on Flowering Dogwood and Sycamore, it is evident by purplish spotting on foliage in spring and summer. Severe cases will result in premature leaf drop as early as late June/July, and can predispose trees to secondary pests. Anthracnose is also common on many species of Maple and White Oak.

Winter Injury

Even during mild winters, evergreens can lose moisture and not be able to replenish it. Thus, make sure your evergreens have sufficient soil moisture, and ask about anti-transpirants for winter protection.

Poor Structure

Aside from biological health, structure is a serious concern in many trees. Poor structure is often a result of genetics. Trees that have opposite bud sets are more susceptible to structural issues. Such trees as maples, lindens, and pears have very crowded limbs and co–dominant stems.

Plant Health Care

Plants and trees need a healthy environment to thrive, just like humans do.

Plant Health Care (PHC) in its broadest terms is a holistic approach to keeping your entire landscape healthy, lush and beautiful, using the most environmentally-friendly practices possible.

Individual Treatment

Each property should have its own plant health care program based on its environmental makeup which includes existing plants and diseases, insects and diseases transferred from implants and animals, soil composition and erosion, pedestrian and vehicular traffic in the area, construction, climate, sun, wind, drainage patterns and much more.

Tree Care Tips

Spring is a good time for transplanting. Fall is a good time for planting. When transplanting, many roots are often lost. The spring allows foliar growth to help support damaged roots, and allow for establishment before summer. When trees go into dormancy in the fall, they store most of their energy in the root system. It is a great time to encourage root growth and establishment. Contrarily, it is not wise to dig plants from the ground in the fall, because root loss is often too severe for the plant to store enough energy to survive the winter. Trees that have been dug in or before the spring have adequate time to restore lost roots for fall planting. The root growth benefits of cool fall weather should be considered as a compliment to an already sufficient root system, and not as a supplement for a lack thereof.

To avoid malnutrition, be sure to give your trees an adequate amount of micronutrients, such as magnesium sulfate, limestone, gypsum, iron, and zinc. However, trees need very limited amounts of these compounds, and an overabundance can be harmful. When it comes to fertilization, more is not necessarily better. Slow release fertilizers tend have less chance to “burn“ plants and help to eliminate leaching. Have a certified arborist advise you on the correct amounts of each you should provide.

Borer insects are very hard to anticipate or eliminate. The best defense is simply maintaining your tree’s general health in order to avoid these infestations, and treating trees quickly if infestation does occur.

Plants need a specific amount of water. Over watering or poor drainage can cause root rot in your trees. On the other hand, excessive drainage can starve plants of water and nutrients creating drought stress. Be sure that the correct plant is in the correct site. Plants that require a lot of water may not do well along high drainage areas such as retaining walls. Watering for woody shrubs and trees should be once or twice a week and heavy for established plants. Light and frequent irrigation works well for shallow rooted plants such as grass and ground covers, but is not effective for trees and shrubs.

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Arborist License # S-4234|Registered Pesticide Application Business B-2861|Home Improvement Contractor License #0631566