Heartwood Tree Care LLC – Tree Service, Tree Care, Tree Removal, Pruning, Tree Planting Caldwell, Nampa, Boise, Kuna, Eagle

Within the tree care industry, especially in the area of pruning, it is not uncommon to encounter a tension between the expectations of the customer and the perspective of the arborist. Sometimes “what the customer wants” conflicts with the arborist’s judgment about “what is best for the tree.” Some arborists might choose to resolve the tension by shutting off their better judgment as they proceed to endorse and execute pruning requests that will only hasten the tree’s demise. Other arborists might stick to their guns but have a difficult time strengthening the human connection that we all share. Neither the customer nor the arborist ought to be intimidated by such tensions. In most cases
a little communication is all that’s needed. The primary difficulty about these conversations is that the consequences of pruning are never immediately evident. If an arbitrary threshold is crossed in pruning, the tree won’t immediately die or become unsafe. But many people do not realize how easy it is to cause irreparable damage. A fifty year-old tree, a one hundred year-old tree, a two-hundred year-old tree cannot be purchased on Amazon. We’re talking about value that is not quantifiable in dollars and cents. The permanence and transcendence imparted by such a tree can unfortunately be misinterpreted as invincibility. On the contrary, mature trees are more limited and vulnerable to more harms than many of us realize. Learning to appreciate the limitations of trees may help tree owners understand where the arborist is coming from who resists their pruning whims.

Let’s think about how this tension might play out in a hypothetical tree pruning decision with Joe Homeowner.

“Hi, Joe! You said you have a tree in need of pruning?” “Yeah. Out back here. I like the tree, but it’s getting way too big, and there are two big branches that need to come off. This one is hanging over the house and this one over here is growing right over the RV pad that we’re putting in this year. It’s a great tree, but just getting a little out of hand. Let’s go ahead and trim it really hard so we won’t have to for a while.”

Notice, Joe has given his objectives. Fair enough. This tree is interfering with his space requirements. What he has perhaps not considered is the effect on the tree if the arborist proceeds to meet these objectives in the way he prescribes. He is not out to ruin his tree. He just wants to be responsible and practical. The objectives are totally acceptable. The assumed path to meeting those objectives is misguided. Now it is up to the arborist to help Joe clarify his objectives and either meet those in a different way or modify the objectives, or a combination of both.

Arborist: “So, you do like the tree, right? It is important to you? Yeah? You would be disappointed to lose it? Sure, makes sense. Yeah, it’s been fifty or sixty years in the making so it’s not going to be easy to replace. Since this tree is important to you, we need to start with ‘What is going to be best for the long- term success of this tree?’ Because we can’t just take this tree for granted. It seems invincible and unchanging, but it is more vulnerable to injury and harm than what many people realize. If we want this tree to last, we’ll have to be aware of its needs and limitations. For example, those limbs are not a dime a dozen. Completely removing both of those will take a serious toll on the health of the tree. With the one over your house, is your primary concern safety, or do you just not like the leaves dropping on your roof? If you’re willing to put up with the leaves, I can assure you that the danger to your house is very low. It has a strong attachment point. It might be good to reduce the length by a couple feet. This will decrease the leverage forces and slow down the growth a little bit, without being hard on it. Even from a safety standpoint alone, removing this branch will not be very helpful. It actually adds stability to the rest of the tree. If we cut it off completely, we not only sacrifice stability, we’ll also be losing energy production and inviting decay”

So the conversation might go. Obviously, if the tree is not valued for any net benefits, and there is no long-term goal of preservation, the conversation will take a different form, following the same principle. What we want to do is begin with the right approach. We want to weigh our objectives against the energy budget of the tree, and strategize how to meet those objectives at the lowest cost to the tree. Sometimes we must modify the objectives because the tree’s budget won’t allow what we’re asking. For example, Joe Homeowner might have to change the location of the RV pad. He might decide that preserving the tree in the long term is more valuable than moving forward with the RV pad plans. This decision will alter some of the original pruning objectives and thereby prioritize the long-term health of the tree. Or, if his primary objective with the limb over the house is not safety, but leaves on the roof, he might have to do some more thinking and modify his objectives as he considers the value of the tree, and the limitations he was previously unaware of. These decisions can be difficult for non-professionals to make because the effects of most pruning decisions are never immediate. The tree won’t suddenly “die” if we take off one too many branches, but its long-term well-being will be threatened, especially if such an exploitative approach is taken on a regular basis. If we start with a mechanical, short-sighted perspective, the long-term result is always going to be regrettable. Regrettably though, regret is rare, because in tree-time the effects of mal-treatment often will be far enough in the future, that the connection between mal-treatment and tree decline is not perceived by most people. Many folks are helplessly beholden to “some bug” or “some disease” that “mysteriously killed my tree” instead of appreciating the many insignificant management decisions that have gradually accumulated to an impossible drain on the tree’s energy budget.

Finally, everyone should realize that the tree care industry (like many industries) is guided by standards. An entire section of these standards covers pruning practices: the ANSI A300. A lot of ongoing scientific research and professional collaboration is represented in these standards, which is to say this industry is not guided by as much hearsay and private opinion as many people suppose. These standards are nationally recognized best practices, and applicable to “Any person or entity engaged in the management of trees, shrubs, palms, or other woody plants, including federal, state or local agencies, utilities, arborists, consultants, arboriculture or landscape firms, and managers or owners of property.” – ANSI A300 1.3

Competent arborists view these standards as more than just legalese, but as welcome guidance for best practices. A glance at a few relevant points in these standards will show that the above conversation with Joe Homeowner is anchored in these standards

4.1 One or more pruning objectives shall be specified (a comprehensive list of possible objectives follows in 4.2).
6.2 Pruning operations should remove no more living material than what is necessary to achieve specified objectives.
6.3 Species, size, age, condition, and site shall be considered when specifying the location and amount of live branches to be removed.