Proper Customer Service Tactics In Tree Care

Proper Customer Service Tactics

What separates the good tree care companies from the great ones? The good ones from the average or mediocre ones? Two things: quality workmanship and outstanding customer service. Attending training classes, achieving International Society of Arboriculture or state certification, participation in manufacturer briefings and hands-on learning from veteran arborists are all important ways to learn and improve skills that guide superior tree work.

Retention and overall satisfaction are the key objectives in terms of customer service. Unless you’re in a very small market, there’s usually at least one or two other tree care companies that you’re competing with. Every tactic that can be utilized is one more tool to take advantage of in the quest to be a profitable operation.

In most cases, customer service is a part of the overall picture. But is it as thorough as it could be? Probably not. Inevitably, there are steps omitted and communication pieces overlooked that could make the difference between a happy customer and one that pays the bill, but next time looks elsewhere. Improving customer service is a two-fold process — considering actions taken before, during and after the job and looking for holes or deficiencies overall.

Pointing out specific areas of concern are important before the job and during followup conversations.

Before the job

Do you answer the phone by saying “Joe’s Tree Service,” and leave the customer to figure out if they’re talking to a live person or a recording?

Do you explain your training, years of experience and credentials? Not only is this information reassuring to clients, it also provides an opportunity to plant the seeds of obtaining possible future work from this client and owners of adjacent properties.

Do you take the time to gather as much information about the tree, site, previous treatments from other services and adjacent properties and trees? The answers to these questions produces information power, which translates into good service before the sale.

Do you visit the site, take notes and write up a plan of work with estimated prices associated with each step? This is important for you, but even more important from a customer service standpoint; communicating all of this clearly to the customer is crucial. This takes time and patience, but in the end, greatly reduces confusion on their part. Always finish the prework discussion with, “Do you have any other questions for me?” Clarity up front with tree work specifics and prices for each is worth its weight in gold.

Do you work out a scheduled time for the work to be done? It’s important to be sure that the customer knows the specific time and date so that they’re not surprised by your presence on the site; after all, showing up with a big truck, ropes, chain saws, a chipper and a four-person work crew is a bit unnerving for most. The customer might need time to arrange for a new place to park their car or to move the dog from the front yard to the back.

From the customer’s perspective, the job itself can sometimes be unsettling as well. Tree work is usually noisy; big tree limbs fall to the ground, chain saws are running, branches are shredded into mulch or a big mound of soil and wood is left after a removal. After all, tree work is not something that most people have done every day. Sometimes customers just need to be reassured that everything is going to be OK and that their property will look and function better after the work is done.

During the job

Admittedly, doing the work that has been agreed upon should be the focus on the day the crew arrives. But that doesn’t mean customer service completely goes out the window that day(s). Certainly, a pleasant greeting doesn’t take long and can go a long way to reassure the customer that they’ve made the right decision to do business with your company.

Clear communication before the job is key to good customer service.

When making the greeting, be sure take the advice of famed corporate trainer Dale Carnegie and use the customer’s name. Carnegie’s assertion was that “the sweetest sound that a person will hear is their own name.” Follow the greeting with a brief reminder of what’s going to happen to the tree – even if it’s a removal. Avoiding confusion and underscoring expectations is good customer service. Along those lines, if a change in the work plan is necessary, the greeting is a good time to let the client know. Telling the customer after the fact that you had to remove about a third more of the crown than had originally planned leaves all sorts of doubt in their mind. They’ll be wondering if you made a mistake in your initial analysis or if you’re going to charge them more now that the work has changed.

After the job

So, the work is done and it’s time to move on to the next customer, right? For most of the crew, yes. But for the foreman or someone in the company familiar with the specifics of the job, taking 10 minutes to call or send an email the next day is well worth the time. In my work as a university educator, I’ve made it a point to contact the client after a tree assessment just to see how things went. Since I’m not the one doing the actual tree work, I usually call or email about three weeks after my consultation to allow time for action on their part. My goal is to find out if they took some sort of action that I recommended – hired a tree service, marked it on their calendar to have the tree treated at the proper time the following year or any another question they may have. I’ve found that at least 80 percent of my clients were genuinely impressed that I took the time to call them back and check in on their situation.

Greeting the client with a smile and receptive posture goes a long way toward establishing a positive and profitable relationship.

Again, who else does this? If other tree care companies in your market don’t follow up, it sets you apart. If they do, it keeps you on par with them and prevents them from obtaining a competitive advantage.

Another way to reach out on a regular basis is to put customers on your newsletter list, either electronic or hardcopy. Hearing from you frequently during the year communicates your level of interest. It also keeps your name in front of them so that the likelihood of them contacting you for the next tree job increases.

Looking for holes

As well as focusing on service before, during and after the work, actions taken in other aspects of tree care service can pay off big-time. The following are common mistakes made by tree care companies. Each can be made to greater or lesser degrees, but all are important considerations:

  • Inaccurate diagnosis: It’s hard to correct insect problems when the cause is really a fungal pathogen.
  • Poorly designed and executed websites: If a website requires a visitor to spend 10 minutes clicking on this and that before they get to where they want to go, they’ll go somewhere else. Regular updates are crucial; each time something changes, such as price or new or discontinued services, the website needs to reflect the current offerings.
  • Slow follow-up to customer inquiries: How long does it really take to call someone back?
  • Bland or outright [rude] employees: Who wants to do business with a grouch?
  • Poor practices: Improper cuts, overspray, debris on the lawn after a takedown, product containers left behind – these types of details are just plain bad tree work.
  • Damage to property: Scratches on parked cars, cut sprinkler lines, beat up shrubs, chain saw grease on the lawn, etc. – all of these and more should never happen.
  • Lack of capacity to resolve customer concerns: If the customer complaints, how is it handled? Is there an honest evaluation of the work, or is it ignored hoping that they grow weary and leave you alone? Is the customer always right, or not in some cases?

As you examine your customer service practices as a company, you’ll undoubtedly find that a few improvements can be made. Taking steps to make changes will improve relationships with customers and increase profitability of the company.

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Dressing To Stay Warm And Productive In Winter

From Boston to Bismarck, this has been a bitter winter. According to The Weather Channel, the arctic blast that hit much of the nation in late December and early January was a record-setter for places as far-ranging as Bangor, Maine, and Duluth, Minnesota. Buffalo smashed records for cold and so did Green Bay and Lincoln, Nebraska. Another thing all of these frigid locations had in common: there were tree care crews out working in spite of the cold.

Those with desk jobs may not appreciate how important clothing choices can be during the cold winter months. To be safe and productive when working outside in freezing temperatures, the right apparel is essential, says arborist Tait Sala, co-founder of Cohen & Master Tree and Shrub Services in Toronto, Canada, where they’re used to the cold. “And you’ve got to get it right from the beginning of the day. If you wait until you’re already cold, it’s too late,” Sala says.

The company covers winter clothing in its safety meetings as the cold weather approaches, as well as in its policies and procedures. “The right clothing almost becomes part of your PPE, because you need to stay warm,” he says. “We talk about things such as not having cotton as your base layer, but instead using wicking fabrics.” Because, believe it or not, there’s just as much sweating that happens in the winter as the summer, even if it’s not as obvious. For that reason, Sala says crews are also reminded to keep drinking fluids throughout the day in the winter, just as they do on a hot summer day.

Sala believes in wearing a lot of layers, with the goal being to remove layers before sweating becomes excessive and putting layers back on once you cool down.

Here is the Pfanner aborist jacket. Photo:

“Generally, beefing up on layers — things that are breathable — is important,” says Nick Bonner, general manager with, which sells a wide range of clothing designed for cold-weather use. “The more that you combine thin layers, the better off you are going to be,” he says. This allows for warmth without bulk.

And bulk can be nearly as big an enemy as the cold, because it increases fatigue,” says Sala. “When you’re working, you’re fighting that cold the whole time and you’re also wearing a lot more layers, and that can make the work more challenging.” Everything is just more cumbersome, he points out. “And working around equipment, like a chipper or an aerial lift, you need to be sure that your clothing isn’t getting snagged on moving parts. So there are extra considerations as far as safety when you’ve got all that extra clothing on,” Sala says.

Cohen & Master provides certain winter outerwear for its employees (as well as boxes of hand- and foot-warmer packs), believing that the investment will pay off with more comfortable, productive workers. “We issue certain winter-specific clothing, such as a winter jacket and winter mitts,” Sala says. The specialized leather mittens group three fingers together, but have separate thumb and throttle finger sections to aid in running a chainsaw. “And they have a wool liner, which is good because it’s the hands that often suffer — we’re always having to grab things on the job, like a pole pruner or rigging equipment,” he says. “And we also suggest that each crew member takes out multiple pairs of gloves and mittens to help get you through the day, because your hands are often getting wet and that way you’re still productive at 3 o’clock.”

Feet are another key source of concern in the winter. Sala says that steel-toed boots can be particularly problematic in the winter, because that steel protection represents a frozen piece of metal right next to the toes. “Those kinds of boots can be extremely cold,” he says. Fortunately, Sala notes, there are now a number of winter-specific boots that use a composite material instead of steel for protection.

“One additional key piece of equipment, we’ve found, is some sort of balaclava under your hard hat. That way your head is fully covered, along with the back of your neck and part of your face,” Sala says.’s Bonner says that popular items when the cold weather hits include winter gloves that are waterproof and/or insulated. “We sell quite a few of the Notch Arctic ArborLast gloves — those are very popular. As well as the Atlas ThermaFit gloves,” he says. As far as socks, Darn Tough winter socks are big sellers. Arborwear Double Thick hoodies have long been a common choice for tree care workers in the winter, he notes. “And we sell quite a few outwear-style jackets from Arborwear and Pfanner,” Bonner says. Unlike some brands that make clothing for general use, these types of items are specifically made for arborists to work in, he explains. “You’re going to get a higher level of mobility.”

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TCIA Announces New President: Industry News Roundup

Want to keep up with the latest news in arboriculture? Follow us on Facebook and Twitter to lookout for the next quick recap of recent happenings in the green industry.

Tree Care Industry Association Announces New President & CEO
The Board of Directors of the Tree Care Industry Association (TCIA) has announced that David White, CAE, will join the association as its new president and CEO. The change of leadership follows the recently announced retirement of current president & CEO, Mark Garvin. White is currently the executive director of the Northeast Public Power Association, a non-profit trade association that represents consumer-owned utilities in New England. He previously served as the director of external affairs and strategy for the Massachusetts Dental Society. White has a bachelor’s degree in political science from Northeastern University, as well as an MBA and Juris Doctor degree from Suffolk University. White will be joining TCIA on March 19. He will be attending the association’s Winter Management Conference in February to meet with members. Garvin plans to retire in April after 21 years at TCIA and 11 years as President and CEO. He joined TCIA in 1996 as the editor of Tree Care Industry Magazine.

Arborjet Announces Updates to PHOSPHO-jet Label
Arborjet Inc. has announced new updates to the PHOSPHO-jet label, expanding the versatility of this systemic fungicide and plant resistance activator for the suppression of various plant diseases. The PHOSPHO-jet label has been updated to allow for additional application methods such as bark sprays, foliar sprays, drenches, root dips and new instructions for use in hydroponic systems. The formulation of the product remains the same.

John Deere at World of Concrete
John Deere Construction & Forestry with three new announcements made at World of Concrete:

  • John Deere is introducing its new 344L compact wheel loader, combining speed, precision and exceptional lift capacity for year-round productivity.
  • Rounding out the full line of G-Series skid steers/compact track loaders from John Deere, the new G-Series mid-frame machines deliver increased performance and higher pushing power.
  • Today, John Deere is launching its second annual Small Machines. Big Impact. contest, where entrants are encouraged to share how they would make a positive difference in their communities if they were to win a new John Deere G-Series machine.

TCIA Announces 2018 Partners Advancing Commercial Tree Care
The Tree Care Industry Association (TCIA) has announced the 2018 Partners Advancing Commercial Tree Care (PACT) partners, including four new supporters. PACT is a strategic partnership between TCIA and industry companies who are invested in the future of the tree care industry. The full list of PACT Partners can be found on the TCIA website.

Bartlett Tree Experts Promotes Arborists to Leadership Roles
Bartlett Tree Experts recently promoted Local Managers Jeffery Kish and Erik Johnson to the role of Assistant Division Manager.  Kish and Johnson will now be providing oversight of regional operations in the Company’s Southeast and Metropolitan East Divisions respectively. Jeffery Kish previously served as the Local Manager of Bartlett’s office in Raleigh, North Carolina. He will now assist Vice President and Division Manager Stephen Johnston in management of eleven offices in the Southeast, including two newly opened locations in southern Florida. In the Metropolitan East Division, Erik Johnson has relocated to Connecticut where he will be working closely with Vice President and Division Manager David McMaster to manage eight offices.

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Boost That Special Employee-Customer Connection

Boost That Special Employee-Customer Connection

Half of all customers (50 percent) say they are satisfied with a given brand, but only 38 percent of customers say they are engaged with one, according to a Gallup survey. That’s because it takes a lot more to engage a customer than to satisfy one.

What engages a customer more than anything? Engaged employees. Unfortunately, Gallup found that engagement for service workers is among the lowest of any job category and has even declined as other categories have increased. This creates a red flag for companies like tree care businesses that entrust their customers to the care of service workers every day. When front-line employees are not engaged in their work, they stand little chance of engaging their customers.

Gallup found the best companies don’t leave critical moments between employees and customers to chance. During interactions with companies, customers are doing more than assessing your services; they are subconsciously forming an emotional perception of how they feel about the encounter and how the company’s employees treat them. Gallup says these perceptions dictate not only how much the customer will spend but also whether they will recommend your company to others.

Gallup experts recommend going beyond training workers to properly complete tasks by doing the following:

1. Hire for talent. Look beyond skill, education and experience to find the right blend of employees with innate customer service qualities that fit your company.

2. Build on strengths. People who use their strengths every day are six times more likely to be engaged in their jobs, Gallup reports. Assess your employees’ strengths and put training in place to enhance those qualities.

3. Create an engaging workplace. Unfortunately, only 30 percent of American employees are engaged in their jobs. Active disengagement is no small threat to American businesses; Gallup estimates it costs the U.S. between $450 billion and $550 billion per year.

4. Maximize teams with great managers. Gallup found that managers account for at least 70 percent of the variance in employee engagement scores across businesses. Unfortunately, company owners lack the natural talent to manage or they fail to choose candidates with the right talent for management jobs 82 percent of the time. This can cause damage to a company’s bottom line and performance. Great managers can help motivate employees, accelerate their development and unleash their productivity to engage the emotions of the customers they serve at every touchpoint.

5. Harness the power of the employee- customer encounter. When companies successfully engage their customers and employees, they experience a 240 percent boost in performance-related business outcomes compared to companies that have neither engaged employees nor customers.

So while you can optimize only employee engagement or customer engagement and experience some short-term growth, sustaining long-term growth means optimizing the special connection between both.

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in Turf Magazine.

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Tree Spotlight: Pinus strobus

Pinus strobus

TRADE NAME: Eastern white pine; Northern white pine

FAMILY: Pinaceae

GENERAL DISTRIBUTION: Distributed in Canada from Newfoundland west to extreme southeastern Manitoba and south to the Great Lake states; along the Atlantic seaboard to New Jersey; and in the Appalachian Mountains to northern Georgia. Also occurs in Iowa, western Kentucky, western Tennessee and Delaware.

WOOD VALUE: Is a valuable timber species in the eastern U.S. and Canada. The soft wood is of medium strength, easily worked and stains and finishes well. Is used for doors, moldings, trim, siding, paneling, cabinet work and furniture.

OTHER USES: Is cultivated by plant nurseries as an ornamental tree for planting in gardens and parks. With regular shearing, it can also be trained as a hedge. Some cultivars are used in bonsai.


  • Is a large, native, evergreen conifer. It grows rapidly and in 40 years can be 60 feet tall and 8 to 10 inches in diameter at breast height (DBH).
  • Commonly reaches 200 years of age and may exceed 450 years.
  • In closed stands, boles are free of branches for over two-thirds of their length.
  • Needles are 2.5 to 5 inches long; the winged seeds are about 0.8 inches long.
  • The roots are widespread and moderately deep, without a distinct taproot.
  • Northeastern pine forests can support a rich community of breeding birds. Bald eagles build nests in living eastern white pine, usually at a main branch located below the crown top.
  • Specimens with broken tops provide valuable habitat for cavity-nesting wildlife.
  • Young black bear cubs use large specimens to climb to safety. In northeastern Minnesota, black bear mothers and cubs spend more than 95 percent of the time in April and May within 600 feet of either an eastern white pine or an eastern hemlock larger than 20 inches DBH.
  • Is intermediate in shade tolerance.
  • Leaves, or needles, are in fascicles (bundles) of five, or rarely three or four, with a deciduous sheath. They’re flexible, bluish-green, finely serrated, 2 to 5 inches long and persist for 18 months.
  • The cones are slender, 3.25 to 6.25 inches long, and 1.5 to 2 inches wide when open. They have scales with a rounded apex and slightly reflexed tip.
  • Cone production peaks every three to five years.

Management Considerations:

  • The two-cut shelterwood method is recommended for maximizing its regeneration. The first cut removes 40 to 60 percent of the overstory and the final cut occurs five to 10 years later after seedlings are well established. Established individuals respond well to release.
  • Two of its more damaging pests are the white pine weevil and white pine blister rust. Is infrequently planted in the north-central region because of the inevitable damage caused by the rust.
  • Germination and emergence are not greatly affected by soil acidity caused by acid rain.

Source: U.S. Forest Service (FS.Fed.US), USDA

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Tree Spotlight: Tilia americana

Tilia americana

TRADE NAME: American basswood, American linden

FAMILY: Malvaceae

GENERAL DISTRIBUTION: Ranges in Canada from southwestern New Brunswick and New England west in Quebec and Ontario to the southeast corner of Manitoba; south through eastern North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas to northeastern Oklahoma; east to northern Arkansas, Tennessee, western North Carolina; northeast to New Jersey.

WOOD VALUE: Has relatively soft wood that works well and is valued for hand carving. The inner bark, or bast, can be used as a source of fiber for making rope or for weaving such items as baskets and mats. The wood is pale brown in color and sometimes nearly white or faintly tinged with red. It rots easily and old trees have many cavities that serve as nesting places for birds. Is economically important for timber, especially in the Great Lakes states.

OTHER USES: Its flowers produce an abundance of nectar from which choice honey is made. Is also frequently planted along city streets in eastern states.


  • Is a native deciduous tree. Mature heights range from 75 to 130 feet with diameter ranges from 36 to 48 inches.
  • The bark of mature trees is up to 1 inch thick at the base of the trunk. Is furrowed into narrow, flat-topped firm ridges with characteristic horizontal cracks.
  • Young trees have smooth, thin bark.
  • The fruit is dry, hard, indehiscent, subglobose to short-oblong, usually 0.2 to 0.28 inches in diameter and bears one or two seeds.
  • The root system is composed largely of lateral roots; it doesn’t usually form a taproot. Root depths are usually shallow relative to associated species’ root depths.
  • The tree crown is usually broad and rounded, but in close stands is more columnar.
  • The branches are small, weak and often pendulous.
  • Is moderately tolerant of shade. It achieves its highest densities in sugar maple-American basswood stands that are late successional to climax forests.
  • High densities of white-tailed deer can result in seedling height growth reduction, or even complete loss from stands due to overbrowsing.
  • On old-field sites, is often subject to damage from mice and voles girdling the stems. Rabbits also feed heavily on seedlings and small saplings. Seed predators include mice, squirrels and chipmunks.
  • Insect pests include the linden borer (which damages weak, very young or overmature trees) and the following defoliators: linden looper, American basswood leaf miner, spring cankerworm, fall cankerworm, white-masked tussock moth, gypsy moth and forest tent caterpillar. None of these pests are considered a serious threat.
  • Is easily decayed by fungi and butt rot is an important factor in loss of merchantable timber.
  • Is susceptible to many herbicides, but is resistant to 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T.

Source: U.S. Forest Service (FS.Fed.US), USDA

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Wood Waste Considerations

Wood Waste Considerations

It’s a question of mindset, really — is all wood debris generated on tree care jobs a waste or resource? Do you dispose of it or take advantage of it? Of course, every situation is different and sometimes the philosophy is driven by financial implications involved. “In part, it’s a game of how we can get rid of the material as quickly as possible, as cheaply as possible,” says Ben Heslep, owner of Old Town Tree and Landscaping in Winchester, Virginia. But, like many tree care professionals, when given the choice, Heslep tries to make sure that wood waste is repurposed somehow. “I like to find a better spot than just taking it to a dump where it will sit forever,” he emphasizes. “We’re not unique, but I think we’re passionate about trying to find uses for the waste instead of just getting rid of it.”

“We’re getting rid of our waste and it’s being repurposed.”

One growing outlet for Old Town Tree and Landscaping has come through an increased demand for loads of natural wood chips from people who are knowledgeable about horticulture. “[The chips] are better for the soil…once that wood decomposes, it turns back into soil. So instead of buying mulch, they’re taking wood chips and using it for their gardens,” Heslep explains. While not necessarily profitable, knowing who might want chips often provides a relatively convenient and productive way to get rid of the material. Heslep tries to ensure the gardeners get good chips, rather than a lot of stringy material. But he cautions that, depending on the tree species they came from, the chips need to sit for a time to reduce acid content.

“[We look for] ash in particular because it splits well. Also, red oak, white oak, even cherry and maple — if we get good rounds of these, I’ll take them back to my lot and store them, and we’ll split and sell them by the cord as firewood,” says Ben Heslep, owner of Old Town Tree and Landscaping in Winchester, Virginia.

Image Courtesy Of Old Town Tree and Landscaping

In some cases, Heslep’s able to drop off larger wood to those who want it for firewood. “A lot of people will call us and ask for just rounds of wood. If it’s close by, we’ll just give them away — we won’t split it for them, but we’ll drop it off,” says Heslep. The property owner just needs to mark a spot where they want the wood dropped. “I like doing that; it’s a symbiotic relationship, where we’re getting rid of our waste and it’s being repurposed.”

When it comes to split firewood, there’s at least a little bit of a profit to be made — Heslep looks for good hardwood. “[We look for] ash in particular because it splits well. Also, red oak, white oak, even cherry and maple — if we get good rounds of these, I’ll take them back to my lot and store them. Then, we’ll split and sell them by the cord as firewood,” Heslep explains. Old Town Tree and Landscaping will deliver and stack the wood for customers, for a fee.

When these outlets aren’t available for lower-grade wood waste, Heslep’s last resort it to bring it to the local wood dump. That doesn’t mean it’s landfilled and forgotten, though. “They reprocess everything in big drum grinders; they grind everything up a couple of times, turn it into mulch, dye it and resell it,” he says. “And some of the chips are sold to power plants for clean energy.” That local wood dump used to be free, but now charges for drop-offs. “But it’s not that bad,” Heslep explains. “My dump bill averages about $150. It’s not a big deal and it helps ensure the longevity of our dumping spot.”

The highest purpose for the best wood is lumber, says Heslep. “If it’s a nice walnut or a veneer-grade poplar or something like that, I have a few woodworkers who come get the logs,” says Heslep. Even if it’s the type of log that might be worth money, he’s happy to give them away so that the wood will go to some better use, like for cabinets or furniture, as long as the woodworker can come and pick it up without damaging the yard where it came from. “So, it has to be the right scenario where they can get a big tractor, loader, trailer or grapple truck onto my site without doing more damage,” he adds.

Heslep has developed a relationship with one particular company, Bent River Woodworks, that picks up quite a bit of wood from him. “They make beautiful, stuff. It’s cool to scroll through their website and think that some of the wood I gave them might have produced a table or piece of furniture,” he says, noting that this relationship is also symbiotic. It means that Heslep doesn’t incur the effort or expense of hauling away or somehow processing large logs. “They get a free piece of wood and it saves us a little time and energy,” he states.

“I’ve been surprised to learn how many small, custom sawmill operations there are just here in the Chicago area.”

This is exactly the type of relationship building that Rich Christianson is hoping to achieve in the Chicago area. He’s the communications director of the Illinois Wood Utilization Team, a group funded by the U.S Forest Service and others with a mission to “encourage the harvesting and use of wood from urban and community trees felled in Illinois.”

Illinois has recently joined forces with neighboring Michigan, Wisconsin and Missouri to form the Urban Wood Network, which is also geared toward the utilization of trees from urban forests. “While this isn’t a new concept, it’s one that I think is starting to get more legs,” says Christianson. And tree care companies, he adds, “are on the front lines — they often know of desirable trees that are coming down for whatever reason, whether it’s emerald ash borer, storm damage or utility work — so we’re trying to get them more involved.”

The hope is that tree care contractors will tip off a sawyer in their local area who could, for example, bring out a portable mill to process that tree. Or a woodworker interested in purchasing the log. Not every arborist or tree care company is interested in ensuring that urban wood is put to good use whenever possible, “but a lot of them do,” says Christianson, whose group tries to spread the message. “It’s a lot of missionary work,” he adds.

The first step is just letting those in the industry know that there are many woodworkers, furniture builders and others out there who want good urban wood. “I’ve been surprised myself to learn how many small, custom sawmill operations there are just here in the Chicago area,” says Christianson. Once there’s a recognition that there are outlets for the wood, the next step is to help build relationships, so the tree care company knows who to call in a particular area when they have a certain kind of tree with potential.

Christianson feels that the market for urban wood is growing. He cites not only demand from niche woodworkers wanting to market products made from urban wood, but also national companies such as Starbucks, which has built the interior or more than 100 stores using urban wood. People are increasingly seeing not only the value from saving a tree from going into the landfill, but that there’s sometimes a financial value in the wood itself, he notes. The tree care company might be able to profit by selling certain logs to a woodworker who can make money from selling a product made from reclaimed or urban wood.

“We sell it at the end of the year as seasoned firewood, so we get a little extra money.”

At Woodworks Tree Service in New York’s Hudson Valley, owner Michael Powell is always looking for ways to make the best — and more efficient — use of wood debris. His clients often want wood chips. But if they don’t, he tries to maintain a list of others in the area who would take them. “The last resort is that we have to pay to dump them, so we try to avoid that if we can,” he explains.

Much of the company’s larger wood (too big to fit through the chipper) is brought back to the shop for processing into firewood. As other tree care pros also point out, Powell says there’s a lot of labor and trucking/handling involved with firewood, so it isn’t extremely profitable. But it does generate some revenue. “We sell it at the end of the year as seasoned firewood, so we get a little extra money. And we don’t have to pay to get rid of it, which is a good side-benefit,” he states.

Recently, Woodworks Tree Service has begun doing more milling of large logs. “That’s been tricky, because you have to transport the log, which requires heavy machines. Or you’re bringing the mill to the job site. So, it’s a little harder to get that product produced. But if we can, we’ll do it,” Powell explains. The company recently purchased a jig for a chainsaw that allows it to saw lumber without an actual mill. “That’s been really nice. We don’t have to bring the log anywhere, we can do it right there on the site,” Powell says. The boards are then brought back and sold as lumber. “Lumber is really the top echelon of the continued-use wood product chain,” he says. Powell jokes that he’s not yet large enough to compete with Home Depot on the lumber front, “but it produces some really nice material for artisanal woodworking and things like that.” He’s had success in showcasing and marketing the lumber via social media avenues like Instagram and Facebook.

Old Town Tree and Landscaping, in Winchester, Virginia, delivers and stacks firewood for customers, for a fee.

“You have to find places where you can dump it, you have to find people who will take it.”

Dusty Burmeister, owner of Meister Tree Care in Dixon, Illinois, says that he didn’t have all the answers to dealing with wood waste when he started his company, and still doesn’t, but little by little he’s found productive outlets for it. “You have to find places where you can dump it, you have to find people who will take it,” he says. “We still sometimes go into areas where we don’t have good contacts for reusing the product, but over the last 10 years we’ve made a lot of progress.”

When it comes to chips, Meister Tree Care’s customer list includes many homeowners who want them for mulching around landscapes. The company also has developed a market for firewood. “People are heating with wood a little bit more because of the cost of utilities. Also, people just seem to love a fire,” says Burmeister. “And we’ve made connections with a few people in our area that have sawmills for some of our clear and straight wood that can be turned into board; they get used for anything from framing to fences to artistic décor, benches and tables — we’ve made a ton of things with the wood. And some people have made some really fine furniture out of our walnut, oak and cherry.” He points out that it’s sometimes the wood that’s really disfigured or “featured” wood that ends up being the most beautiful: “When you open some of that stuff up, it just has so much character.”

Burmeister says his mind is constantly running out on the job, pondering different ways that wood material might be used. He’d love to find a way to produce a wood fuel from the chips that could be used in small-scale applications like homes, rather than just in large commercial applications. “It’s a resource,” says Burmeister, “so to just landfill it or burn it frivolously isn’t the best use of that resource.”

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7 Steps To Follow When Inspecting For Tree Decay

Inspecting for Tree Decay

By itself, tree decay can be a major concern, especially if found in a soft-wooded tree species such as silver maple or poplar. Fortunately, some species are quite resistant and if other stressors aren’t present in a significant capacity, it may not be as worrisome as other problems such as poor location, planting errors, overfertilization or drought. A step-by-step approach works best when inspecting trees for decay:

  1. Use your eyes. Look for rot pockets, oozing, weeping, conks and different colors on the bark and branches.
  2. Walk the property extensively and identify possible targets. Interview the property owner and neighbors to get a handle on the frequency of use on the site.
  3. Use your experience. Certain tree species in certain locations are likely to develop decay. Locate tree parts that could fall on a target.
  4. Look closer using probing tools: golf club, rebar or irrigation flag. Use a rubber mallet or the butt of a hatchet to tap the tree trunk where you suspect decay is present.
  5. If necessary, use invasive tools such as a resistograph or core sampler. Reserve these for important tree specimens. For example, inspecting an oak at the entrance to the “Harvard Oaks” subdivision or a memorial tree. If the property owner has plenty of money to spend on inspection, consider the use of a sonic tomograph, a device that can illustrate the inside of the tree without cutting into it.
  6. Consider the potential for each tree defect to cause failure in conjunction with the proximity of an important target.
  7. Put it all together in the form of a relative hazard assessment, combining the presence and extent of the decay with other defects.

Editor’s note: These steps were taken from an article by John Fech in the November 2012 issue of Tree Services.

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Understanding Internal Tree Functions

Look At What You Can't See

When looking at your customers’ trees, what do you see? Leaves. Branches. A trunk with bark. Flowers and fruit. Sometimes, surface roots, especially if you’re looking at a baldcypress or silver maple.

But, what don’t you see?

On average, you don’t see at least half of the tree. What’s missing from the visual? In most cases, lots of tree tissue isn’t visible — sapwood, heartwood, most of the roots, cambium, soft inner tissues of unopened flowers and leaf buds — yet, just as important as the structures that you can see.

Why focus on the unseen? Several reasons. First, new tree workers usually don’t know much about the inner tree tissues and certainly not how they function and why they’re critical to overall tree health. Secondly, your customers usually know even less than new tree workers. Third, it’s key to the success of an arborist’s business to explain their significance to both groups and perhaps get a refresher, as well.

Red stain indicating movement in the normally unseen sapwood.

Name the parts

A highlight of one of the educational activities I’m involved with targets fifth-grade students, teaching them about the importance of trees in urban landscapes and natural areas. One of the core concepts is the parts of a tree and their function. I really enjoy quizzing the kids on this, holding up wood slices and pointing to various tree tissues to encourage discussion.

I use the discussion to point out the importance of bark and what’s underneath … using the opportunity to tell them not to run a lawn mower into the base of a tree, telling them to stop when they start driving over mulch; before, not after they hit the trunk. Most of the fifth graders can relate to this concept, as this seems to be the time that kids start mowing lawns these days.

Because it’s hard for fifth graders to name too many parts, I usually limit it to just four: bark, cambium, sapwood and heartwood. In many cases, curiosity gets the better of them, and they start asking about other structures, tree planting and even uses for the wood when trees die.

I’ve found after 30 years of doing this, one thing has stayed the same: No matter what part of the city/country the kids are from, how much money their parents make, how many other family members they have or any other demographic, the more their teacher works with them and the more mutual respect the student and teacher have for one another, the better the learning and more behaved the students is. So, hats off to good teachers out there!

Moving parts

Some tree parts move and some don’t. The time-honored tradition of carving initials in a tree when it’s young and expecting them to move upwards over time as the tree grows taller is an apt description of those that don’t.

So, which ones do? Actually, most of them, both visible and nonvisible. Many tree parts move over time, such as roots and shoots growing longer and thicker.

The effects of storm damage often reveals the sight of heartwood, which is usually out of sight.

This is one of the relatable elements to my presentation to the fifth graders. When I’m pointing to the wood slice, inevitably, one of the kids gets a pondering look on his or her face and then enthusiastically raises their hand and asks how old the tree is and, if I don’t know, offers to help count the number of annual rings to find out.

Thankfully, Mother Nature made most tree parts with flexibility to move in rain and windstorms. It’s amazing to watch the canopy of a tree whip and bend back and forth as the forces of nature rail upon it.

Of course, in some cases, the force of the storm exceeds the capacity of the tree to recover, and roots become loosened and branches break off.

Short of a root observation chamber, washed away soils provide the best insights into “the other half” of a tree’s parts.

While these occurrences may seem tragic, they can also be a profit center for tree care companies to inspect for loosened roots, leaning potential and hangers in the canopy. As well, damage repair can often be provided for clients, with appropriate associated charges.

In addition to the tree parts moving themselves, water and nutrients move in the tree – in soft tissues – from roots to shoots, flowers and fruit. As with the inner tissues themselves, it’s pretty hard to see the movement, unless you happen to cut a branch off and the sap flow is strong at that time of year. In order to illustrate the movement of injectable fertilizers and pesticides, university researchers and product manufacturers sometimes hold workshops and demonstrations to show how the equipment and products work. In order to make the invisible visible, colored dye is mixed with water to replicate movement of the actual injectable product and tracks the movement inside a tree from initial injection to the likely endpoint.

Most products tend to be translocated more thoroughly on warm, dry days in spring when evapotranspiration is high and soil moisture is adequate.

When can you see them?

Seeing the dye stain in the sapwood and cambium above the injection point is great on the day of the demonstration, but what other times or locations are the nonvisible tree parts available to inspect? The most common and accessible is the aforementioned opportunity of the aftermath of a storm. In extreme cases, all inner tissues are exposed, including the inner workings of the buttress roots and root hairs. When restorative work is being accomplished, and you have a little time to rest, direct your attention to identifying various inner tree parts.

Four less-than-obvious opportunities are when smoking meat (my personal favorite), cutting firewood, during woodworking and after a baseball bat is broken. Maybe you didn’t think of it this way, as the primary focus of these activities and objects are for other purposes, but anytime you get the chance to see the unseeable, it should be taken advantage of. Splitting logs open and cutting them to size is a big help in getting the glimpse inside. If working with another person, challenge each other to identify various parts and the relative strength associated with each one.

Another less-than-common opportunity to look at tree parts that normally aren’t seen is in root observation chambers at research field days. Actually, there are more such facilities than you might think. I first became acquainted with the concept in graduate school with observation of turfgrass roots after various herbicide, plant growth regulator or fertilizer treatments were applied. If you want to know the full effect of these products on plants, it’s wise to look at all parts, over time, without disturbing them. One of the more famous tree root observation chambers is in Houghton, Michigan, at a U.S. Forest Service facility. A variety of root expansion and development experiments are conducted at this laboratory and others in Florida, Minnesota, Vermont, Maryland, Canada and Europe.

Finally, the unfortunate occurrences of erosion and trenching exposes roots and the base of trees to those willing to pay a little attention. With a little patience and an inquisitive mind, information about what these structures look like in the real world and how they compare to the drawings in textbooks can be of present and future use.

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What’s New: January 2018

Wood rings

Earth & Turf Attachments
Mini Skid-Steer Attachment
Earth & Turf Attachments recently introduced a snow plow blade to fit on various mini skid-steer loaders. This 60-inch, manual-angle blade is designed to fit on the common mini skid-steer mounts for the following brands: Toro Dingo, Ramrod, Boxer and others that utilize the same mounting system, Earth & Turf says. The blade has a 19-inch high moldboard, full spring trip, bolt-on, reversible cutting edge and its full-blade trip can be locked out for light grading or moving loose materials, according to the company.
Sterling Rope Company
Arborist Rope
Sterling Rope Company developed a new approach to rope construction using mixed materials, the company says. With a polyester sheath and nylon core, the Sterling Rope WorkPro offers a balanced elongation in the core and sheath so the two share the load evenly, according to the company. This makes the WorkPro series stronger than other ropes of similar diameters, while retaining a small but important amount of elongation, Sterling Rope says. These kernmantle ropes are dual-certified to EN 1891 Type A and NFPA 1983. They also meet ANSI Z133 standards. The WorkPro series of static ropes are available in 0.375-, 0.4375- and 0.5-inch diameters. Each model comes in multiple colors and lengths.

Liquid Micronutrient
Arborjet recently announced the release of its Mn-jet Fe liquid micronutrient solution for trees, palms, shrubs and groundcovers. According to the company, Mn-jet Fe alleviates interveinal chlorosis. Interveinal chlorosis in plants is the result of micronutrient deficiencies, specifically iron and manganese. This is a common condition throughout the U.S. that affects a number of species including oak, sweetgum, birch, pine, maple and azaleas. Mn-jet Fe may be applied as formulated or diluted with water. Its liquid formulation mixes easily into solution and can be applied through both micro and macroinfusion equipment, or as a foliar spray for shrubs and groundcovers, the company says. Mn-jet Fe is available in 1-liter containers and in case quantities. One liter treats 20 trees (10-inch DBH) at the low rate.



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