Stability and safety of the trees on your customer’s properties are just as important as the aesthetics that they provide. It’s up to you as a tree service provider to inform your clients of the status of their trees in terms of health and longevity as well as the immediate, short term needs that may be of immediate concern.
Defects are usually spotted through inspection by an arborist. Or sometimes during a customer call when the customer mentions that “My tree looks kinda funny, is that a problem?” However, those types of inquiries are usually reserved for older trees or ones in close proximity to their house, building or other important structure. In their defense, it’s unrealistic to expect any other routine. After all, it’s the rare individual that can spot a cavity in their tooth, let alone the need for a bridge. The dentist and/or dental hygienist is the professional that is responsible for noticing these concerns, similar to an arborist noticing serious maladies in trees.
To provide responsible tree care and provide for the bottom line, it’s good practice to implement a yearly inspection or better yet a continuous monitoring plan (as in dental care) and charge for it — the dentist does, so should you. Explain that yearly inspections will spot problems before they get too bad, and can usually be corrected or at least major damage to surrounding structures can be prevented.
Serious Tree Flaws
All tree flaws are serious, but some more so than others. Generally speaking, there are two groups of defects in trees, the serious and the concerning. Perhaps the most serious are cracks, leaners and decay.
Cracks, the physical separation of bark, sapwood and cambium, are troublesome in both a structural and water conductive sense. As well, the separation and opening in the outer tissues allows entrance of disease organisms and insects to the inner tissues, which is almost always a negative outcome in years to come.
Leaning trees are much like cracks, except that the separation has occurred underground instead of on the trunk. Leaners are trees whose roots have loosened and lost connection to the soil particles around them. If you spot a tree that is more than 15-20 degrees off vertical, consider it an immediate problem, only correctable with removal. A tree that is 5-10 degrees off vertical is one that is to be documented and monitored for greater lean in the future.
A caveat with leaning trees: Some leaners are simply stretching for the light. If there are trees with a building or other object nearby that block the tree from being fully exposed to sunlight, the canopy may have simply reoriented itself in that direction. This is a tree to be monitored, documented and the results communicated with the property owner.
Decay is the result of pathogenic fungi activity, working to soften tree tissues, causing loss in structural capacity. There are many specific pathogens such as white rot and brown rot, but all produce the same results. Decay is often hidden by intact bark, necessitating inspection by an experienced tree worker to spot it. Sounding, drilling and simple probing are techniques that can be helpful in this regard. In addition to the loss of integrity in the short term, the seriousness of the malady is that there is no way to lessen the effects in the long term, other than to notify the customer of the seriousness of the defect.
Concerning Tree Flaws
Included bark, co-dominant leaders and girdling roots are worrisome, but are usually not an immediate threat to tree failure — more so over time. All can lead to the greater, more immediately concerning problems described above, but are just as important to document and communicate to the client. Root plate issues, surface rooting, roots cut in utility repair, compacted soils, overwatering and other damaging influences are also of certain negative influence and should be noted in monitoring reports, especially when targets of importance are present.
Read more: Understanding Tree Defects