When it comes to your trees, don't go out on a limb
Each year, thousands of trees in the United States are damaged by storms, wind, lightning and ice, causing millions of dollars in property damage. Much of this could be avoided if homeowners regularly had their trees pruned and evaluated by a qualified tree service company. "Sometimes there are things you can't do for a dying tree, but what we can do is mitigate some of the dangers of a dying tree, such as crown reduction, which lessens the wind resistance and end weight," said Jerry Upcavage, a certified arborist and owner of Tampa-based Independent Tree Service, www.independenttreeservice.com. "We might be able to buy a few more years through crown reduction or other thinning techniques. That's why using a certified arborist can help a homeowner. His main job is to do the proper diagnosis and prune the minimal amount out of the tree to mitigate the problems."Well-cared-for trees are attractive and can add up to 20 percent to your property value. Properly pruned trees are more likely to survive the strong summer storms and hurricanes that can slam the Tampa Bay area. Dead or dying trees can lead to personal injury or property damage, and that might not be limited to your own property or family. Poorly maintained trees that fall on parked cars or neighboring property - or injure others - pose a huge liability. Owners of "properly pruned trees fare much better than somebody who's never pruned their trees prior to the storms," Upcavage said. "It is as important to know what not to take out of a tree as what to take out. Overpruning can exacerbate a problem." Trees that get damaged in hurricanes tend to be thick, middle-aged but healthy laurel oaks, or young to middle-aged trees with dense canopies that have never been trimmed, Upcavage said. Trees that have suffered root loss also are vulnerable. You can identify potential problems early by learning what your tree should look like at its healthiest. Upcavage recommends a minimum clearance of 6 to 8 feet from the rooftop to the first line of foliage. If you stand under your tree and can see only flecks of sky through the canopy, it's too thick and needs to be pruned. If you stand back and see dead twigs on the tips of your canopy tops or on the tips of lateral branches, that's a sign of root decay. If the leaves are yellowish or a pale green, that could indicate nutrient deficiencies. Pruning or removing trees, especially large trees, can be dangerous work and should only be done by those with the proper training and safety equipment. When hiring a tree company, check for membership in professional organizations, such as the International Society of Arboriculture, the Tree Care Industry Association or the American Society of Consulting Arborists. Ask for a written work order and request a copy of the company's certificate of insurance. You could be held responsible for damages and injuries incurred by an uninsured contractor. Avoid tree companies that go door to door looking for work, especially after a storm hits, and do your research before hiring just any company. Anne and Larry Tellier of Oldsmar were walking their dog in their neighborhood when they saw a tree service contractor working on a neighbor's property and asked if he would be willing to remove a couple of dead trees from their property. The contractor said he could come later that day, but the Telliers had plans and wouldn't be home, so they agreed to write him a check in advance of the work. They never saw him again. "I called like five or six times, and each time he had some wonderful story about why he hadn't gotten over here yet," Anne Tellier said. "Then, he just quit answering the phone. "He seemed like a very nice gentleman. Of course, you don't run into a con artist who isn't nice. We learned an expensive lesson."
Angie Hicks is the founder of Angie's List, www.angieslist.com.