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Backyard trees need care and attention from the experts

  • Arborist Bob Aldrich of Warner Tree explains the process of trimming a black locust tree at an Easthampton home Tuesday, April 23, 2013.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    Arborist Bob Aldrich of Warner Tree explains the process of trimming a black locust tree at an Easthampton home Tuesday, April 23, 2013.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • Arborist Bob Aldrich of Warner Tree explains the process of trimming a black locust tree at an Easthampton home Tuesday, April 23, 2013.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    Arborist Bob Aldrich of Warner Tree explains the process of trimming a black locust tree at an Easthampton home Tuesday, April 23, 2013.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • Ross Kahle of Warner Tree piles cut limbs from a black locust that he and Ryan Derry, above, trimmed at an Easthampton home Tuesday, April 23, 2013.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    Ross Kahle of Warner Tree piles cut limbs from a black locust that he and Ryan Derry, above, trimmed at an Easthampton home Tuesday, April 23, 2013.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • Ryan Derry of Warner Tree trims a black locust tree in the back yard of an Easthampton home Tuesday, April 23, 2013.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    Ryan Derry of Warner Tree trims a black locust tree in the back yard of an Easthampton home Tuesday, April 23, 2013.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • Ross Kahle of Warner Tree prepares to shred limbs from a black locust tree that Ryan Derry, in lift bucket, trimmed at an Easthampton home Tuesday, April 23, 2013.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    Ross Kahle of Warner Tree prepares to shred limbs from a black locust tree that Ryan Derry, in lift bucket, trimmed at an Easthampton home Tuesday, April 23, 2013.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • Ryan Derry of Warner Tree makes a preliminary cut on a branch of a black locust tree his crew was working on at an Easthampton home Tuesday, April 23, 2013.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    Ryan Derry of Warner Tree makes a preliminary cut on a branch of a black locust tree his crew was working on at an Easthampton home Tuesday, April 23, 2013.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • Ryan Derry of Warner Tree makes a preliminary cut on a black locust limb that has been tethered, above right, so that it can be lowered safely to the ground.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    Ryan Derry of Warner Tree makes a preliminary cut on a black locust limb that has been tethered, above right, so that it can be lowered safely to the ground.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • Ross Kahle of Warner Tree guides a freshly cut limb, hanging on one end by a tether above, safely away from a black locust tree his crew was working on at an Easthampton home Tuesday, April 23, 2013.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    Ross Kahle of Warner Tree guides a freshly cut limb, hanging on one end by a tether above, safely away from a black locust tree his crew was working on at an Easthampton home Tuesday, April 23, 2013.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • Branches of an American Elm lay on the lawn at 43 Old Main St. in Deerfield, Thursday, after being pruned for risk reduction by certified arborist Jeff Lacoy and Collin Burt.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    Branches of an American Elm lay on the lawn at 43 Old Main St. in Deerfield, Thursday, after being pruned for risk reduction by certified arborist Jeff Lacoy and Collin Burt.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Certified arborist Jeff Lacoy prunes an American Elm for risk reduction, Thursday, at 43 Old Main St. in Deerfield.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    Certified arborist Jeff Lacoy prunes an American Elm for risk reduction, Thursday, at 43 Old Main St. in Deerfield.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Certified arborist Jeff Lacoy prunes an American Elm for risk reduction, Thursday, at 43 Old Main St. in Deerfield.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    Certified arborist Jeff Lacoy prunes an American Elm for risk reduction, Thursday, at 43 Old Main St. in Deerfield.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Certified arborists Jeff Lacoy and Collin Burt prune an American Elm for risk reduction, Thursday, at 43 Old Main St. in Deerfield.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    Certified arborists Jeff Lacoy and Collin Burt prune an American Elm for risk reduction, Thursday, at 43 Old Main St. in Deerfield.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Arborist Bob Aldrich of Warner Tree explains the process of trimming a black locust tree at an Easthampton home Tuesday, April 23, 2013.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • Arborist Bob Aldrich of Warner Tree explains the process of trimming a black locust tree at an Easthampton home Tuesday, April 23, 2013.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • Ross Kahle of Warner Tree piles cut limbs from a black locust that he and Ryan Derry, above, trimmed at an Easthampton home Tuesday, April 23, 2013.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • Ryan Derry of Warner Tree trims a black locust tree in the back yard of an Easthampton home Tuesday, April 23, 2013.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • Ross Kahle of Warner Tree prepares to shred limbs from a black locust tree that Ryan Derry, in lift bucket, trimmed at an Easthampton home Tuesday, April 23, 2013.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • Ryan Derry of Warner Tree makes a preliminary cut on a branch of a black locust tree his crew was working on at an Easthampton home Tuesday, April 23, 2013.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • Ryan Derry of Warner Tree makes a preliminary cut on a black locust limb that has been tethered, above right, so that it can be lowered safely to the ground.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • Ross Kahle of Warner Tree guides a freshly cut limb, hanging on one end by a tether above, safely away from a black locust tree his crew was working on at an Easthampton home Tuesday, April 23, 2013.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • Branches of an American Elm lay on the lawn at 43 Old Main St. in Deerfield, Thursday, after being pruned for risk reduction by certified arborist Jeff Lacoy and Collin Burt.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY
  • Certified arborist Jeff Lacoy prunes an American Elm for risk reduction, Thursday, at 43 Old Main St. in Deerfield.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY
  • Certified arborist Jeff Lacoy prunes an American Elm for risk reduction, Thursday, at 43 Old Main St. in Deerfield.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY
  • Certified arborists Jeff Lacoy and Collin Burt prune an American Elm for risk reduction, Thursday, at 43 Old Main St. in Deerfield.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

After a staff member at the Emily Dickinson Museum noticed that the historic white oak tree — believed to have been planted by the Dickinsons themselves — was beginning to split in half where a crack had formed between the two main branches, arborists from Shumway & Sons Tree & Landscaping installed support cables to hold the tree together.

“That tree was a goner if we hadn’t gotten there,” said Bill Littlefield, certified arborist and tree division manager for Shumway & Sons, which has offices in Amherst and Northampton.

Later that year, the October 2011 snowstorm caused damage that tree care companies are still doing work to correct, Valley arborists say. The Dickinson tree, however, made it through without severe damage.

“Because it had support cables installed in it, because we had it pruned properly, that tree made it through just fine,” said Earle Shumway, owner of Shumway & Sons. To reduce the weight on either side of the tree, the crew also pruned, or removed branches, from each of the two major limbs.

The arborists wonder if the Dickinson tree will last another couple of hundred years.

“The tree is very healthy,” Littlefield said. “Usually, what does a tree in is not old age, but just lack of timely care.”

With the spring weather finally arriving, homeowners are more frequently noticing signs of damage, decay and potential breakage on the trees in their own yards, starting off the busy season for tree care services. While many homeowners can recognize signs of a failing or dangerous tree, a professional arborist is often called to confirm whether a tree should be taken down or if it can be saved.

As well as splitting, signs of a failing tree include disfigurement of the trunk, such as a swollen area, areas of loose or missing bark, branches that no longer grow buds, and uprooting, Valley arborists say. Uprooting can be spotted when the tree is leaning and there is a mound of soil at the roots, said Cory Lester, certified arborist and owner of Lyndon Tree Care & Landscaping in Northampton. In this case, the tree is losing its anchorage and should be removed immediately, Lester said.

Given the choice, most professionals perceive removal as the last resort — and would caution homeowners against businesses that seem too quick to take a tree down.

“If we could make the call on what we do, we would rather prune trees and take care of them than to have to be the mortician, but you have to do both if you’re in the business,” Shumway said.

When Joanna Creelman moved into her current residence in historic Deerfield in 1984, she knew the over-100-foot-tall American elm in her yard would require regular maintenance.

“We took one look at the tree and said, ‘oh my gosh, who takes care of that?’” she said.

C.L. Frank & Company, a company of professional arborists based in Northampton, has been evaluating the trees in her yard almost every year since she purchased the home. In 2012, one year when she did not have an evaluation, a branch from one of her trees fell on the roof in the summer.

“So, I definitely knew better this year,” Creelman said, as Kevin Wedemeyer, a consulting arborist from C.L. Frank & Company looked at the trees on her property and certified arborists Collin Burt and Jeff Lacoy pruned the American elm. Lacoy was inside an aerial lift using a handsaw to remove branches. He also had access to a pole saw for hard-to-reach branches. Burt climbed to beyond where the aerial lift could reach, and was also using a handsaw. Along with pruning, the tree is also injected with fungicide every few years to ward off Dutch elm disease.

“It seems we don’t remove a lot of dead trees, because people get to them before they get to that point,” said Wedemeyer, who holds certifications from the International Society of Arboriculture and the Massachusetts Arborists Association. If a big limb were to be infected with disease, it would need to be removed before the infection spread to the base of the tree, he said.

Early detection of any damage or decay is very important, Shumway said, and for this reason, he encourages homeowners who have trees in their yards to ask an arborist to walk around and take a look. This initial evaluation is usually free, and the arborist will provide an estimated cost on any work that can be done.

“The arborist will explain everything about each tree, identify the tree and what its leaves are, and if everything’s fine, you get an all clear and you put your mind to rest,” Shumway said. “If there’s something that has to be done, then that recommendation would be made.”

Brian Kane, the Massachusetts Arborists Association professor of commercial arboriculture at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, cautions homeowners against taking down trees prematurely through companies that specialize only in removals.

“Just because your neighbor’s tree fell down doesn’t mean all the trees in your property are likely to fail or fall apart,” Kane said. That’s why, he said, homeowners should make sure they call certified arborists to consult on whether to take trees down. If not trained in the use of a chain saw and felling techniques, homeowners should not try removing a tree on their own, he said.

Shumway said that when clients call and ask for the price of tree removals, it’s not possible to give an accurate estimate.

“You can’t really give a price over the phone, and you can’t diagnose a tree’s problems over the phone,” he said.

The size of the tree, Kane said, should not be the measure of whether or not to call an arborist. Kane likens calling an arborist for tree care to calling a doctor when ill or an accountant during tax season.

“One of the biggest challenges we face,” Kane said, is that “many or if not most consumers don’t view arboriculture as a profession in the same way they view doctors, lawyers and teachers.”

While some trees, such as the American elm in Creelman’s yard, require obvious professional upkeep, some homeowners might try to take on tasks involving more moderately sized trees on their own. However, arborists advise against homeowners taking on any pruning jobs that require a ladder.

Littlefield recalls a client who came to the door on crutches, having broken an ankle after a branch came down and knocked the ladder out from under him while he was pruning a maple tree from a ladder.

“If they have to get their feet off the ground, they should call an arborist,” Littlefield said.

As well as using an aerial lift instead of a ladder — and being trained to climb trees — arborists are able to control the direction the branches fall using a pulley on a sling, and knotting the lowering line around each limb being removed.

Peter King of Easthampton called Warner Tree, a tree care business in Northampton, to evaluate and remove a branch that was growing directly over his neighbors’ garage. King had been wary of the branch for a while because of its position, and recently noticed a split where it came out of the trunk.

“It’s peace of mind,” King said. He said he had worried each time it snowed that the branch would fall on the garage. “It was kind of obvious something was going to happen sooner or later.”

Arborists Ryan Derry and Ross Kahle take down the smaller branches growing off the large limb before removing it. Derry is elevated by an aerial lift, also called a bucket truck or cherry picker.

King, who in the past has removed several trees from his property and credits his ability to use a chain saw to growing up on a farm in Montgomery, said he knew this particular job would require a professional.

“I could cut it down,” King said. “But it would end up falling on their garage.”

Bob Aldrich, owner of Warner Tree, said the branch might have begun to weaken as a result of the October 2011 storm.

“It was such a freak storm,” Aldrich said. “A lot of the trees still had foliage on them, so they collected a lot more of that snow.”

It’s good to remove branches such as this one before the leaves come out and add weight, Aldrich said. He compares the effect leaves have on a branch to a ship’s sail: When a sail is tattered and has holes, it’s like a branch without leaves and the wind is going to pass through it relatively easily. Once the leaves grow in, the branch is like a full sail and will catch much more of the wind, he said.

Because of the danger involved in tree work, Valley arborists urge homeowners to ask for a certificate of insurance from the businesses they hire.

“You don’t have to know a whole lot other than those two things: Get someone in to consult with, and then when you hire someone, get a certificate of insurance that’s in writing,” Shumway said.

Shumway & Sons Tree & Landscaping, Lyndon Tree Care & Landscaping, C.L. Frank & Company, and Warner Tree are all insured.

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