Hiring a Tree Care Company

According to the Unites States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Forest Service, trees have the power to increase property values, improve air quality, reduce household energy costs, improve water quality, and more. When trees are present in our everyday landscape it’s easy to forget just how significant they are to all of our lives. Trees of the right variety placed properly and cared for professionally provide enormous benefits and have significant economic, environmental and societal value.

Become an intelligent tree care consumer. And remember. without regular care, trees can quickly change from a valuable resource to a costly burden.

Q. What is an arborist?
Before even beginning your search, be aware that the credentials of someone calling themselves an arborist can vary widely. Don't just hire someone with a chain saw who knocks on your door! An arborist is a professional who cares for trees and other woody plants by pruning, fertilizing, monitoring for insects and diseases, consulting on tree related issues, and occasionally planting, transplanting and removing trees.

Beware of the fly-by-night "individuals" who call themselves arborists. "With hundreds and possibly thousands of dollars at stake, not to mention the integrity and appearance of your property and your personal safety, make sure that you take your time in deciding which company you should hire," warns Peter Gerstenberger, director of safety and education for TCIA. "Disreputable companies are renowned for ripping gutters off, breaking fences and bird baths, and even dropping trees on houses. Then they typically fold up and leave, never to be seen again," adds Gerstenberger.

Q. How do I find an arborist/tree care company?
Use TCIA’s zip code search to find a TCIA tree care member company in your area.  When you hire a TCIA-member tree care company, you are assured that the company you are hiring has access to the most recent information on tree care practices, and that they are insured and/or bonded to protect you and your valuable property. Verify additional professional affiliations the company might have, such as membership in International Society of Arboriculture (ISA).

You can also seek recommendations from neighbors, friends or business associates who you know have had professional tree care work done in the past and check the Better Business Bureau to find information about companies in your area. When reviewing companies, look for information about the company: number of years in business, professional affiliations, licenses, certification, etc.  Also check with your City Hall and see if your municipality requires licensing for arborists; many communities do.

You may also consider hiring a TCIA Accredited company. TCIA Accreditation is a voluntary program that credentials companies which meet stringent criteria for professionalism, employee training, state and federal safety regulations, business ethics and customer satisfaction. Under the process, businesses undergo an extensive review and a comprehensive audit of professional and business practices aimed at safeguarding consumers.

Accreditation is the only business practices and compliance program for tree care companies in America. Companies accredited by TCIA are required to provide documented proof in many areas that protect consumers. When you hire an accredited tree care company, you can rest assured that TCIA has checked for proper insurance, applicable business and pesticide licenses, and customer service that is reliable and ethical. Make an informed decision – choose a company with the TCIA Accreditation "seal of approval." Find an Accredited TCIA member company by company name, zip code, services or other criteria.

Q. What should I ask when I meet my arborist?
When meeting with your arborist for the first time, ask to see current certificates of liability and workers' compensation insurance, if applicable.
Ask for references, and check on the quality of their work.  Don't be rushed by a bargain, don't pay in advance, get estimates in writing and insist on a written work order. Get additional estimates or opinion of the needed work.  

Insist on a signed contract as to cost, dates when work is to be performed, and exactly what is to be done.  Ask about ANSI Standards. A professional arborist will be aware of the current safety, pruning, fertilizing, and cabling standards.

Insist that climbing spikes are used only if the tree is to be cut down; spikes damage the tree.

Q. What if I don’t want to hire a professional?
Care for your trees needs to be done by skilled, trained and insured professionals, both for the health and beauty of your trees and for your safety and financial wellbeing. 

For your safety, do not perform treework. Taken from published reports, TCIA maintains a monthly list of Accident Briefs that outlines the sad details of homeowners getting severely injured or killed when attempting their own tree work. If you are at all uncertain about what could happen by attempting your own tree work, contact a qualified tree care professional for help.

For your financial protection, hire a company that is professional. Studies published in the Journal of Arboriculture have demonstrated that it is actually cheaper to regularly prune trees rather than neglecting them, and cleaning up the resulting damage! And no matter when you’re hiring them, be aware that if the tree care company doesn’t have insurance or is not a legal company – you, the homeowner – could be held responsible as a contractor.

Bonus Tip: Break with tradition and shop in the off-season
Spring and summer are typically when our thoughts turn to the yard and the trees, but shopping for tree care in the winter offers several potential benefits:

  • Many reputable companies offer modest price discounts on winter work. They do this to provide employment to their loyal help and to improve their cash flow.
  • You can get the service when you need it. The best service providers typically have huge backlogs of work in the summer, but can respond to your needs more quickly in the off season.
  • Winter is a good time to look at and work on most trees. The tree architecture is highly visible, and there are no leaves to add to the cleanup time.