By Dirk Aaron

Bell County Extension Agent

I am often amazed at the number of people who contact citizens to provide tree care during and often after a major event, such as flooding. This is common when roofers come to town after a hail storm. Watch out and ask are they "ambulance chasers?"

The best advice I can give is first use a tree expert who has been in business for a time and is trained and equipped as an ISA certified arborist.

An arborist is a specialist in the care of individual trees. Arborists are knowledgeable about the needs of trees and are trained and equipped to provide proper care. Hiring an arborist is a decision that should not be taken lightly. Proper tree care is an investment that can lead to substantial returns. Well-cared-for trees are attractive and can add considerable value to your property. Poorly maintained trees can be a significant liability. Pruning or removing trees, especially large trees, can be dangerous work. Tree work should be done only by those trained and equipped to work safely in trees.

An arborist can determine the type of pruning necessary to maintain or improve the health, appearance and safety of trees. They have many pruning techniques that can accomplish this from eliminating, removing, changing, reshaping and retraining trees.

Although tree removal is a last resort, there are circumstances when it is necessary. An arborist can help decide whether a tree should be removed. Arborists have the skills and equipment to safely and efficiently remove trees.

The recent storms and floods in Salado, Killeen, Nolanville and Belton caused limbs or entire trees to fall, which landed on other trees, homes, other structures and cars. The weight of storm-damaged trees is great, and they can be dangerous to remove or trim. That is why an arborist can assist in performing the job in a safe manner, while reducing further risk of damage to property.

Many arborists also provide a variety of other tree care services, including plant health care and disease management and prevention. This concept of preventive maintenance keeps trees in good health, which will help the tree better defend itself against insects, disease and site problems.

The question then is how do I know they are qualified? What are the rules of thumb when selecting an arborist?

First, I would do is 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. Check and see if they are an ISA arborist certification. Ask for proof of insurance because a reputable arborist carries personal and property damage insurance as well as workers' compensation insurance.

Ask for references to find out where the company has done work similar to the work you are requesting. Get more than one estimate and while you may have to pay for the estimates and it will take more time, it will be worth the investment. Don't always accept the low bid. You should examine the credentials and the written specifications of the firms that submitted bids and determine the best combination of price, work to be done, skill, and professionalism to protect your substantial investment.

Be wary of individuals who go door to door and offer bargains for performing tree work. Most reputable companies are too busy to solicit work this way.

Then, get it in writing. Most reputable arborists have their clients sign a contract. Read before you sign anything and don't forget to ask, "Who will be responsible for cleanup?"

Upcoming ag events

Jan. 25: Bell County Crops & Livestock Clinic

$15 - Bell County Expo Center in Belton.

Call (254) 933-5305 to pre-register.

Jan. 26: Professional Grounds Conference

$25 - Bell County Expo Center

Call Williamson County Office at (254) 943-3300 to register.

Feb. 5-12: Bell County Youth Fair

Bell County Expo Center

Feb. 8-9: B.I.G.

$15 - Extraco Event Center, Waco

Call (254) 933-5305 to register.

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