Trees an Asset or Liability

Trees: An Asset or a Liability on Your Property?
Scott Jamieson
Bartlett Tree Experts
Trees are a valued asset within many community associations and yet, if they aren’t properly cared for, they can become a serious liability. Although lawns are mowed frequently during the growing season, trees are often overlooked for maintenance until a serious issue develops. Standing tall and seemingly strong, trees might appear as though they don’t need any proactive care. However, there are three important reasons to pay attention to: your trees-safety, sustainability/the environment and property values. Safety As trees age, they can become a safety issue. Large, mature trees should be inspected on an annual basis by a certified arborist. An arborist with this credential from the International Society of Arboriculture has the experience and educational background necessary to make the best recommendations. One of the greatest risks to people and property are large trees that have decay or defects that can predispose them to failure. Large trees can inflict serious damage and injuries when they fail structurally. Large trees should be inspected annually by an arborist, who can spot potential safety concerns, which may not be readily visible to the untrained eye. For example, an otherwise healthy looking tree may be completely hollow and ready to fall. To spot outward signs of potential decay, look for mushrooms in the grass under trees or on the trunks of trees. Decay, however, is often not easily recognized except for those with experience. Associations and individual property owners have a responsibility to remove dangerous trees. In tragic cases where trees have fallen on people resulting in serious injury and even death, the victims or their families have filed lawsuits against property owners and management companies. Trees can also create a safety hazard by dropping dangerous deadwood to the ground below. Deadwood should be pruned out of trees on a regular basis to reduce the risk for
pedestrians. During high winds, live branches also can be weakened, especially those with tenuous attachments to the trunk. This can cause them to break off when least expected. Pruning trees on a regular basis also reduces the risk of storm damage to the tree itself. Most species of trees can be pruned anytime of the year, but winter is often the best time because the trees are dormant and the tree’s structure is easier to see. Trees that are pruned properly allow wind to pass through the canopy, reducing the chance they will come crashing down during and after a storm. Trees, however, should never be “topped” in an attempt to make them safe. Topping is the misguided practice of cutting off the top portion of larger trees to reduce their size to make them safer. This is not only unsightly, it is unhealthy for the tree. Large stubs exposed to sun and rain will be prone to decay, which can cause large limbs to become structurally unsound. The stress on a tree can leave it more vulnerable to disease and
insect infestation. In addition, topping often causes the tree to respond by pushing out vigorous sprouts that over time become limbs. These limbs have weak attachments to the tree and will often break off in strong wind. The benefits of topping are mythical. Any tree service provider who suggests topping should be avoided. Trees should be pruned away from the roofline and sides of the building to prevent damage to gutters, roofs and siding. Also, overgrown trees can begin to block lighting from outdoor fixtures, which can be a safety issue. In addition, trees can obscure traffic signs and impede motorists’ views of oncoming traffic. Proper pruning can not only help the health of a tree but also help improve safety to property and residents. Sustainability and the Environment Healthy mature trees can help you reach your community’s goals of achieving environmental sustainability. Being “green” is not just another fad, but is a trend that is changing the way people conduct business and their lives. Not only are healthy, mature trees attractive, but they also have incredible environmental benefits. The shade from large trees helps keep nearby buildings cool in the summer, and their branches help block cold winter winds. They also reduce soil erosion and water runoff, filter pollutants from storm water, absorb air pollutants, reduce
noise and provide a habitat for wildlife. In addition, shade trees can have a calming influence for residents. They relieve mental fatigue and help restore concentration, a University of Illinois study has found. They also encourage residents to go outdoors, walk the neighborhood and re-connect. Well-maintained trees also are a signal to residents and potential homebuyers that the community values the environment. Properly maintained trees improve the livability and the environment of a property. Property Value: Finally, trees add financial value to a property. Real estate agents know that
homebuyers prefer homes with mature trees to similar homes with fewer or smaller trees. Properly maintained trees can increase property values by 10 or 20 percent, according to a University of Washington study. Shade trees should be maintained as part of a regular program. Document the number, location and condition of existing trees through the implementation of an inventory. A good inventory will also generate a management plan for the trees on the property. Such a plan not only helps promote regular care, but the inventory records also can be useful in assessing insurance damages after a major storm. When construction projects are in the design stage, valuable trees should be preserved. Tree roots can spread over large areas, often far beyond the branch spread, and can be damaged during construction. An arborist can suggest ways to protect trees during a building project. The key is to involve the arborist early rather than after the damage has occurred. Viewing trees as an economic asset helps justify tree care investments. The cost of caring for trees is relatively minor compared to the value that well-maintained trees can add. Investing in tree care is not as expensive as it may seem at first. Like most services, you get what you pay for. Be wary of the contractor whose bid is significantly
lower than all the other proposals. Seek referrals from other communities to find a good arborist and utilize a tree care company that is accredited by the Tree Care Industry Association. This accreditation means that the business has passed a vigorous review process by the industry’s trade association. An accredited company has met the highest industry standards for safety, quality, client service and financial stability. Finally, tree care should not be lumped into a landscaping contract. Although trees are part of the landscape, their care does require the professionalism and expertise of an arborist. Mature trees increase a community’s curb appeal and often are a key reason why residents choose to live there. Although those trees may have been there for decades, it’s important to take care of them. A grand shade tree can provide many benefits to a community, but it also can present a significant liability. Properly caring for the trees on your site is an important aspect of improving the safety, economic value and environmental sustainability of the community.

Scott Jamieson is a certified arborist and Vice President of Bartlett Tree Experts, a
national tree preservation firm and CAI member. For more information, visit
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About Bartlett Tree Experts
The F.A. Bartlett Tree Expert Company was founded in 1907 by Francis A. Bartlett and
is the world’s leading scientific tree and shrub care company. The organization’s current
chairman, Robert A. Bartlett Jr., represents the third generation of Bartlett family
management. Bartlett has locations in 26 U.S. states, Canada, Ireland and Great
Britain. Services include pruning, pest and disease management, fertilization and soil
management, cabling and bracing, tree lightning protection systems and tree/stump
removal. Its corporate offices are located in Stamford, Connecticut.
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