Hiring to Trim Trees? A How-to Guide

Michael Schroeder
Updated April 9, 2014
Ask service providers in advance what type of equipment they will use for tree trimming and inquire, too, about company protocol for cleaning up after a job. (Photo courtesy of Angie's List member Mark C. of Brandon, Miss.)

Follow these tips to find a tree service that will clip with care and leave you with dollars for the rest of your landscape.

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Maybe you want to remove that shifty branch stretched menacingly over your roof, or you’d like to rein in the woody eyesore that begs with each loud, leafy rustle for a makeover in your front yard.

Whatever the reason you decide to hire a tree service, make sure you find one that will clip with care and leave you with dollars for the rest of your landscape.

Don’t go out on a limb, but follow this expert advice to find an affordable, arboreal fix that doesn’t cut quality:

Branch out for recommendations

Has your neighbor, a friend or family member recently had tree trimming done? Don’t be shy about asking who provided the service.

Consider asking landscapers and garden stores, too, who they recommend, says Dave Stang, owner of Dave Stang’s Certified Tree Care in Cincinnati.

Look for specialization, not just a service provider who occasionally does tree trimming, and cross-check recommendations with Angie’s List.

Resist the “I was in your neighborhood” breeze

“A good quality company will never knock on doors to say that, ‘I’m in the area, do you need any work done?’ ” Stang says. He adds that it’s not uncommon for some inexperienced service providers to drum up business door-to-door, and advises against hiring.

“A reputable company does not have to solicit that way. They’ve got enough work. I can guarantee you, [a service provider knocking on doors is] going to do poor quality work," he says.

Band together with neighbors after a storm

Once you find a tree trimmer you trust, you may want to consider coordinating service if inclement weather has damaged your and your neighbors’ trees.

Service providers say combining multiple jobs in one trip can save everyone money by trimming costs, such as those associated with travel.

Prune the competition

Experts typically suggest requesting written estimates detailing work from three service providers to compare prices and project scope, as professional recommendations may differ.

Consider all factors, from experience to tree care practices, not just the lowest dollar figure.

Check previous work

Check out recent tree trimming they’ve done in your area, if possible. “Don’t be bashful about asking for several references and be sure to contact them,” says Charles Smith, owner of Strick Tree Services in Charlotte, N.C.

Seek a certified arborist

Ask if an arborist certified by the International Society of Arboriculture will do the work, says Matt Ward, an ISA certified arborist with highly rated tree service John B. Ward & Co. in Bryn Mawr, Pa. — and whether they’ll be on-site at all times.

Tree trimmers say updated certification demonstrates service providers undergo continued education to maintain a high level of tree care expertise; from proper pruning to preserve the health of the tree, to standard safety protocol to preserve the health of the worker. Verify certification.

You can also look for businesses accredited by the Tree Care Industry Association, or one that employs a Treecare Safety Professional certified by the association. If the trimming will occur near power lines, make sure to hire an arborist with special line-clearance certification.

Request proof of insurance

“Ask for a certificate of general liability insurance, with your name and address listed as additional insured,” Smith says. “Do not take their word for whether or not they are insured.”

Also ask for proof of workers’ compensation insurance. He and other tree trimmers recount sad stories of homeowners stuck with bills after accidents involving uninsured service providers caused personal or property damage.

Insist on safety

Helmets, gloves, steel-toe boots. A reputable company should put its best foot forward on safety and follow Occupational Safety and Health Administration guidelines requiring that workers wear personal protective equipment, in addition to other standard industry precautions.

But don’t hesitate to ask about a company’s safety protocol, and request that work stop if you’re uncomfortable with any arboreal acrobatics.

Evaluate equipment needs

Bucket truck required? Does the company you hire think that they’ll bring over additional equipment to shred a stump? Get a sense of what type of man and machine power your job demands. Moreover, ask ahead about the company’s policy on cleanup, such as tire tracks left behind by company trucks.

Highly rated service providers say doing the job right includes proper cleanup, but many don’t practice that ethic.

Refrain from tree topping

Whether your tree needs a trim or not, most experts say what it doesn’t need is a buzz cut. Avoid hiring companies that use tree topping techniques — removing all or a large part of the top of the tree — unless they’re pruning a fruit tree.

Qualified arborists recognize this as poor practice, particularly for healthy hardwoods.

Take off those spikes, please

Unless a service provider plans to remove a tree, rendering damage to the tree inconsequential, insist that he or she not wear spikes, or climbing spurs, to scale it.

These can slash the tree with unsightly wounds that also undermine its health. “You should never use spurs on a live tree,” Stang says.

Additional sourcing: Stihlusa.com

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