Monday, December 28, 2015

Questions 67 and 68: Pruning Stuff You Should Ask

No, there really aren't that many questions here.  But it's a good Chicago song.  Questions you should ask me, other pruners, or yourself:

1. Do my trees need pruning?
Absolutely.  Almost every tree in the world, including those out in the wild, can benefit from smart pruning.  First of all, every tree accumulates dead material, and there's no reason at all to leave it there.  Second, trees in the wild and in cultivation frequently suffer from wind damage, caused by inadequate tapering or crotch formation.  Third, your trees came from the nursery already with some pruning that wasn't in the best interest of the long-term structure or health of the tree.  Eventually, every tree needs some guidance or correction, and sooner and more frequently is better than when it's in trouble or sick or dangerous or just ugly.

2.  Why should you prune a tree?
First off, if you need to ask this, you're probably not the one that should be doing any of tree work.  A tree should be pruned to clear out dead, diseased and damaged branches; to eliminate crossing, rubbing, parallel, over-crowded branches; to promote balance, taper, strength and ramification; to control the rate of growth and shape in any given area; to decrease wind resistance that can cause damage; to reduce overly-straight or overly-vertical branches/water spouts; to remove suckers that suck the life out of the tree; to remove branches with narrow crotch unions; to remove co-dominant leaders in most cases; to optimize flowering or fruiting (or decrease in some cases); to increase or decrease the vertical height or promote a more horizontal branching pattern; to slow or increase the growth or size; to promote good structure and an attractive silhouette; to correct past pruning mistakes and prevent future butchering by others; to maintain or enhance vigor.  That's for starters.

3.  How often should a tree be pruned?
This depends on how good you want it to look.  Ideally, you prune/pinch several times per year, and each time it takes a lot less work than if you prune infrequently.  This keeps the tree stress-free, and you never have to play catch-up.  Some trees need much more frequent pruning than others for various reasons.  If you pay attention each year, you'll probably never have to remove it.  Pruning this often may not take up any more time than major pruning every few years.

4.  How long does it take to prune a tree?
A tree that's very young and less than about 8' tall might only need a few minutes pruning each time.  A tree from 8' to about 15' is completely dependent on what shape it's in from past pruning or lack thereof.  If I get ahold of a tree this size that hasn't been touched in years or was hacked up, it may take 3 to 6 hours the first time, and perhaps 2 hours the next year, decreasing each year after that.  Pinching at seasonal intervals may take a few minutes up to a couple hours 1 or 2 or even 3 times per year depending on variables, again decreasing over the years.  For trees over 15', it's really a case-by-case basis.  There may be tons of dead stuff that takes time to remove, for one thing.  It's also far more likely that the tree has suffered from poor pruning in the past, and corrections can take some time, over several years in some cases. I tend to be much, much more meticulous than most pruners, so I spend more time than others.  But my hourly rate is very good, so it's win win.  And once a thorough, proper pruning session is done, it's a lot less work each time thereafter

5. Should my gardener do my pruning?
Probably not.  Any gardener that primarily takes care of the lawns, blowing leaves, and shearing hedges is probably not trained or educated or thoughtful enough to do good pruning on trees and shrubs.  This would be like a housecleaner thinking they can install appliances or a hair stylist thinking they can do brain surgery.

6.  What is your rate?
If you have to ask, I'm not the guy for you.  Just kidding.  I don't like to give out my rate for various reasons until we have a discussion.  I will tell you that it's very good, just above what most run-of-the mill accidental tree trimmers or mow and blow guys charge, but much, much less than what tree service companies change with all the overhead and so forth.  But if your not looking for a fantastic job, and just want a quickie job, I'm not the guy for you.

7.  Can ANY tree be improved?
No.  Some trees are too far gone, and they're either gonna die or always be ugly or too big or too messy or the wrong shape or in the wrong place.  But most trees can be improved in every way, some vastly.

8.  Does experience make a difference?
Usually.  It's common sense that the more you do something, the note you learn and the better and faster you become.  However, I see people in the tree trade, construction trade, and every trade imaginable that have lots of experience.  Problem is, they didn't learn well in the first place and continue, stubbornly, with the same bad habits.  Consider that Burger King has made billions of hamburgers.  They still can't produce a burger even remotely as good as a terrific chef that probably never makes burgers.  I see pruning "experts" butcher trees all the time.  They're either just in it for the money, or just don't know any better.

9.  Is pruning messy?
Yep.  There's no way around that.  You can either have me clean up everything, work with me, do it yourself, or have your gardener clean it up.  Unfortunately, it's the last enjoyable part of the job.  You might have wood to burn or material for mulching/composting, if you want to go that route.

10.  Do you take care of diseases?
Some.  Removing disease may be as simple as cutting off branches that are infected.  For other diseases, you'll need to have someone who does infections, spraying, treatment, etc.  And those guys aren't usually the ones you want doing your aesthetic pruning.

11.  Do you do topiary or pom poms or lollipops or boxes?
I could, but I choose not to.  Natural-looking trees, ones that look like they were never altered, are my thing.  If you have a tree already in this kind of shape and it looks good but needs a little work, I'll probably help you.

12.  Can you keep a tree a certain size?
Pretty much, if you get a handle on it early enough and have a good strategy.  Others will disagree with me, but there are ways to do this, AND have it look perfectly natural.  I do this all the time with potted/bonsai trees.  In the ground, they grow much faster, and root pruning may be needed at some point.  A good example is a Giant Sequoia I planted in a friend's yard about 12 years ago.  It's still only about 2' tall and looks more like a small juniper.

13.  Do you plant trees?
Yes, but I'm not often asked.  I study trees a great deal, and can recommend or even plant trees that would work well for you.

14.  Do you follow the rules?
Yes and no.  I obviously try to follow the rules that are critical for the health and the best looks for the tree.  Other rules sometimes need to be fudged a bit if there's a more important rule or goal at hand.  This could be a lengthy discussion, so it's better to address any specifics directly as they pertain to a given tree.

15.  What are your limitations?
At this point, I'm pretty much limited to most trees under about 30' tall.  Yes above this may require equipment or courage I don't have right now.  But I can deal with the lower section of any tree and someone else can do the top stuff.  I'm likely to be prepared for trees up to about 45 feet tall in the near future.

16.  Do you specialize in any particular species?
It's funny that so many pruners"specialize" in Japanese maples, but nobody else seems to specialize in any other kind of tree.  I specialize in any kind of tree that simply needs to be its best.  How's that?  By the way, the last Japanese maple I saw that was pruned by an "expert" of at least 30 years, was messed up to the point where it will take years to look good, if ever.

17.  Can you teach or train me?
I love showing people how I do things and more importantly WHY I do them.  I would say if someone wants to come help me out on a job, I'll teach them in exchange for their help, including cleanup or going to get us sandwiches or something.  If it's your own tree, hiring me gets you my teaching as well as my work, if you want that.

18.  Will you give me a bad time about past pruning?
No.  I realize almost nobody knows how to prune trees exceptionally well.  Let's call it amnesty.  It's best to point out what#have been done in the past, how to correct things as much as possible, and how to proceed properly form this point.  I never tell at anyone or call them names unless they start it.

19.  Why do you do this for a living?
I don't.  At least not fully.  This is a minor part of what I do,
But it's increasingly becoming a bigger part.  I enjoy it so much as a hobby, that it's more fun than any of the other work I do.  It's never been about making a lot of money.  I could make more money doing other things.  I'm not motivated by the highest amount of money I can make.  Never have been.  I've always strived to do things as well as I can, and it's so satisfying for me and my clients.  I'm not the smartest man that way, financially.  But a large amount of money makes little difference in happiness than an adequate amount.  Job satisfaction, however, can make a huge difference.  I figure at some point if I want to make more, my clients will be happy to pay it when they see my quality and honesty.

20. Why would I NOT hire you?
Well, we may just have different goals.  You may want a quick, cheap chop, and that's not me.  You may find someone else who agrees exactly with you on any particular issue or style.  You may find someone that talks a good game or has nice cologne or looks like George Clooney.  You may want a company that comes in with a while bunch of guys and finished the job in a day or two.  I work alone, at least for now   I may only be able to do one or two trees in a day.  You may think your gardener or son's buddy is a better value at eighteen bucks an hour.

21.  Do you do shrubs too?
Yes.  Shrubs need love, too.  Shrubs are really just small trees.

22.  Do you do other stuff in the yard?
Anyone that knows me knows that I'm very versatile and tackle everything I do with attention to quality.  I'm a finish carpenter/cabinetmaker and home remodeler by trade, and have been known to enthusiastically get involved with various yard projects, like hardscaping, garden buildings, etc.  But mowing lawns and blowing leaves and the like isn't really my thing.  Once people hire me, they usually hire me for a lot of different projects, some related and others completely unrelated.

23.  What are your titles?
You could call me a fine ornamental tree pruner, or an aesthetic pruner, or a tree fixer or a tree beautifier, Arboman, or just TreeDawg.

You can be a TreeDawg Knight.

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