Tuesday, January 26, 2016

How Much is That Dogwood in the Window?: Economics of Tree Care

The mentality people have when it comes to spending money is usually stunning.  And it seems that almost every person has priorities that seem ludicous to others.  They HATE spending money on this, even if it's practical, but don't even think about splurging on some things that don't make a lot of senes in many cases.  I'll get to trees in a minute, but this part puts things in some perspective.  Here are a few examples:

1.  Tons of people will do anything they can to avoid paying for their kids' education more than they have to, but are happy to shell out tens of thousands for a car, or buy a much larger home than they need or really can afford, and will spend hours commuting each week to get to it.

2.  A large percentage of people spend thousands, or even tens of thousands, to bury the dead.  I get that it's an emotional thing, but regardless of your religion or other beliefs, a dead body is pretty much of little value, and the soul is what counts, but it has left the body by that point.  So the body is really just a bunch of chemicals and minerals that need no special, expensive treatment.  I'll be perfectly happy if I'm put into a Hefty bag at my demise, and left on the curb on Friday morning.  If you really want to go to some effort, plant a tree in my honor.

3.  People are really hesitant to spend money on good health care, but have no problem spending tens of thousands on jewelry, when they can get beautiful jewelry that looks every bit as good for a tiny fraction.

4.  A lot of people have no issue with splurging on incredibly expensive football tickets, especially the Suer Bowl, or fancy vacations with hotel rooms that cost perhaps thousands per night.  For a place to sleep, when you really should spend that time touring the place you went to all the trouble to get to.

OK, you get my point.  So on to how trees fit into all this.

Most people who own a fairly nice home or condo pay thousands or tens of thousands to landscape, and quite a bit each year to maintain their landscapes.  Most homeowners will spend at least $100 a month just to have lawns mowed and leaves blown every week or two.  But these same people would never think about spending a few hundred per year to maintain their trees, even though they're permanent and just as important as or more important than a temporary lawn.  A mature tree can't be easily replaced, and it might be worth tens of thousands in value to the home, whereas a lawn can be easily replaced for a small fraction of that.  And you dont have to water a tree much, if at all, whereas grass is very thirsty.

People give little thought to the quality of pruning, and spend money to have good trees butchered by people who don't know what they're doing, mostly because they don't know any better, but also because they're cheapskates.  Or they get the brilliant idea that they can do a good job themselves, but this is highly unlikely.  They pay to have leaves raked, which takes very little skill, but plunge into pruning trees themselves, which takes much skill.  Not so smart.

If you figure a tree should really be pruned twice a year, EVERY YEAR, or at least once a year minimum, as I maintain, then you might be paying $100 or $200 for a very nice tree per year, which will look good all year, including the leafless winter.  You have to figure out for yourself how much this costs for your whole property, but it's unlikely that it will be more than mow and blow.

I was included in a discussion with a very in-demand aesthetic pruner, who does high-end work.  He has clients that have paid thousands or more for a single Japanese Maple, and they gladly pay a few hundred each year per tree to keep them healthy and happy.  You mess those puppies up, and you threw a bunch of money away on a tree that can never be great again.

Keep in mind that the more infrequently you prune a tree, the more it costs per session to prune.  And it basically never can look great or be as healthy as possible if you wait too long.  Common sense tells you that paying twice a year for minor pruning will cost more than major pruning every 5 years, but the cost difference may not be as much as you think.  You might also use that reasoning of infrequency and think that maybe you just mow your lawn 2 or 3 times a year but leave it looking ratty most of the time.   But hardly anyone with a lick of sense would do that.

Give this some thought, and really understand how important your trees are, and why you're probably neglecting them.  Or hacking them up.

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