The Tree Trimming Scammers

Article by Cindy Speas, Chair of the Fairfax County Tree Commission

The doorbell rings, and at your door is a young man who says, “Hello, I was driving by and noticed your trees need some pruning. I’ve been working at your neighbor’s house, and thought I’d stop and offer you the same deal!”

It must be spring. We often hear about telephone or online financial scams, but what about the “woodchucks” or tree scammers that arrive at your door? These are seasonal workers, usually untrained, uncertified, and unlicensed.  Beware! They come bearing disaster for our trees, as well as our wallets.

Last spring Fairfax County posted a great article about the tree trimming scam. One police officer is quoted as saying this is “one of the most pervasive criminal problems this county is facing right now.” It happens in all seasons, of course, when trucks drive by looking for accessibility ramps or seniors working in their yards, or in spring seeking “unkempt” yards. So, if you have a yard full of native plants and little lawn, and you wait for just the right time after winter to clean up your beds, you could be a target.

These folks are not arborists and may remove living wood or, at worst, “top” your healthy tree. When the growing end of every tree limb or branch is lopped off, the tree can lose as much as 75% of its leaves, which provide a majority of the tree’s food. When a tree is weakened by less food and water, it becomes vulnerable to insect, sun and wind damage. These stresses mean that the tree may not survive the butchering. When you see a lot of fast growing shoots where major limbs were cut, that is a major sign of stress and poor health. Many municipalities and counties have great resources for resisting this fraudulent behavior. Here’s one from Fairfax County: It’s one thing to spend—or even overspend­—on taking out a dead limb, but quite another to fall for the “just let us prune your trees and everything will be fine” pitch. And don’t forget, untrained workers may use spikes on their boots because they are not taught the best practices of a reputable tree care specialist. This is highly damaging to the health of your trees.

Our trees are critical to our quality of life, and to the economic value of our homes, but they are threatened by “woodchucks.” Become informed about tree care—a good arborist can be as valuable to the life of your tree as a good electrician or plumber is to the life of your home. It is worth taking the time to find out if these solicitors are licensed and insured, certified in their area of expertise, and have good recommendations. Compare and weigh the costs and benefits of particular work that you know you need—don’t take the cheapest and easiest course of action. Be a good consumer and do the research. Just say NO to the door-to-door solicitor and yes only to the company YOU call that has good reviews, an arborist on staff, and free initial consultations.

Beware! Your beautiful trees are counting on you to speak for them and protect them.


Five Myths about Trees

Article and photo (Sara Holtz) by Plant NOVA Natives

It’s no myth that trees hold a special place in our collective psyche. Trees play a prominent role in myths, often symbolizing life and rebirth. Unfortunately, some of the stories about them are just plain wrong.

1. Trees need big piles of mulch. Or perhaps we should call this The Myth of the Angry Volcano Gods, who are appeased by stuffing trees down their maws. It’s hard to know how this harmful practice got started, but we are seeing it everywhere. Trees should be planted with the top of their roots level to the ground, just as in nature. Mulch should never be allowed to touch the trunk, as it causes bark rot. Shredded mulch can form a barrier to water when it mats down, so arborist wood chips are preferred – assuming mulch is needed at all – and no more than 2-4 inches deep. The Fairfax County Tree Basics booklet, which you can download for free, shows proper tree planting and care practices and is available in multiple languages.

2. Tree wounds need dressing. Trees cannot heal the way we do after they are cut, which is one reason why topping a tree is such a bad idea. A broken limb should be trimmed back to just beyond the branch cuff then left alone to try to close over, which with luck it may accomplish before fungi set in. Painting tar on the surface just encourages rot.

3. All leaning trees are dangerous. It is normal for trees to grow toward the light. They reinforce their wood to make themselves stable. If you are worried that a tree may become hazardous, you can get an opinion from a consulting arborist who is certified by the International Society of Arborists (ISA) and who has no financial interest in cutting it down.

4. Trees litter. Well, trees do create leaf “litter”, but that’s an unfriendly word to use to describe feeding the soil and providing habitat for fireflies and wintering grounds for butterflies. The best thing you can do for a tree and the ecosystem is leave the leaves underneath where they fall. If you are afraid they will smother the grass, you can chop them up with a lawn mower so they at least add organic matter to the soil, a practice that is good for the trees and the grass (but hard on the critters).

5. One tree is as good as another. Not so! All trees can provide shade and capture stormwater, but only native trees support biodiversity. In fact, native trees are the very backbone of our local ecosystem, providing the majority of the leaves upon which our native caterpillars feed, which in turn provide the diet required by baby songbirds. In fact, not only do some non-native trees do nothing to feed the birds, they are actually invasive, taking over and destroying what is left of our remnant woods and starting to threaten our bigger forests as well. With few exceptions, there are native trees to serve any landscaping need. Find out all about them on the Plant NOVA Trees website.