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Written by Jeff Shimonski, BT Contributor   
April 2017

Make sure your landscape company uses an arborist

I Pix_YourGarden_4-17frequently stop by a local shopping center to eat at one of the restaurants there. The surrounding area is a high-end residential neighborhood, and the stores and restaurants are very busy.

Perhaps I notice these things more than most, but every time I enter the parking lot, I can’t help but think how cheap and seedy the landscape looks. The royal palms die off and are replaced on a regular basis.

When you buy a good-size royal palm from a nursery, the root ball is generally about four feet in diameter. Personally, I think this is too small; for a palm that’s 30 feet high, a larger root ball would stabilize the tree better, and the stakes to hold it upright for a few months can be removed earlier, or not even be put on the palm in the first place. But the smaller root ball can work -- if the palm is properly irrigated.

Recently some of the royal palms in this parking lot were replaced. Unfortunately, the root balls had to be shaved smaller in order to fit into the tiny planting pits because the landscape islands are way too small.

I have to say that the palms were planted and staked in a professional manner. But I also have to say that one morning when I went by, there was a guy from a landscape company carrying a five-gallon bucket of water to one of the newly planted royal palms.

This is how the new palms were getting irrigated, and at the most critical time of establishment!

The guy saw me looking at him as he dumped out the water on the palm. He shrugged his shoulders and just shook his head. I wanted to take a photo, but I felt sorry for the guy. Did you ever carry a five-gallon bucket of water? It’s pretty heavy, especially for the distance he had to go to fill it up.

What professional wrote the guarantee or the specifications for planting this palm? Did they expect the rain to irrigate it? This was the second palm tree to be planted in that location in the past year. I’d like to be in on the meeting between the property owner and the landscape company when this palm dies and has to be replaced for the third time. It’s already wilting badly, with the fronds and the crownshaft (the green part above the trunk) beginning to shrink due to drying out.

Yes, these palms will shrink and contract when they dry out (this was a major controversy regarding shrinking royal palms in Miami years ago).

So how do companies stay in business when they’ve done crappy work?

Property owners can get fined by the municipality for poor or illegal tree work that’s been done on their properties, but the company that performed the work, and often recommended that work in the first place, is not fined at all.

So shame on those property owners who go for the cheapest bid to get what they think is a great deal. They certainly get what they pay for.

If you want work to be done on your property, definitely get bids -- but also get in writing the scope of the work and how it will be done. Make sure these companies are licensed and insured, and can provide proof that a certified arborist will actually perform the work.

The photo that accompanies this article is of two trees at a shopping center that were just hat-racked. This is illegal work, and if it is reported or if an inspector sees it, the property owner will be fined for tree abuse. You’re not allowed to remove more than 25 percent of a tree’s canopy, especially in this manner.

That somewhat arbitrary percentage aside, this kind of pruning isn’t going to save the property owner money. The trees will grow back faster, but with new branches that won’t be very well attached. Why didn’t the arborist, if one was in fact hired, recommend some structural pruning that would properly reduce the canopy and create a more stable canopy branch structure?

And while I’m on a roll here, how do municipalities justify not following their own tree ordinances?

I regularly inspect another project in county where the contractors sometimes dig within a foot of the trunks of large trees and palms. So if the tree or palm doesn’t fail in a storm because nothing is supporting one side of it, it will likely become stressed and take a few years to die. This practice is, of course, illegal in the municipality. I’ll bet the departments don’t communicate with each other.

 

Jeff Shimonski is an ISA-certified arborist, municipal specialist, retired director of horticulture at Parrot Jungle and Jungle Island, and principal of Tropical Designs of Florida. Contact him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

 

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