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Written by Jeff Shimonski, BT Contributor   
June 2019

High-grade trees are the safest trees

HPix_YourGarden_6-19urricane season is upon us once more. What have you done to prepare your property for the possibility of high winds, and to reduce the chances of structural and yard damage?

Did you have your trees structurally pruned last year by an ISA-certified arborist, or did you look for the cheapest guy with a pickup truck and chainsaw to chop your trees up so the branches won’t fall on your property during a storm? That’s what the guy told you, right?

Perhaps you had all your trees removed completely late one afternoon without a tree removal permit…so now you won’t have any damage caused by falling trees.

This past month I inspected and assessed the condition of more than a thousand trees and palms in various municipalities. That means I measured them, inspected the root collar and trunk, and looked into the canopy to determine the condition of the branch structure and overall health of the tree or palm. If I found signs of decay or cavities, I probed it. I then documented the condition in a written report, usually with photos of most of the inspected tree or palm.

What really stands out for me are the large percentage of recently planted trees, by both private-property owners and municipalities (in public rights of way), that are in crappy condition.

The State of Florida has published clear grades and standards for trees, shrubs, and groundcovers, available online. These are written into the planting specifications of landscape architects and then normally put out to bid. Most municipalities are required to follow these standards.

The top grade category for trees is called Florida Fancy, which includes those in the best condition, which are also the most expensive. These are followed by trees rated Florida No. 1, which is the most specified category. Then there is Florida No. 2, which means that the tree isn’t too good and should only be installed as a last resort. The lowest category is labeled Cull, meaning a tree or plant that should never be installed because of its overall health, poor structure, trunk damage, etc.

The grades and standards also address installation of the tree, the tree’s condition, assessment of damage and possible need for staking, root condition, and whether a tree needs formative pruning to attain the standard originally specified. I’ve found tree issues with each of these topics.

If Florida No. 2 or cull trees were installed on private property and those trees fail in high winds or have defective branch structures that present hazards as the trees grows -- well, shame on the property owner who went cheap and pursued the lowest bid. The onus is on that property owner. Don’t park your car or walk your dog under these trees.

If a municipality allows for the installation of defective trees on public property and in the right-of-way, it is not only disregarding the code and wasting taxpayer money, but it is creating conditions that will certainly become hazards as the trees mature. These will be the trees whose branches are torn off by passing trucks. These will be the trees that rip in half in a storm or fall over in a heavy rain.

No wonder people are afraid of trees. I took some photos of benches beneath large dead branches recently in a park. Don’t municipalities have risk management departments?

Are you the owner of one of the newly built giant houses? Take a look at the photo that accompanies this article. It shows an electrical line that is being illegally installed on an almost finished residential property. I was working nearby and discretely followed the progress of this installation from beginning to end. The line is certainly not being installed to the proper depth -- but I’m not an electrician, and if it didn’t get permitted and inspected, well, pity the poor person who may be digging on that property in a few years.

My larger point, though, is to show how all those tree and palm roots were just cut, right up to the trunks of those trees. Yes, there was a lot of trunk damage, too, and it was a large site, with this being just a fraction of the damaged trees. The trench was covered the next day and the area cleaned up.

What do you think will happen to the stability of those trees and palms now that half their roots are missing? If those trees and palms don’t die within a couple of years from the stress caused by this butchering, they might start failing in high winds.

I wonder if the new homeowner is aware of this value engineering.

 

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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