Timely information in the wake of recent storm 

FREEHOLD, NJ – Trees are valuable landscape assets that provide cooling shade in the summer, improve our air quality and help increase the value of homes.

However, as was evident during the July 28 violent thunderstorm, trees can also be a liability and a hazard if not maintained properly.

“Following the storm, initial reports are that most of the trees that fell were dead or dying trees,” said Freeholder Serena DiMaso liaison to the county’s Shade Tree Commission. “As the area rebounds from this disaster, residents will benefit from knowing how to recognize hazardous situations in trees and how to choose a tree care professional”

While anyone can call themselves a ‘tree expert’ or ‘arborist’, homeowners should be aware that just because someone has a chainsaw, it does not necessarily make him or her qualified to safely remove trees.

“Beware of anyone showing up unsolicited after a storm looking to remove trees, even if it’s at a great deal,” said Freeholder Lillian G. Burry, liaison to the Monmouth County Department of Consumer Affairs. “You may feel pressured to hire the first contractor you speak with because your life has been turned upside down, but don’t.”

A NJ Certified Tree Expert is a tree care professional who has been certified by the Board of Tree Experts of the NJDEP.  Another recognized tree care certification is administered by the International Society of Arboriculture. 

This is what consumers need to know before beginning a project with a tree contractor:

  • Obtain more than one cost estimate; ask for each contractor’s references, and check them out by calling 732-431-7900. The Department of Consumer Affairs can provide you with a complaint history on the business you are considering hiring;   
  • Homeowners may ask if the company they hire has staff with one or both of the tree certifications to help ensure safe, professional, quality work. 
  • You have a three-day, cooling-off period from the date your contract is signed. Your contract must be in writing and must include the work that will be completed including removal of tree debris from your property and warranty information. If you want a warranty on a contractor’s workmanship, get it in writing and make sure it states for how long the workmanship warranty is good;
  • Obtain a date or a firm time period in which the repair work will begin and will be completed. This must be included on your contract – it’s the law, and
  • Obtain the appropriate permits from your town or other jurisdiction.

Remember, by law your contractor must be registered with the State of New Jersey to perform work in excess of $500. You can check a contractor’s registration status at www.njconsumeraffairs.gov or by calling the Monmouth County Department of Consumer Affairs at 732-431-7900. The office is open weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Additional information about consumer affairs can be found on the county Web site at www.visitmonmouth.com

Keep in mind that trees may not always display obvious signs of stress or even decline. If you have a large tree by your house or near electric lines, it should be examined by a certified tree care professional to evaluate whether it may be a safety hazard in future storms.

Although evaluating and treating hazard trees is complicated and requires knowledge and expertise, there are some basic problems that a homeowner may be able identify in advance that will alert the contractor to a hazardous situation. Some of the hazardous defects in trees that are visible signs that a tree is failing include:

  • Dead wood is “not negotiable”—dead trees and large dead branches must be removed immediately.
  • A crack is a deep split through the bark, extending into the wood of the tree. Cracks are extremely dangerous because they indicate that the tree is already failing. 
  • Weak branch unions are places where branches are not strongly attached to the tree.  Decaying trees have wood that is soft or crumbly, or a cavity where the wood is missing, creating a serious hazard. 
  • A canker is a localized area on the stem or branch of a tree, usually caused by disease or wounds, where the bark is sunken or missing. 
  • Trees with root problems may blow over in wind storms. They may even fall without warning in summer when burdened with the weight of the tree’s leaves. Because most defective roots are underground and out of sight, aboveground symptoms may serve as the best warning. 
  • Poor architecture is a growth pattern that indicates weakness or structural imbalance. Trees with strange shapes are interesting to look at, but may be structurally defective. 

For a list of Certified Tree Experts in Monmouth County, go to www.state.nj.us/dep/parksandforests/forest/community/cte.html.  For a local listing of ISA Certified Arborists, go to www.isa-arbor.com

For more information on how to hire a tree care professional, go to the fact sheet at the Rutgers Cooperative Extension publications website http://njaes.rutgers.edu/pubs/publication.asp?pid=FS019.