Spring weather harkens homeowners out of doors and into yards that may have been overlooked for several months. In the Northwest, residents are fortunate to receive about as much rain as landscaping can handle. With that, comes trees that flourish. On a five-acre parcel, that’s wonderful. In a compact neighborhood setting, that can lead to one persons’ landscaping plan becoming another persons’ unfortunate accident.
Adding to Robert Frost’s poetic recounting that “good fences make good neighbors,” so, too, does a well-pruned tree. With this in mind, the advice of a local expert carries much weight.
Jes Seekins, owner of Cascade Tree L.L.C., has been pruning, topping and removing trees in the Northwest for over 20 years. Now more focused on lot clearing for builders, businesses, schools and homeowners on acreage, Seekins has seen every tree scenario — and plenty of tree cutting fails.
Seekins does not use a ladder. He considers them unsafe. If a limb cannot be pruned from the ground, he encourages homeowners to call in a professional who can use climbing gear and handle pruning, topping, and removal in a controlled environment.
The addition of a tree or trees in a yard is beneficial. Placed appropriately, they can cool a home during the warmer part of a day and even add privacy between two-story homes. A homeowner can avoid years of headache and costly maintenance by being intentional when choosing a tree. Paying attention to the tree’s diameter and overall canopy is Seekins’ top tip.
For example, an Evergreen tree might look small and manageable at the nursery but most will grow to at least 40 feet tall and have an equal canopy spread. If a tree like this is not given proper space, the limbs could begin encroaching on the owner’s house as well as into neighboring yards. What cannot be seen can also cause damage, in the form of roots extending to the home’s foundation. The longer a tree like this is left unaddressed, the more costly it will be to prune back or remove.
Seekins sees this not just in yards but throughout new developments where green space between a road and sidewalk are planted with the wrong tree. Inevitably, unpruned limbs will grow into the road, obstructing the view of drivers or brushing cars, and roots will begin heaving sidewalks.
Foundations, sidewalks, sprinkler systems, and even sewer lines can be adversely impacted by tree roots if careful planning before planting is not considered. Again, Seekins advises homeowners to think into the future. Determine the projected canopy spread of the tree at maturity. If it’s 20 feet, one can safely anticipate significant roots growing 20 feet in any direction from the trunk of the tree. Don’t be surprised to find some of those roots ground level or coming out from a lawn. Seekins offered that, in Battle Ground in particular, the water table is fairly close to the surface.
When pruning a tree, more technique is required than just chopping a limb.
“You want the tree to look nice for you and for your neighbor,” Seekins said. “Some of this goes back to planning/planting the tree, to begin with. Think of it as a good neighbor fence.”
In other words, the tree needs to look nice from all sides when pruning is completed. Also, never make a straight cut and be sure to leave no more and no less than a 1/4” collar where the limb once was or to the closest side branch (lateral) that the limb is being cut to. It’s like the Goldilocks principle. Closer and disease could be introduced to the tree. Farther away and the cut will encourage multiple suckers to sprout. Just right and the tree will send its energy to that limb and heal the pruning cut or “wound.”
Although Seekins is a fan of dwarf fruit trees for homeowners for not just their aesthetic value but their practical aspect, he has dealt with many people who are surprised when their “dwarf” Stella cherry tree becomes 30 feet tall. He explained that many fruit trees — and some other types of trees — are grafted onto another tree. If the graft “union” is covered by mulch or, over time, dirt and other debris, the tree will revert to a standard-sized tree, begin sending out standard-sized roots and grow into a 40-foot tall “dwarf” in a diminutive side yard.
As a DIY proponent, Seekins sees no reason why a homeowner, who invests the time to educate him or herself on how to properly choose and prune a tree, can’t keep up tree maintenance so long as it doesn’t involve height or electricity. The minute a chainsaw or ladder is required, it’s time to call in a pro.
“All you have to do is Youtube ‘tree fails’ to know what I’m talking about,” Seekins said. “If you want it done right, you have to hire a professional. Professionals know how a plum, birch, oak, or maple will respond to a cut. Some will break, some will hinge, some will spring. An expert will know what’s best for the tree.”
Seekins stressed for homeowners to stay on top of tree maintenance. If you see something that is sick or doesn’t look quite right, it is much safer and less expensive to have it addressed immediately. When decay is introduced, so is risk. If there is enough decay, a tree expert is unable to climb the tree, requiring heavy machinery to be brought in which increases the cost to the homeowner. Additionally, a sick tree has a greater chance of losing multiple limbs or snapping during significant winds, introducing property damage to the scenario.