Trees are an invaluable resource, not only to our planet as a whole, but also to our community associations. They produce oxygen, give us shade and provide beauty to our properties, and therefore, it’s important to care for them properly.
According Chris Zinna, owner of Jerzey Scapes in Cranbury, New Jersey, the best way to ensure your trees are being cared for properly is by having a tree maintenance program in place as part of the association’s yearly budget.
But when should a community association implement such a program? “I don’t think any community is too old or too young to start a tree program,” said Zinna. “The sooner you get started, the better because you’ll be saving money in the long run.”
According to Zinna, the first step is a full analysis of the property. The analysis should be done by a licensed tree contractor who will evaluate what, if any, problems there are currently with the trees on the property and determine what course of action needs to be taken.
Once the analysis has been completed, the licensed tree expert can then provide a cost to address the issues that were found, explained Zinna. He added that depending on the results and the amount of work to be done, the association may want to set a budget plan that spreads out over a certain amount of years.
After the initial remediation work has been done, the association can then set up a maintenance program within the annual budget in order to maintain the trees, Zinna noted.
What should be included in a tree maintenance program? “I would recommend minimally, that once a year, the trees around buildings and structures are checked for issues. Anything that has the potential to cause damage to a structure should be assessed by a licensed contractor,” said Zinna.
He also suggested that part of the program should include tree assessments following storms that produce high winds.
Ensuring the trees are properly cared for on a regular basis can actually help limit the amount of tree damage that may occur after storms, said Zinna. It can also help communities avoid having to remove trees due to inadequate maintenance.
For example, if a 20-year-old community hasn’t done any tree work, the trees can become so large that they cannot be pruned properly without damaging them or making them look unsightly, he noted. Unfortunately, this will most likely lead to the association having to pay for the removal of such trees, which could have been avoided if tree maintenance had been done each year.
Zinna pointed out that it is extremely important to contract with a licensed tree expert, especially in the state of New Jersey, which he noted has a law stating that tree work must be performed by a licensed tree contractor. Not doing so can lead to a slew of problems such as insurance issues. The company performing the work can also be fined if it is not properly licensed.
In addition to the legal aspect, Zinna explained that a regular landscape company will not have the capability of a bucket truck or tree climbers to be able to access the trees, which are necessary in order to care for them properly.
What types of tree issues often occur in communities and what should associations be looking out for? According to Zinna, one of the biggest problems he has seen is not removing tree stumps. “Cutting a tree down and leaving the stump is a big mistake,” he said.
Zinna noted that leaving the stump when a tree is removed creates a number of concerns. For example, someone can trip or fall over the stump, the stump could start to rot and later cause a sinkhole, or the stump could attract termites.
Another problem Zinna mentioned is girdling, which he explained is when the tree’s own roots wrap around it and choke the tree, which could eventually kill it. This can be the result of the improper planting of the tree initially, said.
The proximity of a tree, particularly the branches, can also cause problems in communities. Strong winds can cause branches to hit against buildings, which could result in roof or gutter damage leading to possible leaks, said Zinna.
He also noted that branches that are very close to a building can allow for rodents and carpenter ants to access the roof. Therefore, Zinna recommends that trees be at least 5-10 ft. away from a building.
Another issue regarding trees near buildings has to do with the area where the tree forks, said Zinna. Trees grow toward the sunlight, so if a building is in the way, the tree will attempt to follow the sun over the building. This can cause the tree fork to become weak, so it’s important to look out for cracking and splitting. In addition, if there is too much weight on it, such as a heavy snow load, a limb could break off and fall onto the building.
Associations should also be aware of broken branches that are hanging from trees, which are dangerous because they can fall at any time, noted Zinna.
Another issue related to tree branches to be aware of is when two branches are constantly rubbing together as this causes weak spots in branches, especially in large ones if they’re crossing each other, he explained.
Zinna said that noticing soil lifting around a tree’s root structure is another concern as this indicates that the roots are detaching and there is potential for heavy winds to cause the tree to fall.
Some other problems associations should look out for are top heavy trees that sway a lot during windstorms, putting too much mulch around the base of a tree (over-mulching) and tree branches becoming tangled in overhead wires, he noted.
Trees near streetlights should also not be overlooked as they could block necessary lighting if not pruned properly and at the right time, said Zinna.
With regard to timing, Zinna explained that it’s important to resize and prune trees at certain times of the year. “You have to be careful during what time of the year you’re cutting the tree and how much you’re taking off,” he said. “If there is storm damage and a branch needs to be removed, that is different than just deciding to reduce the size of a tree by 10% for example.”
He explained that tree sizing and heavy corrective pruning are to be done at specific times. “You shouldn’t be doing those things when there is heavy foliage or during a heat spell,” Zinna said.
He noted that the proper time to complete these tasks should be determined by a licensed tree expert.