Business Q&A: Tree care and removal business rooted in experience

Arborists Alan Jones and Ed Meek see more than a tree in your backyard.

They see its health, the ecosystem it hosts and the shade it provides over your patio.

Jones and Meek, who work for Bartlett Tree Experts, are self-described tree guys, which is appropriate when you consider they have 75 years of combined tree service experience.

“This is what we do,” Meek said. “We love trees.”

The two recently covered all the bases when it comes to trees in Centre County.

Q: What services do most people want when they come to you?

AJ: That depends on the company. Our niche in the industry is scientific tree care. I had this conversation last night, and I was saying there are some people that build their businesses completely out of tree removal. That’s their niche and what they like to do. We do an awful lot of plant health care, which is fertilization, soil management, insect and disease management, pruning, and we do our share of tree removal, too, but it really depends on what your business model is. I think a lot of people start out with a chain saw, and they cut down a tree and think it’s pretty fun.

Q: When people ask for a tree to be removed, what’s their reasoning?

EM: There are so many reasons. Maybe the tree died, or they think there are too many leaves to clean up.

AJ: And acorns are falling on their deck, and they don’t like acorns on their deck.

EM: There are just so many reasons, and sometimes they are silly reasons, and we’re not into silly. We’re into doing the best thing for their landscape. If they want to take a shade tree down that they don’t even know is protecting them from the sun when they sit on their patio, we point out that they’re going to be baking instead of having nice shade. We’ll talk them out of it if it’s best for their landscape.

Q: Can people prune on their own or even do a tree removal on their own?

EM: It depends on how extensive it is. It can be rather dangerous, and safety can be so important. I’ve seen people out there without hard hats on. We don’t push for homeowners to do that.

AJ: Sometimes they’ll tell us they’ll cut the tree down. Just to give an example, by law you have to wear chaps, a regulation made seven or eight years ago. The amount of time you actually see people wearing chaps out on the job while using a chain saw on the ground is minimal. If you have a branch that won’t go through the chipper and we have to make a chain saw cut, those chaps go on. A chain saw cut is not forgiving. If they say they’ll have their husband do it, we give them a price.

Q: What are the most common threats to a tree’s health in central Pennsylvania?

AJ: The two most threatening insects right now are emerald ash borer and hemlock woolly adelgid. They’re not native to the United States. The emerald ash borer has just crushed the Midwest. Literally billions have been spent on the removal of these trees, and they don’t miss anything. If you have emerald ash in your area, every ash will die that’s not treated. It’s just starting here.

The woolly adelgid were discovered in Richmond, Va., in the 70s. They don’t have a big hemlock population, but it spread throughout the Northeast and got to State College. It’s such a devastating thing and has caused huge, huge problems with the trout population. Hemlocks grow along waterways, and when they die they open sunlight that warms up water and kills our trout.

Q: Should people ask questions to tree contractors about their employee training and insurance?

AJ: Absolutely. We have two societies that kind of govern our industry. One is the Tree Care Industry Association, and they developed an accreditation program. If you’re an accredited company, that means you’re using the standards that are consistent throughout our industry. At the employee level there are certifications to become a certified arborist. The standard in our company is a Board Certified Master Arborist.

Q: What are the most dangerous situations you deal with?

EM: Storm events create havoc, because then trees are no longer stable. Often times they’re uprooted, the stress factors are completely different and it turns into a completely different animal when weather events occur. It’s much more difficult to remove something when it’s fallen on a house than if it were just standing sturdy in the ground.

AJ: And the No. 1 cause of death in this industry is electrical hazards. We work around wires every day.

Q: There probably isn’t the same exact tree at any one place. Does that mean pricing is generally handled on a case-by-case basis?

EM: Every one has their own price. It’s how we evaluate the situation and come up with what we think we can make a little bit of money on and is fair to the client. The client, it’s really up to them on who you’re going to trust. So it’s up to them to ask about our training, our insurance, our background. Sometimes clients have said that I don’t have the lowest price, but “you’re who we want.” It’s about how you come across to the client with your expertise and your understanding of the situation.