Question of the Month

Q: I recently asked several tree companies for an estimate for pruning several large oaks on my property. The price differential was astounding. How can prices for the same job vary so wildly?


There are several answers to this question.

When arborists’ estimates vary significantly it usually means they are not bidding the same job. Pruning is a very ambiguous term. One arborist may be including removal of all dead wood and trunk suckers throughout the entire crown. Another may mean just trimming off some of the lower branches.

It is important for the home owner to understand just how involved the arborist will get in the crown of each tree, and what the tree will look like when it’s complete. The more trunk sucker growth removal, the less the likelihood the tree will suffer storm damage. The foliar sail-effect will be dramatically reduced with judicious internal crown pruning.

It is important to understand the condition the property will be left in upon completion. Is debris removed? Is the yard neatly raked? Is the driveway or road chipping area blown or swept clean?

All these procedures take time and one tree company may save time by overlooking these details. I was once underbid by about half by a company I had not heard of. When I inspected their job after completion, I noticed the tree climber had used climbing spikes to ascend all the trees. Climbing spikes injure a tree, opening the trunk to wood decaying fungi. It also aesthetically impairs the tree. No arborist would ever use climbing spikes on any tree not being removed. Also, it is important to check paperwork and see insurance documents for liability and employee protection.

When prices vary, sometimes it is the result of two people visualizing the same job using different techniques which can take different amounts of time. Other times, it is the result of the low baller cutting certain corners that may be acceptable to the homeowner such as a bad rake up, or could be costly to the trees or occupants, such as using spikes or leaving dead wood in the upper crown.

The important thing to remember is that it is good for all involved to ask the appropriate questions. This enables the homeowner to understand the scope of the job being estimated so you can more accurately compare apple trees to apple trees.