Should Florida residents do this to trees before hurricane season?

23 May, 2014 Idea of the day “We all have to stay students to the end or else you’re just propagandizing your fixed agenda.” Austin Kleon

Early this morning I drove up to a prospective customer with a neat well-kept home and landscaping and knocked on her door. I wasn’t expecting what happened next. But with about one out of every forty customers, I run into this set of characteristics in a homeowner.

She was abrupt. Barely took time to introduce herself. She brushed past me and pointed at a beautiful twenty-year-old live oak on the edge of her neighbor’s front lawn and at its foliage-filled limbs which arched gracefully some ten to fifteen feet above her roof. Live oak over house
She started talking in a rapid-fire, hostile and angry tone.

“Hurricane season is coming and I want ALL those limbs off my roof, all the way off. We’re overdue and that’s what I want. How much?”

I smiled to myself. Oh boy, here we go, I thought. I knew the mindset.

“Ok, m’am. And what are you trying to accomplish?” I asked as pleasantly as I could.

“Well the obvious, I don’t want those limbs landing on my roof in a summer windstorm or hurricane. See, take it back all the way to the trunk, there and there and there,” she said machine-gun-like as she pointed with force at the base of each large limb.

“Those are large limbs, Mrs. Miller, 10 to 14 inches in diameter. Removing that many limbs of that size would shock and stress the tree comparable to cutting off a person’s arms. It can weaken the tree’s whole immune system, lower its energy reserves and potentially create an entrance point for decay. Then you might be forced to take the entire tree down!”

“That would be fine with me. That would be my neighbor’s problem. My house roof is more important!” she spat out aggressively.

I could tell the lady was scared to death. Hopefully I could calm her down with a little education. But I knew it wouldn’t be easy.

“Mrs. Miller, did you know if trees and plants weren’t here, we wouldn’t be either? Did you know that 98% of all the oxygen on earth comes from trees and plants? That they cool the environment, prevent erosion, provide wildlife habitat, provide wind protection from storms, create privacy screens and noise and headlight buffers from traffic . . . that every time you preserve a tree, you’re doing your part to help the planet?”

“That sounds like nice philosophy but it doesn’t resolve the risk to my roof!” she shot back.

I could see I was going to have to be more practical with her.

“Do you see those large amount of leaves over your roof.”

“Yes! I hate them,” she said irritatedly. Have to rake them up every spring and they get in my gutters!”

“I see. But they also provide a wonderful cushion should those limbs ever break and fall. They’d just go “pfoof” onto the roof like a big pillow under the wood. But the odds of them breaking in the first place are very low – because the live oak is one of the strongest trees in Florida. If this were a weaker, more brittle oak like a laurel oak or a water oak you might have a good reason for concern. But if we had a hurricane strong enough to break those young healthy live oak limbs (and we haven’t had winds that strong for probably 50 years or more in this area), then this tree won’t be your only problem. Any tree in your neighbors’ yards or your yard could blow onto your roof. Should we cut them all down too?”

Finally she was quiet, with no immediate response.

“I don’t see why I can’t do whatever I want with trees over my roof,” she said with a stubborn look on her face.

“Well you can. But remember, they aren’t part of the construction material of a house. They’re living things. If you treat them well, they will help you back. I have a home that has trees all over my roof. My friend has a house of the same square footage with no trees over his roof. Do you know he pays $200 more a month in air-conditioning bills than I do? With the money you save, you could easily have a man clean the gutters once or twice a year and have a lot left over!”

Reluctantly she was starting to run out of arguments. . .

“Well can’t you at least remove some of those limbs?!”

“We could. At the tips that wouldn’t stress the tree out. But that would remove a lot of foliage too and I’m concerned that would take away your safety pillow and the more naked limbs falling from fifteen feet with all that momentum might then cause more damage to the roof than if we leave them alone!”

She was actually quiet for a few seconds.

“You mean you’re not going to do ANYTHING for me!”

“Mrs. Miller I think I have done a lot for you. Sometimes part of my job as an arborist is to keep people from doing things to their trees that will make the trees more hazardous than if left alone. And that saves them money they don’t need to spend at the same time. Often to protect a homeowner’s property from trees, first we have to protect the trees from homeowners!” I said to her with as big a smile as I could muster.

She rolled her eyes. She threw up her arms. She should have been an actress.

“I never heard of a tree company not doing work they were asked to do!”

“Well we’re not just any tree company out to take your money. We’re responsible arborists. We’re being honest with you and looking out for the best survival of everything in the environment at the same time.”

“You’d better be right about my roof!”

I smiled again.

“I trust I am. Right now this tree is healthy as a young ox. But if you see something over your roof break in the wind this summer or show up dead in the canopy with no leaves on it, give us a call and we’ll take care of it!

“All right, all right,” and she waved me off as she headed back in the house, shaking her head and finally chuckling slightly still in disbelief she had lost the argument.


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