Tree service in the morning. Tree falls down in a storm that evening.
July 7, 2014 10:28 PM   Subscribe

Should I try to get my money back from the arborist?

So this morning I had a well regarded local tree company perform part 2 of an expensive maintenance job on a very large pear tree in my front yard. Part 1 happened about a month ago and involved trimming the tree canopy by about 25% to lighten it and part 2 was installing support cables between the upper branches to keep it stable.

Fast forward a few hours to this evening here in central Ohio and we had a big rain/wind storm and that beautiful tree is now sitting horizontal across my driveway blocking it completely and partially hanging off the power lines (which are fixed now). Could their work in putting in the support cables this very morning have weakened the tree somehow or should I just write it all off as bad luck? It feels wrong to me that the very day I paid this company hundreds of dollars to stabilize it, the tree fell flat at the first wind storm to come along.
posted by Poldo to Home & Garden (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Ask them to get you a new tree.
posted by bensherman at 10:44 PM on July 7, 2014

A tree of that vintage surely must have lived through similarly big wind and rain storms in years gone by, right? Or was there something particularly brutal about this storm? My point being: if this was not a Super Storm, then yes, it sounds like their cabling work may have actually destabilized the tree -- perhaps they inadvertently took away the tree's natural ability to bend and sway in the wind, and it instead was rendered overly rigid by their handiwork, and snapped instead of swayed.

I'm so is very sad to see a big old tree like that go down. I think it's worth an effort to have them make you whole. I wonder if they have insurance for something like this?
posted by nacho fries at 10:48 PM on July 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

It can't hurt to at least ask them to come back and take a look and explain the work that they did. They may give you a break. At the very least, they might cut up the fallen tree for you for free. Too bad about the tree.
posted by Gotanda at 11:14 PM on July 7, 2014 [5 favorites]

Generally the more professional arborists these days won't cable trees as when it gets to that point you're just staving off the inevitable. Additionally if the tree is at all healthy the cable actually prevents the wood from bending and flexing in the wind, which has a tendency to encourage growth that will help keep the tree strong and flexible (think of how much exercise your arm gets when it's in a sling). As another factor thinning the canopy makes other parts of the tree experience higher wind forces than they are used to.

So I wonder what sort of implied warranty you really have here. What Gotanda said -- they may give you a break on the cleanup.
posted by dhartung at 12:59 AM on July 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

Did the trunk snap, or did the roots tear loose from the ground? Regardless, I'd say the tree service could conceivably have inadvertently done something to nudge it over the edge of failure but the tree must've been precarious to begin with. I think it's unlikely the tree service did something catastrophically wrong. Their biggest mistake may have been advising you to try to save it in the first place.
posted by jon1270 at 3:42 AM on July 8, 2014 [7 favorites]

A) the tree was old and the best the arbourists could do was not enough to save it, or
B) the arbourists did something that was bad for the tree or
C) the tree was old and going to fall and the arbourists made the situation worse.

Your most likely probability is A. I'm assuming you called in arbourists in the first place because you had doubts about the tree and not that some arbourist company truck pulled up into your driveway and convinced you that your tree needed looking after. B is only at all likely if you did indeed succumb to the sales pictch of a wandering arbourist sales-person.

My suggestion is that you call a different arbourist to get you clean up done and ask them before they begin if they would have done anything differently to save your tree. That will give you a better idea of if the case is really C.

However this is the kind of situation where deep feelings of injustice are likely to rise up and make you want to blame the people who were supposed to prevent this situation. You paid money for an arbourist and you earned a happy healthy tree. It feels cognitively wrong that the tree should prompty fall. This is similar to the situation where Grandpapa goes to the doctor, gets told that his heart is good and his cholesterol needs a perscription and then drops dead of a stroke the next day. Incredulity and grief are apt to cry out, "But he just went to the doctor!" and might even muse on a malpractice suit, all because the timing is so wrong and unfair. But it doesn't make it the fault of the doctor. Doctors don't do magic.

My internet search on "lifespan pear tree" came up with: Flowering pear has a relatively short lifespan of 15 to 25 years, many flowering pear trees live only 15 to 20 years because of inherent problems.

How old was your pear tree? If it had twenty years I would say you probably reached the end of its salvagable lifespan.
posted by Jane the Brown at 5:32 AM on July 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

The pear tree was of unknown vintage, was very large and very wide, but was also quite healthy looking. I've owned this house for three years but it was built in 1981 and I suspect the tree has been there since then. I called the arborist out not out of any particular concern, I just wanted to make sure the larger trees on my lot were as healthy as they could be to avoid just this kind of thing. I got a call from him this morning and he said he'd drop by and give me a quote "at cost" to remove the remains. I think I agree that is was pretty much inevitable so I'll take him up on his offer of a reduced removal rate and call it a day. Thanks guys.
posted by Poldo at 6:16 AM on July 8, 2014

Flowering, non bearing Pear trees are notorious for being delicate and prone to failure. My town is slowly removing them from our street tree inventory as they die and replacing them with hardier, more robust species. So it is possible that it was just the tree's time. Maybe the wrong branch was removed, maybe not. Arborists go by their best judgement, it isn't an empirical science and trees are definitely non-determinant (i.e. the same inputs at different times will result in different outcomes). I would chalk it up to bad luck and move on.
posted by bartonlong at 10:48 AM on July 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

When you say Pear Tree, do you mean Bradford Pear Tree? Because those things are just gutless wonders. They split, fracture and fall over if you look at them too hard.

I had an arbor of them over our driveway. I had an arborist out twice a year to tend them.

Pain in the ass pear trees.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:58 AM on July 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

I honestly don't know exactly what kind of pear tree it was. The arborist said it was a flowering pear and it looked a lot like this when it bloomed in the spring but it was much much larger (40 to 50 feet high I'm guessing) than any of the pear tree pictures I have seen and the branch off points for the trunks were much closer to the ground. It had maybe half a dozen separate trunks each a couple of feet around. The base was maybe 6 feet in circumference. I had the arborist save me some straight branch-free sections about 6 feet long that I'm going to attempt to work into something. Not sure what yet.
posted by Poldo at 11:15 AM on July 8, 2014

That was a Bradford Pear. It's a beautiful tree, even though it makes a mess of the yard in the spring and poses a risk to property with its propensity to fall over on a sunny day.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:04 AM on July 9, 2014

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