Corridor arborists earn their living up in the trees

Realizing that each tree is different, planning ahead are key, tree expert says

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Winter storm severe tree damage likely will keep Corridor tree services busy for months to come.

Doug Johnson of Totalscapes in Cedar Rapids often is hired as a consultant to assess trees suspected of being diseased or insect infested.

A certified arborist for about 14 years, Johnson recalled a job where oak trees were marked for removal on suspicion of oak disease without being tested. It turned out that, after he did tests, some oaks did not have oak disease — but something else that was treatable.

Arborist certification is governed by the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA). Certification involves extended education in the field, honing technical skills, completing the ISA certification program for tree care and passing an ISA test.

Johnson discourages “topping” oak trees, saying it’s unhealthy for the trees. Proper tree cutting and pruning also is important to a tree’s health, he noted.

“A lot of your tree services don’t do it the way it ought to be done. If you cut a branch off wrong, it actually hurts your plant,” Johnson explained.

Pruning and cutting correctly depend on tree size and species. There are different classes of pruning, such as cleaning out dead wood, or reducing the tree’s size.

“It would be nice if every job had a certified arborist on it, but that’s not going to happen. It would be nice if those in the business would talk to a certified arborist on how to do the jobs, but that’s not going to happen due to cost,” Johnson said.

At 64, Johnson said, “I don’t do a lot of large takedowns any more since I’m getting older. I consult a lot.”

Johnson points with pride to his planting and landscaping of the Clark McLeod estate, which involved a large variety of trees and other plants. The 18-month job “was a long, hard project,” Johnson recalled.

Teachable moments

Robert Way of Arbor Tech Tree Service in Cedar Rapids said that, “Most of the time I can walk up to any tree and tell the owner that this or that should come off for the tree’s health. (I) can explain to the customer everything the tree needs — then we ask what they want done.

“We try to steer them to the best way for the tree’s health.”

It’s rare that certified arborists work in trees, but he did and still does, Way said.

“I think it’s my job to teach people everything I can about the tree,” Way said.

He does not charge extra for his expertise — and never asks for advance payment.

“If you hire us, you will not pay one penny until you are satisfied. Don’t ever hire that first guy in a pickup” truck for tree work, Way said. And always make sure they are insured.

Way believes he’s saved a lot of trees during his 20-plus year career. One way to extend a tree’s life is to remove dead wood, he said.

“Insects are attracted to dead wood. If you clean out the dead wood, your trees should not have a bug problem,” he said.

Way also works for construction companies and the city of Cedar Rapids, as well as contracting with tree services and nurseries.

Still climbing

Dave Wyant of Grateful Trees, Cedar Rapids, is another former certified arborist. He still specializes in climbing and working in trees himself.

“I’ve always done the climbing. I just need somebody to do the cleanup. At 58, I’m ancient for a climber. It’s hard, physical work,” Wyant said.

Wyant became a certified arborist in 1992 but dropped his Iowa certification about six years ago. Wyant does mostly residential jobs, probably 200 a year. Taking care of trees at Armar Plaze has been among his commercial jobs.

“An arborist knows what’s best for the tree and the homeowner,” he said.

On each job, Wyant first looks at the tree and forms a plan.

“Every tree is different. You need to think ahead. I always tend to advocate for trees … but you’ve got to keep in mind it’s their tree. I just explain the situation as what’s best for the tree and then take it from there.” 

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