How do you know if you’ve got the right guy at your corporate door to preserve your tree? Well, you either got a word-of-mouth referral or you saw his advertisement somewhere — perhaps on the web, perhaps you googled tree preservation, perhaps you found the guy in print somewhere. But you’re a smart guy yourself. You did not get to where you are by not asking the right questions. If you did marry the boss’s daughter you earned your position.
You already know that the first question you should pose is regarding the ANSI standards. Those are the standards that the attorneys will look at when something goes wrong. You’re out a lot of money and the tree did not get treated as you contracted for. It happens. All the time. If the guy looks at you with a blank stare, you’ve probably got the wrong person. Remember please, the first rule of tree preservation as far as the arborist is concerned, or for that matter, any assignment, is to protect the client. You cannot protect the client from tree failures, wrongful death, personal injury, or breach-of-contract by not first covering your posterior with national standards.
But what comes next after national standards? Well, the tree- care practitioner in front of you should at a minimum present to you some testing to be conducted on the tree you want to preserve. Recall what happens when you go for your annual checkup. Does the doctor take blood work? What would your reaction be if the doctor came into the office, sat down, and started telling you what was wrong with you? No blood work. No x-rays. No type of testing whatsoever. Just started to diagnose your problem by looking at you. How would you respond? Seriously. After the initial shock, you most likely would leave his office never to return and never to forget the experience. Yet you’re ready to do that with the important tree that you hope to preserve. Right? Right.
The arborist at your proverbial door should be recommending to you soil testing and tissue testing. Think of a buffet table. As you walk down the endless array of choices before you, do you take a little bit of everything that’s offered? Of course not. Now think of the soil in which your tree is growing as the buffet table. You need to know what’s on that table before you make a selection. You need to know what’s in the soil before you start the preservation protocol.
But what’s in the soil is only part of the story. You also need to know what the tree has taken up from that which is being offered. That’s tissue testing. The soil may, but certainly will not, have an abundance of nutrients in it but the tree will not take up all of those nutrients. Just like you did not take a sampling from the buffet table of everything that was being offered. It must be known what nutrients are present in your tree and at what levels they are at. Otherwise, how can the arborist know what nutrients to apply and at what levels? He can’t, unless there are both tissue and nutrient testing.
Once your arborist has both of these tests, they should be placed in a juxtaposition for analysis. There is a lot of diagnostic information that must be known before a tree can be successfully preserved. As an example, probably the most important component is the soil pH. PH, the power of hydrogen, tells you if the soil is “sweet” or if the soil is “sour”. Why? Because soil ph affects the ability to take up certain nutrients from the soil profile into the tree. pH affects a number of other things including microorganisms and their activity in the soil. For your purposes, you want to know about the uptake phenomena. There’s also the cation exchange capacity, which will tell you what nutrients will leach out of the soil profile, which, in turn, will enable you to create a maintenance regime that will keep the tree healthy in the after situation of the preservation effort. The estimated nitrogen release is another important component of soil testing.
More easily explained are “danger words” or “quack-talk” that is certain to come from the person in front of you should they not know that of which they speak. Some of these bad words include organic inoculations, liquid organics, mycorrhizae injections/inoculations, deep-root fertilization, and fertilization itself; especially bad, nitrogen. Should you hear any of these words, please let them serve as a danger signal to you that the person in front of you knows not of tree biology or meaningful tree preservation. They are quacks. Sometimes unwittingly; sometimes not. But it doesn’t make a difference. Get them out of your office as quickly as possible. If they sit there too long they may talk you into buying their service.
And that would be a mistake.