Mark Chisholm on Large Tree Pruning Safety

There is no plant quite as majestic as a tree. Not only do they provide some of the basic necessities such as clean air and shelter, the landscape would be barren without their green canopies and regal trunks. Trees also benefit homeowners by improving the energy efficiency of their homes. According to some studies, increasing the resale value of the property between 7 to 20 percent. So it just makes sense to take care of our trees. When it comes to mature trees not much maintenance is required, but if there are signs of trouble it is important to call in a certified arborist to diagnose a problem before it gets out of hand. Beyond a basic tree pruning service, a good arborist will be able to help you with tree pruning, preventive maintenance, diagnosis and treatment of diseases, insects, and general health issues. If you are thinking of adding trees to your garden, a certified arborist can help you with selection, planting and care.

There are seven post oaks at the Garden Home Retreat that I call the "Seven Sisters" and they are the pride of the landscape. When I began the Garden Home Retreat project, one of my first tasks was finding a certified arborist to take a look at the Sisters.

One of the Seven Sisters
Finding an arborist is somewhat like selecting a new doctor. It’s always good to contact one with a solid reputation. During the Tour des Trees cycling event, I met a lot of arborists and they all recommended Mark Chisholm, a third generation arborist and tree climbing champion. Mark has won many competitions for tree climbing including the 2001 International Society of Arborculture International Tree Climbing Championship and the ISA New Jersey Chapter Tree Climbing Championship for fifteen years straight. This competitive streak combined with his skill and knowledge made him the ideal person to consult about the 7 post oaks growing at the Garden Home Retreat.

So, Mark came out to the farm to show me the things I need to do to keep the Sisters strong and healthy. Here is an excerpt from our conversation where Mark discusses tree pruning and tree pruning safety.

Mark Chishom Speaks with AllenAllen: We are really excited about the work you are going to do here.

Mark: Yes, I’m excited too. These trees are magnificent.

Allen: We call them the Seven Sisters but I guess one of them should be designated as the big sister.

Mark: I’d say the one right in the center.

Allen: Yes, that one is in the epicenter of all the activity. Well, tell me what you think of these trees and what we need to do.

Mark: Sure. First, we need to do a little hazard evaluation to make sure everyone is out of harm’s way.

Allen: What are the first things you look for when evaluating a tree?

Mark: Generally speaking I look for what is called the three "Ds" – dead, diseased and dying.

Allen: What about getting to the actual cuts? There is a proper way to do things.

Mark Chisholm Demonstrating a Proper CutMark: When making a cut, there is a lot to consider depending on the size of the branch. If the branch is small, a pair of hand snips or a hand saw is a sufficient pruning tool. Make sure you have secure footing and make a clean cut. But when tackling larger limbs you have to think about a few things, especially when using a chain saw. You have to know about chainsaw safety. When making the cut, what I try to do is make a cut that will eliminate the branch without damaging the trunk tissue. So, I use what is called a 3 step-cut, which is basic on a large limb. Make an under cut slightly into the underside of the branch, stopping before it gets too deep. Then make a topping cut right above or slightly out from the under cut so that when the limb falls it will break cleanly from the tree.

Allen: So, Mark is there a time when a homeowner should consider bringing in a professional tree pruning service?

Mark: Yes, absolutely. It depends on a lot of things, to be honest with you. For example, the current positioning of the tree – if it is near power lines, a house, a roadway. A rule of thumb to follow is that if you haven’t tackled tree pruning yourself very often or you are just not feeling comfortable with the situation, call in a pro. Another reason to hire a tree pruning service is whenever you have to take your cutting or pruning practices above ground. This makes the project quite dangerous. As an arborist I don’t work without firm footing on the ground, a secure anchor to the tree or in a lift. Those are the only places where I feel comfortable and safe.

Allen: I’m sure having the right tree pruning equipment is really important.

Mark's Protective GearMark: Yes. I never work in a tree without having personal protective equipment, what we in the business call PPE. It starts with head protection, which is a helmet or hard hat depending on the job. As a climber I need to have a helmet on my head. This helmet is built for climbers because it has a chin strap so if I turn upside down it stays on and keeps protecting my head. The hard hat styles are made for working on the ground to deflect falling debris from felling and such.

Allen: Very good. Well, I didn’t know the difference.

Mark: You also need hearing protection. You can either go with an ear plug like I use or you can use the ear muff style hearing protection. And then there is eye protection, which of course is definitely a must have. Eye protection should be impact resistant and made for this type of work.

And lastly, we have chain saw protection in the form of chain saw pants. You can also get leg protection in chaps. These protective pants or chaps are made of material that will actually stop the chain from moving once it comes in contact with the material. The material pulls out and stops the chain very quickly.

Allen: I’ve seen that at work. It’s amazing and really clogs up the chain.

Mark: It doesn’t protect you 100 percent from getting a cut, but these pants greatly reduce the risk of having a major injury.

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