Stories

Finishing The Job

I completed the removal of a dead Crape Myrtle recently and I was surprised to hear a now familiar story: “We had a man come out to do the job, but his chainsaw broke and then he didn’t come back.” I examined the cut and it was small enough that it could have been finished with a handsaw and effort. Why didn’t he?

Of the many times I’ve heard this story, some cases might be a person who takes the money and runs, but some are surely just leaving work on the table. In any case, I finished up the work left unfinished and was happy to do so. Sometimes the breadth of characters in the world surprises.

Mulberry In Raleigh

A customer contacted me about a Mulberry that had fallen down due to the heavy rains received in the previous days. In one of the established neighborhoods in the North Hills area of Raleigh, the Mulberry had been growing for a long time and providing privacy along a rear fence. And had it ever!

Storm Fallen Mulberry
Storm Fallen Mulberry
Storm Fallen Mulberry
Storm Fallen Mulberry

Mulberries are tremendous growers that put up multiple trunks and produce a lot of wood. Unlike a Bradford Pear, the wood is quite strong and so the Mulberry grows easily to an unbalanced shape as it seeks light. This tree was probably under 40 feet tall when standing, but nearly as wide, and was close to 2 feet in diameter at waist height.

The thing with storm fallen trees is that they are over, but they are not down. So the work is nearly as much, and in many cases more, than cutting a tree down from a standing position. The tree was pieced down carefully from the tips, working back, making sure to be careful of the shifting and rotating weight that is released from storm fallen wood.

Mulberry 75% Removed
Mulberry 75% Removed

In the end, the trunk was cut back close to the root mound and left as shown per the customer’s request. It measured over 24 inches at this point. You can also see the yellow wood and white sap that are hallmarks of Mulberry.

One of many trunks. Cut shows white sap.
One of many trunks. Cut shows white sap.
Mulberry cut back to root mound.
Mulberry cut back to root mound.

Disposal went well, the location wasn’t close to the street, but the land sloped down – a welcome relief. Because I don’t use heavy equipment and I work carefully, the yard was left in great condition despite moving a couple tons of tree across it.

Lawn Before
Lawn Before
Lawn After
Lawn After

Merry Christmas & Happy New Year

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to my customers. Whether you just had me out for an estimate or gave me the job, I enjoyed meeting so many this year. As my brother-in-law says about his business, “I have the best customers!” The only headaches this year were a few 95F/90% humidity days, a stuck tree that took all my coaxing to come down, and a split pair of pants. With a business that focuses on small trees, what suffered most was the wedges.

2016 Annual Report

  • Animals Rescued: 2 baby squirrels (Thank you, Wildlife Welfare)
  • Lost Tools: 1 Silky handsaw
  • Vehicles Stuck In Mud: 1
  • Vehicle Tire Flats: 1, shredded on Dogwood stump
  • Shovel Handles Broken: 3
  • Dogs Met: 4, only 1 hostile
  • Tyvek Suits Worn: 1, severe poison ivy on tree
  • Favorite Job: Mulberry Removal
  • Toughest Job: Hickory hung up in an Elm and a Magnolia. Save the Magnolia.
  • Furthest Job Location: Middlesex, NC
  • Most Shrubs Removed on One Job: 21
  • Hardest Plant ID: Ternstroemia gymnanthera. Great plant, I recommend using it where conditions permit.

Log Bucking in Raleigh

A customer had me out to remove a dead pine tree, broken & hung-up, that was in danger of collapsing onto his home. That worked completed, he had me back out a week later to buck up all of the fallen wood on his property.

Log bucking is simply cutting wood into shorter lengths that can later be split for firewood or used in outdoor fire pits. Generally the lengths are from 12 to 16 inches, depending. I don’t do splitting. I do stack, but the customer didn’t want that in this case.

Thanks to the more powerful equipment I use and the tools I have for handling timber I was able to cut up everything on his lot in 2.5 hours. In all I bucked Oak ranging from 6 to 12 inches in diameter, Pine from 4 to 16 inches, and large Tulip Poplar up to 22 inches that had fallen in a storm. When you have many fallen trees and a small chainsaw, it can save you many, many hours to use the log bucking service I offer.

Bucked Pine and Oak
Bucked Pine and Oak 2

Pruning Service

I offer pruning for small trees, fruit trees, ornamental trees, and shrubs such as Roses, Privets, and Figs. You can find more details on my Services page. My goal is to prune to arboricultural standards while meeting your requirements as closely as possible. So I prune for the health of the tree, with proper cuts, and at the proper times. This means I don’t top Crapemyrtles or prune Oaks in the middle of the Spring.

Here is a ‘Red Delicious’ Apple Tree (Malus domestica) I pruned in March 2015. This was right before bud break with pictures just two weeks later as the buds began to break.

front-pre
Apple, pre-pruning from the front
side-pre
Apple, pre-pruning
side-post
Apple, post-pruning
side-post-spring
Apple, post-pruning, bud break

This tree is at least 35 years old and in fairly good condition with only one major defect in the trunk and strong leaf out each year. The tree hadn’t been pruned in a few years, so there was a lot of extra growth.

Why not prune more? The general rule of thumb is no more than 1/4 of the canopy in a year (1/3 for shrubs). Also, the tree is older and is in fairly good, but not great condition. Pruning doesn’t make a tree grow larger, but young trees can take a lot pruning because they don’t have a lot of mass to maintain. Very mature trees often have a precarious energy balance where pruning just a small portion of the canopy causes the tree to go into decline.

The tree produced few, if any, blooms in 2015. It was a heavy pruning and I knocked a lot of the buds off working in the tree to gain access for all the cuts. Had the pruning been done in January, perhaps the buds would have been in a firmer state. The tree produced great leaves, though, and in 2016 had a good crop of fruit.

Unfortunately, it’s the last of the three apple trees originally planted in the location and pollination is more difficult now. Here is an article on Apple Tree pollination.

For more information on pruning, see the Trees Are Good website.

Shrub Removal Service

Have a house built in the last 20 years? You’ll find that the builders in almost every case installed shrubs far to close to your foundation. Now you’ve got 10 foot Hollies growing against your siding blocking airflow, 15 foot Viburnums you keep hacking back because you can’t access your hose, Loropetalum growing over your foot path, or Euonymous that just look bad.

It’s time to make your landscape match your wonderful house by planting shrubs you actually want to look at, varieties that grow to the size you want, and by planting them 3 to 8 feet off of your foundation.

First, you’ve got to get rid of the old, nasty ones. You can hire someone to cut them down to the base, but you’ll still have stumps left. These stumps will grow back unless you apply herbicide and then they’ll still take years to decay.

Instead, hire Just Small Trees to remove your shrubs AND their stumps. I bring the usual qualifications (insured, certified, & licensed) plus I add four traits that allow me to offer you excellent pricing on shrub removal:

  1. I’m strong.
  2. I have excellent tools.
  3. I know how builders plant shrubs.
  4. I know how shrubs grow in response to number 3.

It may take you two hours, a broken shovel, and some mild swearing to remove one 8 foot Privet. I can get it out in 30 minutes and then dispose of it so you don’t have a big pile of yard waste sitting around; stumps of which decay slowly and don’t burn well.

Shrub Removal Pricing:

  • My regular prices apply to Aucuba, Buddleja (Butterfly Bush), Buxus (Boxwood), Callicarpa (Beautyberry), Camelia, Euonymous, Ficus (Fig), Forsythia, Ilex (Holly), Juniperus (Juniper), Lagerstroemia (Crapemyrtle), Ligustrum (Privet), Pittosporum, Rhododendron (Azalea), Rosemarinus (Rosemary), Syringa (Lilac), Ternstroemia (False Cleyera), Vaccinium (Blueberry), and Viburnum.
  • I have lower prices on Berberis (Barberry), Hydrangea, Loropetalum, and Nandina (Heavenly Bamboo) because of their shallow roots.
  • I have higher prices on Ilex cornuta (Chinese Holly), Phyllostachys (Bamboo), Pyracantha, and Rosa (Rose) because of their dense thorns or difficult stumps.

Dead Oak in Apex

The oak was dead. 45 feet tall, 11 inches wide, leaves and bark all. Before Hurricane Matthew came through NC, I received a call to take this dead oak down in its fenced-in yard. Get it down under control, not under the heavy winds and rain of Matthew.

Tree & Yard
Tree & Yard

The homeowner advised there was one corner of the yard where the tree would fit, correctly so. In addition, the yard was well gardened with flower beds and plenty of hardscape – overall a beautiful yard you don’t want to damage. Moving blankets protected the pavers, a tarp the fence.

Target Area
Target Area

Why was the tree dead? Lightning was one possibility as the tree seemed to suddenly die. Lightning strikes can go without visual damage for seasons, too, so when it happened was hard to say. When I dug around the base of the oak to inspect the root collar, I dug over 8 inches and still didn’t reach the roots. Suffocation may have killed this oak as tree roots need oxygen too. Construction is often the cause even though years pass before the tree suddenly dies.

Dead Top
Dead Top
Dead Bark
Dead Bark

I sounded the tree with a 3 lb. hammer. Dry but solid. The outer phloem was completely dead, the leaves totally dry.

I used a rope to control the oak with a rope puller, then the usual notch, back-cut, and wedges. Look at the stump and you can see two patterns on the back-cut, the obscured portion with a dull chain, and the clear portion a sharp one.

Stump - Dull vs Sharp Chain
Stump – Dull vs Sharp Chain

The tree landed right on the spot. The homeowner chose “downing” only, so I cut up and stacked the oak into a few portions and cleaned up. No damage to the hardscape and minimal damage to the tender salvias and torenias around the base of tree. The wood was dead heavy, each section 100 pounds easy. Only the top fifteen feet were completely rotten.

Tree Down 1 of 3
Tree Down 1 of 3
Tree Down 2 of 3
Tree Down 2 of 3
Tree Down 3 of 3
Tree Down 3 of 3
Cleanup 1 of 3
Cleanup 1 of 3
Cleanup 2 of 3
Cleanup 2 of 3
Cleanup 3 of 3
Cleanup 3 of 3

Have a dead oak you need down? Contact me.

Hickory in Raleigh

Earlier this year I cut down and disposed of a 32 foot hickory (Carya sp.) tree with a 12 inch base growing on the side of a customer’s house in Raleigh. Not only was this tree rubbing against the flashing and shingles of the roof, it had also grown so large the fuse box for the A/C unit could no longer be opened. I love hickories and pecans, but this one was totally out of place.

The tree was a simple removal because there was a favorable window in the yard to lay it down. I cut away branches to the roof line with a pole saw to get them out of the way. Rope installation followed and then a standard open-face notch with back-cut. I pulled down the hickory nice & easy by leaving the hinge wood a bit thicker. “Nice & easy” is the best way when dealing with hundreds of pounds of wood and many targets – house, A/C unit, and patio.

Tight control on the chainsaw was critical when finishing the downing phase by cutting the trunk away from the A/C unit. It was right on top of the fuse box with the large power cable going to the condenser only inches from the nose of the chainsaw’s bar.

After that, it was a simple job to load and clean up.

Have a tree growing into your air conditioner or the side of your house? Show me!

Mulberry in Downtown Raleigh

I picked up a tree work request recently that led me to downtown Raleigh. The pictures the owner sent me caught my eye: during a recent storm a 30 foot Mulberry (Morus rubra) trunk had split off from its larger partner and fell across the roof of his shed and the fences on three properties. Amazingly, there was minimal damage to all the structures from the initial fall. My task was to get this piece down without additional damage. The split was 8 feet off the ground and Mulberry is dense wood so this took some planning.

My overall course was to rig the trunk, suspending it off the remaining trunk with a line about 25 feet up that connected back to a monster of a Black Walnut (Juglans nigra) with a two high-strength slings and a rope puller. This way I could reduce the pressure the piece put on all the structures and have control over how the piece would drop.

I started by removing everything from the fences and cutting back so the trunk ended at the peak of the shed. A key here was to use moving blankets in between the limbs and fences before cutting to prevent additional damage. I also used multiple blankets to protect the shed roof. I reached the halfway point when the trunk was down to 10 feet long and off the shed.

At this point it was hanging by the rigging line on the right side and the split on the left. It was still over one fence, so I couldn’t just drop it. I cut off sections and lowered them instead. This prevented damage to the hard surfacing beside the shed. Then I used the rigging to pull the remaining stub up and back over the fence, took a short walk around the neighborhood to get into the other yard, and cut the last piece off.

It was one of those NC summer days when the temperature and humidity were the same number, probably 90, and I was fairly soaked at this point. But the finish line was in sight. I bucked up the logs for firewood, removed all the small limbs and leaves from the property, and raked & blew up the saw dust for a clean look.

Work sites like this are complicated with three properties, three owners, and fences in between them all. I was grateful that all involved were easy to work with. I’ve even been back since this job to do additional tree downing and disposal. One of my favorite jobs so far.

Do you have a tree split that you need taken down safely? Show me!

Sweetgum in Garner

The sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua) I often hear negative comments about. “To many seedlings.” “They drop gumballs everywhere and I step on the damn things.” I like the tree. The smell of crushed sweetgum leaves takes me back decades. Of course, don’t use it as a lawn tree unless you purchase a non-fruiting cultivar, but in the woods or in large natural areas the sweetgum is a fine tree. Good fall coloration, good lumber, and it burns well.

This customer called me and said he wanted the tree down because he didn’t like it. That’s almost always enough reason for me, unless you have a beauty of a tree. Arriving at his home you could see the tree was in poor shape with a ton of new growth mid-trunk. Once the tree was down I could see that the top was dead as well. Likely when the house was built this tree was saved. Being only 10 feet from the foundation, roots were cut and heavy equipment compacted the soil. Large branches could no longer be hydrated, died, and the tree produced new branches everywhere. This was a tree with no future.

That hardest part of this job was using a pole saw to cut out a large number of these small branches so I could get my rope high into the tree. It had a 5-10 degree lean towards the backyard and I needed it to fall towards the road. My initial rope location about 15 feet up wasn’t enough leverage, so I moved it up another 10 feet before getting started. I used a rope puller attached to a noticeably large pine tree on the edge of the property and with a proper face cut and wedges, this tree came down just right.



The customer ordered log bucking to use the wood for burning. This generally costs 20-30% of what it costs to take the tree down, whereas disposal is 75-150% of the cost. If you’ve got a tree that burns well and like to use your fireplace or firepit, get it bucked, save money, and have wood to burn.

Have a sweetgum tree you want cut down? Show me!

Dead Oak in Fuquay Varina

I encountered a large, very dead oak tree when a man I ran into on another job called me out to his home. He said when I met him that someone walking the neighborhood looking for tree work had passed on it. I visited in person after he sent a picture that showed a favorable crotch for a rope.

The dead, rotten oak in question.
The dead, rotten oak in question.

The tree was about 60 feet tall, 20-22 inches in diameter, full of dead wood up top, and rotten bark all the way to the roots. Even the root flare was rotting. There was some firmer wood inside.  It had a favorable lean into a clearing backed by strong trees that could hold a rope. I told the man that if he wanted a precision job, bring in a cherry picker to bring it down piece-by-piece; I didn’t think anyone would climb this tree.

After my visit I sent a quote. I described what I would do: put a rope on the tree about 30 feet up and use a rope puller. I wanted the entire tree to come over like it was blown down. I gave three prices: lowest if it came down on one pull, middle if it required multiple pulls, and highest if I had to cut it down. I also asked him to be present with his own chain saw in case things went wrong. And a dead, rotten tree can go very wrong. I could be hit by falling branches, a collapsing shell, a trunk broken mid-point, or even the entire tree falling over.

I didn’t hear back from the man.

That is until a month later, when he asked me to come out and do the work that Wednesday. It had rained recently and I thought the conditions favorable for pulling the tree over. I was shocked when I arrived and found a new shed built in the exact spot where I had planned on felling the tree!

I went over options with the man. There was a good spot about 90 degrees from the lean. He assured me multiple times that, because the shed was free and although he didn’t want the shed hit by the tree, it was okay if the tree did hit it. He wanted that dead, rotten tree down. He also said the same thing about any ornamental trees, shrubs, or other plants. All damage in that area was waived.

I set up the area. Coned off a restricted area, got my rope in place, and got all my equipment out. In the video, you can see I didn’t use a running bowline to set the rope on the crotch. Instead, I ran the rope down to the base of the tree and attached it with a timber hitch. I wanted to get my rope back for another plan if things didn’t go well. I also used a zepplin bend on two ropes to get the length I needed.

Rope set up on the oak for pulling.
Rope set up on the oak for pulling.
Rope puller set up with slings on a strong tree.
Rope puller set up with slings on a strong tree.

Story short. The tree would not go over with the puller alone. I had to cut. I gave a hand signal to the man so he could tell me if he saw the tree moving and  I made my notch while looking up as often as possible. On the back cut I noticed one side cut much easier than the other. I ignored this clue at the time because I wanted to clear the tree as soon as possible.

Back on the rope puller, the tree came over. It landed perfectly, not hitting the shed at all. In fact, the only thing it hit was another tree the man will remove later.

The tree on the ground. A perfect landing.
The tree on the ground. A perfect landing.
The canopy was rotten through. This is a dangerous situation.
The canopy was rotten through. This is a dangerous situation.

But it didn’t go as planned and I don’t like that. Two things showed why the tree fell it as it did. First, I wanted the tree to land 90 degree from the lean. Second, I noticed one side cutting more easily than the other. The result was the tree landed at 45 degrees from the intended lay. Jeff Jepson in “To Fell A Tree” states that trees felled perpendicular to the lean often result “…in a tree landing 45 degrees away from the intended lay.” One reason is “hinge wood [that] could not support the tree (weak, decayed)…” You can see that almost 50% of the hinge has either rotted away or is decayed, punky wood. This was the side that cut more easily.

The hinge of the tree had good wood, no wood, and rotten wood.
The hinge of the tree had good wood, no wood, and rotten wood.
The clue that the internal wood may be defective as well.
The clue that the internal wood may be defective as well.

The tree was felled safely. The only way to get better odds on property damage would have been to use a bucket truck and that would have been 3 to 4 times more expensive. I laid out the facts for the man and he decided. That is how I treat my customers.

A dead, dangerous tree has been taken down. If you have dead trees on your property, especially where you work or play, get them down now. If you do it while the wood is still strong, you’ll get a much better price.

Bradford Pears in Apex

Here are several videos a customer took in April of a tree downing and disposal job in Apex. This is the second of two bradford pears, Pyrus calleryana. It was 38 feet tall with a 12 inch diameter. A bull rope was attached approximately in line with the eventual lay and tied off on the base of a similar size pine near the edge of the property. The first tree was heavily off-center in a favorable direction due to branch breakage in previous years, but this tree was balanced and closer to the house. Wedges may have been enough, but a rope made the job far safer. Plus it’s always a pleasure to put a rope to work.

Bradford pear, particularly, is like glass as it’s quite strong until it isn’t. I’ve yet to meet a customer who regretted removing a bradford pear and sooner is always better than later with trees you don’t want. If you’ve got a tree you’d like out, take a few pictures and send them to me.