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 Azaleas in the fall.

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.

Apple, pre-pruning from the front
Apple, pre-pruning
Apple, post-pruning
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 too close to your foundation. Now you’ve got 10 foot Hollies growing against your siding blocking airflow, 15 foot Viburnums blocking access to your watering hose, Loropetalums growing over your foot paths, and Euonymous that have lost their touch.

Make your landscape match your home 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.

If you hire someone to cut them down to the base, you’ll still have stumps left. Landscape shrubs are bred to be tough and vigorous, so 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 unwanted shrubs AND their stumps. I bring my qualifications (insured, certified, & licensed) plus a few more things 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 because of how they are planted.
  5. I have the experience of removing hundreds of shrubs.

It may take you two hours, a broken shovel or two, and some mild swearing to remove one 8 foot Privet. Hire me and I’ll get it out in 30 minutes and dispose of it so you don’t have a pile of yard waste sitting around with stumps that 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.
  • Prices for older shrubs are higher than younger ones of similar size because the stumps will be bigger, even if the shrubs have been pruned to the same height every year.

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.

Sycamore Anthracnose in Wake Forest

Late in April a customer in Wake Forest (north of Raleigh) asked me to look at his tree. There was bark damage on the trunk and the leaves were growing in strangely.

The tree was a Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis). From the images he sent I noticed the leaves looked curled and despite the intense golden glow from the sunset (he really captured a great color), the color of the leaves was off. It had been cool and wet this spring, with the exception of a brief heat wave that started just days before he took the pictures. My best guess was anthracnose.

Sycamore Leaves - April
Sycamore Leaves – April
Sycamore Tree
Sycamore Tree – May

To confirm, I was expecting to see damaged leaves as shown by Iowa State and re-growth of newer leaves that would be unaffected as the temperatures had risen enough to supress anthracnose.

I visited his property on May 5th and found these symptoms: affected leaves had large blotches of dead tissue, there were a great many missing leaves (probably killed in the bud stage), and new green leaves were coming in. Although temperatures did reach 29F on two days in early April I don’t expect that temperature would affect a tree with a range that reaches Maine. The Sycamore had anthracnose.

Damaged Leaves
Sycamore Leaves with Anthracnose
Missing Leaves
Sycamore Missing Leaves due to Anthracnose
New Leaves
Sycamore Green New Leaves After Warmup

The trunk damage was a bark wound about 1/8 of the tree’s circumference along the base. I don’t know if it was caused by anthracnose or if anthracnose exacerbated damage caused by a mower or trimmer. Notice that the lawn grows right up to the trunk. Grass does compete with trees for nutrients and, furthermore, grass next to a trunk means power tools next to a trunk (and root flare).

Trunk Damage
Sycamore Trunk Bark Damage

The customer asked what I recommended. My recommendations were:

The tree looks to be in fairly good condition. The trunk wound probably won’t close, but many trees live on with larger hollows and wounds.

What can you do?
1. Create a mulch ring around the tree out to the drip line of the tree. This would be 20 to 30 feet in diameter. At a minimum, I would create a mulch ring 10 feet in diameter to protect the tree trunk. Ideally, scrape away the grass and dirt for a 5 foot diameter around the trunk b/c it’s high. Visible root flare is good. Just don’t damage the roots or trunk when doing so. Beyond that, kill the grass. Cover with 2-3 inches of arborist wood chips or triple shredded bark. Don’t use pine bark, straw, or artificial mulch.

2. You could get tree injections to treat the fungus. These will need to repeated every few years.

3. When leaves come down, rake them up and dispose of them.

4. If you did want the tree removed, my quote would be $179 to cut down and $200 to dispose ($379 total).

With no injections, you would see about the same leaf damage early spring of each year, but as long as you get plenty of re-growth each spring the tree should make it okay. When you start to get less or get dead branches, then the tree is declining.

The customer replied, asking about fertilizer spikes. I replied:

Fertilize spikes won’t treat the tree disease. There are very few situations where I would recommend directly fertilizing a tree. In those cases I would do a soil and foliage test first. Doing the mulch is by far the best treatment for the tree, the wider you are willing to go the better with the drip line as the limit. 2-3″ of mulch will keep the soil from drying out as quickly, will capture more water, will eliminate competition with the grass currently there, and will break down over time to provide nutrients the tree needs, some of which you will lose by raking up the leaves.

Fertilizer spikes are a carry-over from crop plants, which are the result of human intervention to get big fruits and vegetables which require more nutrients to produce. If you want to spend money on the tree beyond the mulch, the fungicide injections would be the best bet.

Additional photos:

Leaves, After Storage
Sycamore Anthracnose Leaves, After Storage