Tree work guide: 9 questions to ask your potential landscaper

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Atlanta area homeowners know that landscaping reaches far beyond mowing the lawn and keeping the pool...

Atlanta area homeowners know that landscaping reaches far beyond mowing the lawn and keeping the pool tidy. Tree work--trimming, planting and removal--are important to maintaining a gorgeous Southern lawn. Before trusting these major tasks to a landscaping company, quiz the staff on their services. Here are nine key questions to get the conversation started.

1. Do you have a trimming schedule?
Unless you're hiring a landscaper to trim away dead branches or do a light pruning, tree trimming needs to coordinate with a tree's lifecycle. For example, doing a major branch removal in the spring when a magnolia tree is budding can stunt or kill the tree. Expect to complete major trimming in the summer after flowering trees are done blooming.

2. Do you haul away the tree trimmings?
Don't assume that a quote for trimming or pruning also includes disposal. Since landfill and waste fees are higher in the city, many companies pass this expense on to the consumer. Ask for an itemized quote before hiring the landscaper. You don't want to be left with a pile of branches littering your yard or an unexpected expense.

3. Do you mulch the tree trimmings?
If the service doesn't include disposal--and you don't want to pay the extra fees--ask the landscaper if he offers on-site mulching services. Some companies haul mulchers as part of their everyday tools. For free, or a fee smaller than disposing of the tree waste, you can turn the trimmings into useful ground cover for flower beds or around the swimming pool.

4. What method do you use for tree removal?
One size doesn't fit all when taking down large trees. Ask for a complete explanation of the tree removal process before signing on the dotted line. Some trees are skillfully removed in sections while others are cut at the base and guided to the ground with ropes. Ask if work trucks will need to park on the lawn or if portions of a fence will need to be removed to complete the tree removal. The homeowner will be responsible for completing prep tasks before the landscaper arrives.

5. Do you carry insurance to cover property damage?
You need to know if the company carries insurance. What if a tree limb falls on your fence, or a misguided tree lands on your neighbor's home? Do you really want to pay the deductible on your homeowners insurance or fix the neighbor's property? Many landscapers are bonded and insured for possible mishaps. Get the details in writing before they fire up the chainsaws.

6. Do you offer stump removal?
After a live tree is removed, you're left with a stump and live roots. If you don't plan to repurpose the stump into yard art or a bird bath, ask the company if they offer stump removal. Stump grinding or chemical deterioration will kill the live parts of the tree that remain underground, preventing regrowth. But you will still be left with an indentation in the lawn. Ask the company if they can backfill the hole and plant grass seed where the tree once stood.

7. Do you call utility providers before digging?
Ask who is responsible for calling utility companies before the digging begins. In some cities, it's the homeowner's responsibility. Some companies will automatically complete this task as part of a safety checklist. It doesn't really matter who takes care of the task as long as all gas, water, electric and cable lines are clearly marked before anyone breaks ground.

8. Do you offer follow-up maintenance plans?
Many landscape companies will offer a follow-up service or maintenance packages when they're hired for extensive tree planting and landscaping. If you don't have a green thumb, ask about weekly or monthly maintenance plans to make sure the new foliage gets a good start in your yard. Services may include routine watering, fertilizing and pruning.

9. What is your guarantee on new plantings?
No matter how well you care for your lawn, some plants simply don't survive. Ask the landscape company how long they guarantee new plantings and under what conditions. Natural weather disasters, such as hurricanes or hail, are usually not covered. You should be able to tell if a new tree is going to thrive after a month to 60 days. Find out if the guarantee is simply for a new plant, or if the warranty also includes the labor to remove the old tree and plant a new one. Depending on the size of a tree, labor costs can add up quickly.

Ready to get that yard into shape? Call a landscaper today to schedule your tree work.

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