Why is Do-it-Yourself Tree Care Dangerous?

Though it may seem simple, tree work is actually extremely complicated, technical and dangerous. Homeowners have been injured and even killed by falling limbs, faulty equipment, or general carelessness while attempting “do-it-yourself” tree work.

Common accident factors include:

  • Use of extension ladders. If you need to use a ladder for your tree care work, think twice. If your ladder does not extend at least 3 feet past the branch, cutting off the end of a branch will cause the branch to rise up beyond the ladder. Many ladder related fatalities occur this way. Do not make the mistake of setting the ladder on something unsteady to get the reach you need.
  • Improper tools. Faulty tree care equipment, such as a dull chain saw, can cause terrible accidents. It is very easy to lose control or misuse the tools, which often results in a trip to the hospital.
  • Lack of knowledge about tree physics and biology. Aimlessly hacking away at the tree with your axe or chain saw is dangerous! For example, homeowners are often tempted to cut corners by removing limbs in massive, unwieldy sections. The weight makes the limb section difficult to control, and this may damage the tree – or you.

If you are at all uncertain about what could happen by attempting your own tree work, contact us please at 845-398-2300 or [email protected]. Safety is the cornerstone of our profession, and Helmke has the experience and training necessary to navigate hazards.

In particular, Helmke professionals are trained to:

  • Identify trees or branches with decay, cracks or unbalanced weight
  • Avoid nearby overhead electrical wires and other conductors
  • Prevent falls from trees they are working on
  • Remove portions of or entire trees without causing bodily harm or property damage


Damage & Prevention FAQs


Q: How should I approach a tree entangled in wires?

Don’t. Trees may become energized when they are contacted by electric wires. Contact your power company, and they will arrange to have the debris safely removed.

Q: How do I determine if my tree is “at-risk”?

There are many factors that put a tree at risk. Contact with electric wires, dead or dangling limbs, cracks, decay, peeling bark, and gaping wounds are all indicative of an unstable tree. Helmke can catalogue these risks, as well as identify defects invisible to the untrained eye.

Q: How do I help an “at-risk” tree?

Many trees which suffer from weak branches unions or other defects can be helped by strategic pruning, bracing or cabling. Call us 845-398-2300 to ensure you are effectively mitigating the risks.

Q: Will my insurance cover damage caused by a tree?

It depends on the circumstances and the insurance provider. Many home insurance policies can help defray the costs incurred by tree damage and removal. Check with your provider to confirm your coverage.


Why Prune Your Trees?

Pruning is much more than the simple act of sawing off limbs and should be a regular part of all tree and shrub maintenance programs.

Proper pruning encourages strong growth, increases flower and fruit production, improves plant health, and removes damaged limbs, all which give aesthetic appeal to a tree. Pruning at the right time and in the right way is critical, since it is possible to kill a healthy tree through neglect or over-pruning. Essentially, pruning should enhance the trees natural shape.

Here are a few main reasons to prune your trees:

  • Reduce risk of failure from dead or weak branches
  • Provide clearance
  • Reduce shade and wind resistance
  • Manage tree health
  • Manage flower or fruit production
  • Improve aesthetics
  • Improve tree structure
  • Save a storm-damaged tree


Pruning Dos and Don’ts



  • Remember that poor pruning can cause damage that lasts for the life of the tree.
  • Assess your trees after a storm to see if there is pruning needed.


    • Prune without a good reason
    • Remove any more than 25 percent of foliage during a growing season.
    • Prune a newly planted tree for the first year, unless you are removing dead or broken branches.
    • Prune within 10 feet of a utility conductor – leave it to the pros.
    • Try to tackle a pruning job that requires a chain saw and ladder work – leave it to the pros.
    • Leave branch stubs, or cut off the branch collar (not make a flush cut).
    • Climb the tree with climbing spikes
    • Use wound paint
  • Strip out inner foliage and branches (also called lion-tailing)

Pruning FAQs


Q: What is the best time of year to prune?

Although it all depends on your pruning objectives, most trees can be pruned year-round, if pruned properly.

In fact, winter can often be the best time for an arborist to prune. Since the leaves are off, the view of the entire tree’s architecture is clear and a thorough check can be performed. They can locate deadwood by looking for changes in branch color, fungus growth, cracks, and other symptoms that can help them make this determination.

It’s worth noting that some areas may have pruning restrictions in place if a particular insect or disease is a problem. Contact your local county extension office to find any pruning restrictions.

Q: How often do I need to have my trees pruned?

Trees have deadwood pruned out regularly, at least once per year.

Q: What tools do I need to prune my own trees?

Helmke has all the proper tools – hand pruners, loppers, and hand saws. Remember that these tools need to be sharp and clean to ensure success.  If the tree is larger and requires more attention, contact us right away.

Q: What is the difference between pollarding, reducing and topping?

These three practices are often confused. Some disreputable tree care companies will purposefully use the wrong term to confuse the homeowner.

Here are the proper definitions:

  1. Pollarding: This is an acceptable practice. Ultimately, pollarding is dramatically cutting back the major branches to contain the tree’s size. Pollarding must be started when a tree is young and must continue once every two years.
  2. Reduction: This is an acceptable practice, depending on the tree species. A clearly defined objective is established before pruning. Branches are selectively shortened to reduce the height and spread of the tree. For example, a tree blocking a solar panel. Often, reducing a tree allows a homeowner to save a tree they might otherwise have to remove. Proper reduction pruning should not cause excessive sprouts to grow.
  3. Topping: Topping is not an acceptable practice. Topping is when a tree is indiscriminately cut back to stubs. Usually topping is done to flat-top the tree or cut it back on all sides. The result is unsightly. Topping is often sold as a method to reduce tree size, however studies have shown that a topped tree will actually grow larger over a five-year period compared to an unpruned control tree. This occurs because the severe cuts cause many weak, but fast-growing sprouts to shoot from the stubs.


Daily Root Care

Root systems may be the least visible part of the tree, but it definitely isn’t the least important part – especially when it comes to overall tree health! Roots serve as a nutrient transfer system for the tree and help establish a strong foundation.

There are many ways to damage a tree’s root system – some of which are unavoidable. However, preventative care can mitigate some root damage. Check out the list below for tips:

  • Revitalize your roots. At least once a year, use a hand cultivator to carefully loosen the top 2 – 3 inches of soil. This alleviates compaction, and allows water and air to reach the roots.
  • Water them frequently. Too much or too little water can damage a tree. Healthy soil should be moist, but not soggy.  You can check soil moisture by inserting a garden trowel to a depth of 2”, and then moving the blade of the trowel back and forth to create a small narrow trench. Then use your finger to touch the soil. If it is moist to the touch, no additional water is needed.
  • Perform regular checkups. First, find the tree drip line. This is the outermost circumference of a tree canopy, where water drips from and onto the ground. Dig a hole out of this area and determine if the soil is dry, wet or compacted. You can check by hand, or by forming the soil into a ball. If the soil is adequately moist, it can be formed into a ball with little pressure.
  • Apply a layer of mulch over tree roots. This will conserve moisture, help protect the soil and roots from damage and compaction, and add some valuable organic matter to the soil. Mulch should be applied at a depth of 2 – 4” and should be kept at least 6 inches away from the trunk.


Diseases & Pests FAQs

Q: How can I avoid an outbreak of pests?

It’s impossible to guarantee that pests won’t become a problem on your property. But there are some proactive measures to keep in mind:

Many property owners have lots with just a single or a few trees. Others have small backyard woods, which have become an important component of the urban environment. Small woodlands with a mix of tree species are often less susceptible to pest outbreaks than woods with a single species.

A diversity of tree ages also reduces the risk of pest outbreaks. As with species diversity, age diversity increases the complexity and stability of the ecosystem. A natural balance of organisms is more likely to develop as age diversity increases. For example, potential pests of young trees could be regulated by parasites and predators already well-established on older trees.

A healthy landscape is less susceptible to pest outbreaks and is more resilient if an outbreak does occur. When trees are overcrowded in your landscape, competition for light, water, and nutrients results in increased stress. Trees under stress are more likely to be attacked by pests.

Q: Why should I consider tree and shrub treatments if they appear to be doing fine?

You have your maintenance done on your car, right? It’s essentially the same. Think of it as preventative maintenance on your plants. Additionally, the cost of PHC is typically less expensive than trying to rid your landscape of diseases and pests once they’ve taken root, or to remove trees and shrubs killed by pests.

Don’t forget: trees, shrubs and other ornamental plantings represent a sizable investment and asset to most homeowners. It’s worthwhile, aesthetically and financially, to keep them healthy.