Stumped by tree care? A Washington Consumers' Checkbook report

By Robert Krughoff
Washington Consumers' Checkbook
Thursday, April 15, 2010

Most of us don't actually hug trees. But many of us love them, and for good reason. Trees provide shade that helps cool your home. They may flower in the spring and turn lovely colors in the fall. They lend privacy and add character and resale value to your property. They improve air quality.

But sometimes trees need work. The most common services are pruning, preventative spraying and fertilizing. In some cases, trees may need to be removed.

For that work, most homeowners will hire a professional. It is wise to do that carefully.

When Washington Consumers' Checkbook magazine (http://www.checkbook.org) evaluated 98 tree-care firms in the area, 20 were rated "superior" overall by more than 90 percent of their customers (Checkbook surveys its own subscribers and Consumer Reports magazine subscribers). But eight firms got such favorable ratings from just 65 percent or fewer of their surveyed customers.

Various things can go wrong with firms you might hire: dispensing bad advice on what needs to be done, failing to show up or complete some or all of the work when promised, pruning the wrong branches, cleaning up poorly, damaging the lawn and gardens, removing the wrong trees, and even damaging the homeowner's or a neighbor's house.

At least as striking as the quality differences are the differences in prices Checkbook researchers found when they worked with homeowners to get bids on the same job from multiple local tree-care firms.

But the good news is that the lowest-priced firms often rate among the highest for quality.

For example, for one job in the District, to cut down and haul away a large oak tree, the most expensive quote was $7,000. But high-rated Adirondack Tree Experts of Beltsville said it would charge $3,800. For a job in Annandale, to cut a 60-foot poplar to the ground and haul away all debris, the high quote was $6,300. But high-rated Strictly Stumps of Springfield came in at $2,400. For a job in Potomac, to take down and haul away a large tulip poplar and grind the stump, the high quote was $5,600. But high-rated Artistic Tree Experts of Silver Spring came in at $2,900.

Checkbook has made available its full article and ratings of tree care firms free to Washington Post readers through April 29, 2010. Click here.


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