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Caring for Your Trees: Risk, Need, Responsibility & Cost

Posted on: January 15th, 2015

We live in a changing world but true principles never change in the midst of time. The following is a quote attributed to English author, Architect and Economist, John Ruskin (1819-1900) “It is unwise to pay too much, but it’s worse to pay too little. When you pay too much, you lose a little money. When you pay too little, you sometimes lose everything, because the thing you bought was incapable of doing the thing it was bought to do. The common law of business balance prohibits paying too little and getting a lot – it can’t be done. If you deal with the lowest bidder, it is well to add something for the risk you run. And if you do that you will have the money to pay for something better.”

By now budgets are set for the coming year. Many of you have a line item for your landscape. However, in most cases your landscape budgets are a lump sum and often it is spent down with little remaining when there is the greatest need. The result typically is sending out an RFP and being placed in a position in which the bids come in over budget. Now what? Based on the quote referenced at the beginning of this article you are faced with a decision, do you select the lowest bidder or study your options? The first thing that is necessary is an evaluation. It should be broken down by Risk, Need, Responsibility and finally Cost. A Colorado tree service company can assist if needed.

Risk – Evaluating risk and the safety of your tenants and property should be your highest priority. Law suits due to negligence will cost you the most not only financially but in bad publicity. A qualified arborist, once on your property, has a duty and responsibility to make their clients aware of any potential risk that they notice. This is often a difficult task since it is impossible to make a complete assessment from the ground. However, any obvious visible risks should be included in their proposal.

Need – Secondly your evaluation should be based on need. Here is a simple pruning guide from the Colorado State University Extension publication #615 that can be found on their website at


Table 1.
Objectives, Methods and Cuts for Tree Pruning
Pruning Objectives
(why to prune)
Pruning Methods
(how to prune)
Pruning Cuts
Reduce risk of failure (wind and snow)
Improve structure
Maintain health
Improve aesthetics
provide clearance
Improve view
Reduce shade
Influence flowering and fruiting
Removal cut
Reduction cut
Heading Cut

Not every tree on your property needs to be pruned at the same time. You can save money by first pruning those trees that pose a risk and then prioritizing the remaining trees in your landscape.

Responsibility – Responsibility is ultimately on the ownership of the property. As an onsite manager it is difficult to convey the message to the owners concerning the risks on the property and the need to spend money. The difficulty is often increased with out of town owners. However, the responsibility is not mitigated in either case of risk or need. With that said it is a good and valuable practice to inspect your trees several times each year. During the winter months while the leaves are off the deciduous trees is a great time to inspect your trees. The spring is also an effective time for an inspection after the last snow fall. (Yes, I realize we live in Colorado and that can be well into the month of May.) As the manager of the property, your responsibility works in both directions in that you are responsible to keep your owners informed and your tenants safe.

Cost – Finally is the evaluation of cost. I understand for many, costs are considered your first and primary responsibility. However, it is a true axiom that there is a marked difference between cost and price. This brings us full circle to John Ruskin’s point. Price is what you pay at the time of the service. Cost is what you pay over time. If you chose the lowest bidder you may falsely believe that you are getting the best deal. We all know and understand that, “you get what you pay for.” It is easy to justify selecting the lowest price. Similarly, at first it can make you look good to your owners that you saved (x) amount of dollars with your decision. However, if and invariably when you have to have the same trees pruned the following year or two due to a lack of quality your cost over time has increased. Now you are put in a position of explaining why you need more or addition money in your budget to perform the same task.



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