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Jonathan Shipman’s wife, Jennifer, poses with his favorite tree near Nassau Point. (Credit: Jonathan Shipman)

As the second-generation owner of Mattituck-based Shamrock Tree Service and Landscaping, Jonathan Shipman has pruned, cut, and cared for thousands of trees.

But there is one that is special to him.

It’s a large pin oak tree, sitting majestically on a homeowner’s property on Nassau Point. Shipman first climbed the tree to prune some dead branches when he was just 16, working for the family business his father had started in 1974. A decade later, at the age of 26, Shipman ascended the trunk and branches again, doing the work to keep the tree healthy for his client. Last year, at the age of 36, Shipman connected with the tree for a third time, continuing the sort of Giving Tree-in-reverse relationship that had started so many years ago.

In the aftermath of any severe storms or blustery weather, Shipman makes a habit of driving to Nassau Point to check on the tree, and he said he’s always satisfied with what he sees.

“There’s no dead wood, and every cut that’s been made has healed perfectly,” he said. “It’s really cool to have climbed that tree three times. There’s not one broken branch. It survived the most recent storm without any broken limbs or failures, and that’s likely due to proper pruning and good tree health over the years.”

With the blustery and stormy fall weather descending, Shipman’s story is a good reminder for area homeowners about the importance of properly caring for the trees on their property, particularly at this time of year, and it serves as an example that an investment in preventative maintenance can go a long way.

The kind of services that an expert like Shipman provides are key for preventing problems—like a downed tree or limb landing on a house or car—before they get out of hand and incur an even bigger expense. We spoke to him about how homeowners can care for trees of all shapes and sizes as the fall season progresses.

What To Look For

Homeowners can start by doing their own assessment of their property to look for potential problem areas. And while a large dead or dangling limb is easy to spot, Shipman said there are other, more subtle signs that could escape a homeowner’s attention if they aren’t sure what to look for. Cracks in the tree trunk or limbs are a sign of potential trouble, as well as what Shipman called “co-dominant stems.”

“It’s basically two stems that instead of having a regular attachment like a ball and socket, you have two stems with a very tight crotch, and they tend to split apart,” he explained, adding that an arborist can rectify that situation with cabling and other methods that will help mitigate the risk of failure in that area in a storm. “It’s very common in pear trees, maples, and lindens. You can often see co-dominant limbs that have failed on peoples’ properties.”

Hire An Expert

Scanning their own property for issues is a good start for homeowners, but Shipman stressed the importance of hiring an arborist, particularly one with a wealth of experience. He’s a board certified Master Arborist, a title that he said requires 60 hours of classroom time and constant continuing education on everything from proper pruning techniques to information on new safety harnesses and safe bucket operations for a job that can have tree climbers often 60 or more feet in the air to work on a tree.

For homeowners who want to take proper care of their trees, Shipman strongly recommends paying for that level of expertise. A full-service company can also do general property inspections that include identifying problems like pests, plant diseases and potential overwatering, looking out for the health not only of trees but bushes and shrubs as well.

Don’t Forget The Soil

While much of the focus on what arborists do centers around the trees, the foundation is also a crucial part of good tree health and stability, Shipman said. It’s imperative that trees are planted in quality soil—if the soil is too compact, the tree’s roots can have a hard time taking hold properly, and tree health suffers. Soil considerations are particularly important for homeowners who may have invested in buying young or mature trees to plant on their property.

“You always want to plant in quality soil,” Shipman said. “Planting a tree in the right spot is important. You want to know the plant and the site before you put the tree in the ground.”

Be Proactive

Shipman’s biggest piece of advice for homeowners is simple—don’t wait until the last minute. Proper tree care requires vigilance and consistent maintenance, so any potential issues can be headed off before they become a more difficult—and expensive—situation to deal with. Young trees, which Shipman said are often neglected, should be pruned often for better future growth.

“You want to start pruning them now so that by the time they’re mature shade trees, everything has the space to grow and you don’t have large cross branches,” he said. “It mitigates the potential for failure later on.”

Arborists typically have more availability before the busy fall season sets in. The remnants of a tropical storm that moved through the area earlier in September led to a predictable spike in business—and busyness—for Shamrock.

“During this last tropical storm, we had about 400 calls,” Shipman said. “After [Hurricane Sandy] we had four or five months worth of work.”

Shipman said his company will prioritize customers who have trees fall on houses or cars and then work their way down the waiting list for less hazardous issues. But the best course of action is to, pardon the pun, nip them in the bud. The payoff will be a kind of gift that keeps on giving, just like the pin oak on Nassau Point.

“A lot of trees we saw fail had holes or decay in them, and if they had been thinned out or removed prior to the storm, they wouldn’t have caused so much damage,” he said. “Don’t wait for a hurricane to be coming up the coast to decide you’re getting your trees pruned. Any reputable company you’re thinking about hiring will already be booked out.”