Tree experts on the cutting edge

A certified arborist since 2003, Jonathan Shipman of Shamrock Tree Experts spent Saturday morning taking down an 80-year-old pin oak on Indian Neck Lane in Peconic.

After the windstorm earlier this month that littered the North Fork with branches — some the size of tree trunks — Arthur and Millicent Gossner of Peconic decided, once and for all, to take down an old pin oak in the front yard that shed dead wood in every big blow.

“The roots were not good,” Ms. Gossner said, drinking coffee outside her house with workers from Shamrock Tree Experts, who had spent nearly four hours Saturday cutting down the 80-year-old tree.

“The trunk was full of carpenter ants, which opened up room for fungus to weaken the base of the tree,” said John Shipman, a certified arborist with Mattituck-based Shamrock. “For three years, that tree has been in steady decline. One more good wind and it might have fallen into the house.”

Ms. Gossner, 82, said that for over 30 years, she has had Shamrock Tree Experts, one of several property maintenance services on the North Fork, prune her trees — some of which have been standing for a century. Owner Joe Shipman runs the business and its Shamrock Christmas Tree Farm with his sons, John, 27, and Steve, 30.

Mr. Shipman, 57, and his son John are among the few professional tree workers in the area who have taken the grueling 13-part test, given by the New York State chapter of the International Society of Arboriculture, to become a certified arborist.

“It’s great having that kind of knowledge,” said John, who became certified when he was 20.”You can really talk trees. It really gives you an edge over your competition.”

Though Kevin Carrick, owner of Carrick’s Service Corp. in Aquebogue since 1986, isn’t a certified arborist, his son Josh is taking the test to help his father promote the family business and act as a consultant.

“It gives you a better sense of confidence,” said Mr. Carrick, 51, as he prepared to hoist himself with a state-of-the art cherry picker into the branches of a spruce tree in Jamesport Friday morning. “There are a lot of things that people learn over time, but there are a lot of dos and don’ts with trees.”

Josh Carrick, 26, said he’s been working with his dad since he was 10 and is also working on a degree in business management. He said he and his brother, 22-year-old Brian, want to take what their father built and expand on it.

“You can take the arborist exam only if you have a working understanding of the industry,” he said. “Then you can educate the homeowners.”

The Carricks and the Shipmans said that, besides cleanups after storms and the usual spring pruning, much of their workload includes fixing mistakes made by homeowners or landscapers who might know about flowers and bushes but don’t necessarily know about trees.

“I see a lot of trees planted too deep,” Kevin Carrick said. “That destroys the root collar and will kill the tree.”

Fred Hyatt, a certified arborist and owner of Peconic Plant Care on Shelter Island since 1995, said that one of the biggest mistakes inexperienced tree people make is piling mulch too high around young trees.

“It’s called volcano mulching,” said Mr. Hyatt, 44. “You see it in more commercial areas, shopping malls. I guess people think it looks cool, but it kills the tree.”

Some landscapers are not insured properly to work with trees, Kevin Carrick added. “We pay higher rates,” he said.

Josh Carrick said that he had been pushing for a state law that would require a license for all in the landscaping profession to do tree work, much the same as an electrician needs one in the construction trade.

“New Jersey and Connecticut have already separated tree work into its own license,” he said. “Every tree guy I know is highly in favor of having a law passed here, because it’s dangerous work.”

Despite what might seem like unfair competition during a tough economy, Joe Shipman said that he and his crew at Shamrock Tree Experts have actually seen an increase in work this spring.

“We’re busier than we ever have been,” he said.

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