Many commercial properties maintain no tree care budget. Unexpected costs quickly mount when an issue emerges and money must be scraped together to pay for last-minute treatments or an emergency removal. It’s even worse when the issue results in damage to your building or on the property that could have been prevented.

What’s Your Goal?

Protecting a building from damage is a common safety-focused goal of many property managers. Ensuring trees close to the structure grow with a stable form is critical. 

The first step in setting your tree care budget is to determine your objective.

Is safety on the property your goal? You’ll want to ensure young trees grow with a strong, stable form and that mature trees with high-risk defects are treated quickly. Work can be prioritized based on location, tree type, size and level of risk so that expenditures can be effectively planned in the short and long-term.

Will the appearance of the landscape drive your decisions? Preventive care that ensures early identification of insect and disease problems will be critical. Regular maintenance will maximize ‘curb appeal’ while minimizing the possibility of unforeseen outlays.

When you establish a tree care objective – whether it’s one of these, some combination or something else entirely – you’ll focus your spending on achieving that objective instead of on emergencies and services you wouldn’t have otherwise needed.

Once you’ve established an objective, a tree inventory is one of the best ways to manage and make informed decisions on the care of trees. A tree inventory aims to collect specific data on the species, age, and condition of every tree on a property. With data readily available, it is much easier to make budgetary decisions to achieve your objective. It’s also a useful tool for communicating the details of specific funding needs.

A tree inventory can be as simple as a site analysis during which you collect tree data and enter it into a spreadsheet or database. For a more robust inventory, technology including GIS mapping applications can be used.

Start Saving Young

It is an unfortunate assumption that young trees will be fine because they’re “new.” The first few years after planting is one of the most critical times for care. Many issues are much easier (and less expensive) to correct when a tree is in its first five years. At this age, problematic limbs can often be removed with a hand pruner. Leave that limb to develop into a co-dominant stem years later and you have a tree that is structurally unsound. You are now faced with the cost of major pruning, installation of structural supports or even removal.

Think of tree care as a retirement fund. Start as early as possible to maximize your savings. You can easily save 70-90% of maintenance costs over the life of a tree by providing proper care from the very beginning.

It’s Never Too Late

Didn’t start your retirement fund tree maintenance early? It’s time to catch up on your contributions. A 10-15-year-old tree is still a good candidate for preventative care and structural pruning to maintain its health and form. For a more mature landscape, you’ll need to triage work, prioritizing based on the protection of any buildings and other assets.

Move forward without a plan and you’ll be stuck in a cycle of providing stopgap measures to remove or prolong the life of already declining trees. Break the cycle by establishing a budget that helps you cost-effectively achieve your landscape goals.