When Not To Use Gaffs
One very important difference that separates us from other tree service companies is most other companies in the area will spike up live trees, if they can’t get a bucket truck to the trees. So they use climbing spikes on their feet to climb the trees. It’s a common practice. They feel it’s faster and easier, so they will make more money.
Sadly, it’s not best for the tree or the homeowner. Every time you spike up a tree with what linemen wear (the spikes are called gaffs), each step literally puts a 2-3 inch wound in a tree. And, you’re talking about 2 or 3 or 4 hundred of those wounds in a tree.
Spike marks will eventually kill the tree. They damage the tree’s vascular system right below the bark. So, we do not use spikes (gaffs) when we prune trees.
Our competitors secretly call the use of spikes “job security” when they chat with each other. I’m serious! They call it job security. They will literally tell you with a big grin on their face while they’re spitting their chew, “Oh yeah, that’s job security,” because they know in another 3 or 4 years the tree will be so damaged that it will start to decay. So the client will want it either pruned again or taken down.
I’ve been in trees in this area, this region, up and down the east coast, where I’ve seen multiple years of spike wounds in trees where workers have spiked probably 7 or 8 times up a particular tree over the years. The wounds have a tendency to close over, but the damage is still done. Underneath the bark, vertical vascular damage takes place. So, the tree is permanently damaged by all the spike marks.
Maryland is somewhat progressive in this area, as are Massachusetts, California, Oregon, and Washington state. But in just about any other state, it’s rare to find any kind of outcry against tree spiking. The general public is usually not there when the job gets done. It’s usually done during working hours when they’re away at their jobs. So the clients rarely know the damage has been done.
A lot of these guys will spike up the back side of the tree that faces away from the house. The client won’t see it right away, if they see it at all. Most often, the client really does not know what to look for. Clients are not going to walk up to a tree and study it, unless they’re the green thumb type, a master gardener, or even a really well educated gardener. They are not going to look for wounds in the tree. Instead, they look for the overall effect of pruning the tree. It looks really wide open and pretty now, so they assume the job was done right, when it wasn't!
I would say at least 80-90% of the tree companies in the Washington metro area spike up live trees that they prune. Yes, the problem is that widespread. It really is. There are very few companies progressive enough in their thought processes to take the precautions that we take.We train power climbers to “free climb” a tree using climbing systems. We preset a rope in a tree, and we do rope climbing instead of spiking. That’s the proper way to do it.
This is probably the most important question any homeowner should ask any tree company from whom they’re getting a quote: “Will you use spikes when you trim or prune my trees?”
One of the first things we say to a prospective client is, “By the way, our company does not use spikes on live trees, on trees that we’re pruning. Here is why...” Then we explain what I just explained to you.
We take the necessary steps to do pruning correctly, so the overall health of the tree is enhanced and the client is well pleased with what we do.
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When Not To Use Gaffs Many of our competitors use climbing spikes on their feet to climb the trees to prune them. Not us!