HOA's and Landscape Trees

Source: Davey Resource Group, edited by John Deutsch

Homeowners Associations (HOA's) are rapidly growing landholders in America. They have legal ownership responsibility for managing trees found within the open space, roads, and common areas of the development. All HOA's have the power to protect and help sustain the urban forest and the natural resources that we all depend upon. Most HOA's find themselves tasked with maintaining streets and private trees. However, HOA board members often lack the experience, knowledge and resources to properly manage these assets for the benefit and safety of the residents.

Landscape trees are the largest and most prominent natural resource for many neighborhoods. While landscape trees provide many benefits, their size and proximity to people and structures can result in potential liability risks. These risks, however, can be minimized when trees are well-planted and receive proper and timely maintenance.

The benefits of trees

Neighborhood trees are a truly valuable community resource. They provide benefits such as the following:

  • Air pollution mitigation
  • Reduced energy use. An average household saves $300 per year on heating and cooling costs.
  • Aesthetic value. Properties with landscape trees are valued 5-20% higher.
  • Wildlife habitat
  • View screening and privacy
  • Reduced pollution. A single acre of mature trees removes 20 tons of pollution per year.

Best practices for tree care

Trees are significant assets, they need to be managed properly and professionally to provide the greatest return on the investment.

Arborists have a saying: “Plant the right tree in the right place.” Selecting a tree that will thrive in a given set of conditions is the key to long-term tree survival, reduced maintenance costs, and maximized benefits. Trees that are well-matched to their environment and site conditions are more likely to grow faster, live longer, look better, and resist disease and insect pests during their lifetime.

Pruning: Tree pruning is performed for three main reasons: 1. public safety, 2. tree health, and 3. property aesthetics. You want your tree to be safe for the community, healthy so it can be enjoyed, and aesthetically pleasing to add more value to the neighborhood.

Young tree pruning: Pruning new trees can usually start during the second year after planting. Correct pruning of a young tree will result in a healthier, safer mature tree. Removing small limbs is easier and less costly than waiting until the limbs are large.

Mature tree pruning: Mature tree pruning is primarily performed to eliminate dead branches, correct storm damage, and provide clearance for buildings, utilities, streets, and sidewalks. Pruning mature trees can be dangerous and usually requires the expertise of an arborist.

No topping!: Topping is the improper and extensive cutting of tree branches to stubs. Other names for topping include “heading,” “tipping,” “hat-racking,” and “rounding over.” Topping creates many problems for both the tree and the property owner, including stress, decay, sun damage, hazards, disfigurement, and higher long-term maintenance costs.

Fertilization: Trees require certain nutrients to function and grow; therefore, fertilization is an important aspect of tree care. A tree may be stressed and start to decline if nutrient deficiencies exist. Only a soil test can determine if fertilizing is necessary.

Removals: Removing a tree is rarely desired. However, it is often required if the tree has been severely damaged, has died of natural causes, has insect or disease infestations, or is harmed beyond repair by construction projects or other means.

Insect and disease control: Insects and disease are a part of nature so they are always present in the landscape. Healthy trees can generally withstand minor infestations without suffering their health, safety, or aesthetics. However, severe infestations of native or exotic insects and disease can damage or destroy trees. Proper management and observation is critical to minimize this form of tree loss. Contact a certified arborist to diagnose the problem and recommend treatment.

Best management practices for owners

As an HOA leader, there is a business side to managing landscape trees. Having a management plan for landscape trees may be a useful tool. This plan not only describes and documents the tree resource in your community, but also organizes related resources. This may include organizing budgets and personnel to make management more effective and efficient for you.

One of the main reasons for properly managing trees in an HOA setting is to minimize potential liabilities that trees can pose in a residential neighborhood. The safety of people and the protection of buildings and other property structures must be a high priority.

Hiring a contractor to manage a project

For most tree planting and maintenance tasks, you will likely hire a tree service or landscape contractor. Tree care and planting requires specialized equipment, training, and insurance.

When evaluating a potential contractor for your tree maintenance or planting project, there are five main qualifications you should ask about:

  • Education. You should ask for the consultant's educational accomplishments such as certifications, continuing education courses, and special training.
  • Memberships. Ask about membership in professional organizations such as the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA).
  • ISA Certification. Ask if the contractor holds an ISA certification and/or a state-issued professional arborist license.
  • Proof of Insurance. Ask for proof of insurance and verify coverage with the insurance company.
  • References. Ask for references from past customers. Do not hesitate to call up the references or visit the locations where the company or individual has performed tree care work.

Homeowner education

Part of a successful tree management program in a neighborhood is making the residents aware. As a leader in the association, you can educate and inform others on how to maintain, plant, and protect trees for the benefit of all.

Conclusion

The management of trees on homeowner association property and in the neighborhood can be challenging. Balancing the recommendations of experts, the wishes of and needs of residents, the realities of limited HOA budgets, the concerns of liability issues, the forces of nature, and the desire for all of these factors to be met simultaneously is a daunting task.

As a homeowner association representative, you must carefully consider each issue and balance these challenges with an informed understanding of tree needs and benefits. When this balance is achieved, the beauty of the neighborhood will flourish, property values will increase, and the health and safety of its trees and residents will be maximized.

Appendix

Helpful websites

> Back to top