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WINTER TREE CARE

Seasonal Transitions and Winter Tree Work

The winter is a great time to remove or prune trees because trees are dormant, and many trees can be pruned anytime of the year.  In the cold months, home owners usually do not think about their trees, mostly because their time spent outdoors is limited.  Many people cling to the indoors during the cold months, and tree work slows.  In our industry, the winter months are definitely a down time for our tree workers, especially in the Northern VA area since we experience the full effects of all four seasons. 

There are three important aspects of tree service that are the focus of this article.  The first is the focus on the seasonal transitional period for tree related incidents and how it is important to zero in on safety specifically during this time period.  The second is taking the extra time – always – to ensure tree workers are working safely and efficiently.  And the last point, which is for home owners and tree workers alike, is that the winter months are a great time to perform tree services.

Since our arborists are less busy in the winter months, the tree men have a nice winter break from the seasonal hard work.  The transition from working 50-60 hour work weeks to 20-30 hours per week is very common going into the winter.  Since 1975, our company and workers have gone through this very transition and we are very familiar with the change. 

We have noticed over the years that scheduling and job related incidents can be prevalent during the slow times – probably because our staff gets out of sync from the busy season.  When our tree workers are steady in their groove during the busy months, usually March through October, they have the routine down pat.  This is not to say accidents happen more often in the slow time, because if anything it is probably the other way around, but we have absolutely seen that issues tend to occur during the transition periods.  Moving from the winter into the spring season and getting back into the motions of heavy work hours is something each tree company should be aware of.  Safety is the priority always, therefore, it is imperative to continue weekly safety meetings through the winter months and especially into the transitional weeks when getting busy again. 

Because of this, it is also very important to hold safety meetings on on a weekly basis.  We have found that this definitely has made a difference in our mentality of starting the work week off with a "safety first" mindset.

Ramping up safety discussions and meetings during seasonal transition periods is a good idea.  We have found that even a quick toolbox talk accompanied with the weekly safety meetings can go a long way toward addressing safety concerns. Furthermore, it is vital to stress the importance of taking an extra few minutes before or during tree work to think things through; this practice can prevent serious injury or damages.

This habit is especially useful in hazardous or emergency situations; for example, if there is a tree resting precariously on a house, or if the position of the tree renders typical approaches with riggings and cranes useless. Our staff has recently tackled a handful of these challenges on the job, and can say that the extra time taken was absolutely necessary to achieve a successful outcome. 

A strategy we have been using for many years is to inform our customers to wait until the winter months to perform the tree removal.  Some removals obviously have to be done right away, especially if they are a safety hazard, but many removals can wait.  It is truly a win-win situation for the home owner and our company; the customer receives further discounts since winter is a slower time, and it provides more work for us in the winter at the same time. 

This is a great incentive to give customers, and many times this incentive is what lands us the job.  Home owners love this idea, and what tree company couldn’t use more work in the winter months?  Here are a few other good reasons to perform tree work in the winter:

  • There are not landscape companies or spring cleanup crews in the way

  • The ground is often frozen thus minimizing yard damage

  • The leaves are not on the trees thus making the workload lighter

  • Trees are dormant

To summarize, we have recognized that there is an extra need for safety and preparation for tree work specifically in the transitional seasons.  Taking extra time during a job can make the difference in successfully getting a job done with no injury or damage in the outcome.  Most tree work involves quick decision making during the process of a job.  Taking an extra couple of minutes, in preparing before and during a job can be the difference between success and failure.  We have identified that getting into a safety conscious mindset, specifically into or out of a transitional season is absolutely necessary.   Preparedness and spending extra time can make all the difference in our dangerous line of work.  And lastly, the winter is a great time to perform tree work for the very good reasons listed.  Please take the necessary time to ensure safety, be aware of the necessary extra safety precautions during transitional seasons, and be safe out there!

About the Author

This guest blog post was authored by Sean Lewett. Sean is a ISA Certified Arborist and general &  CTSP safety manager of JL Tree Service Inc. in Fairfax VA.  Sean holds a B.S. and M.S. degrees from George Mason University and manages the tree service company that his dad started in 1975.  With close to 70 employees, JL Tree Service Inc is one of the larger companies serving the DC Metropolitan Area.  Sean is married to his wife Joy since 2003, has 3 children, and was born, raised, and has always resided in Fairfax VA.

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