Preventing tree abuse through education

Have you ever had a tree trimmed back to bare bones because you thought you were getting your money’s worth? You may be guilty of tree abuse, says a University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension agent.

For the last 16 years, the UF/IFAS Extension Broward County Tree Trimmer Program has been teaching tree trimmers and arborists in South Florida how to avoid tree abuse with best pruning practices. Broward County requires tree trimming businesses to be certified and licensed, and the Extension program provides the certification training. Since its start in 2001, the program has issued between 10,000 and 11,000 certifications.

UF/IFAS Extension Broward County agent Michael Orfanedes developed and now oversees the training program. Orfanedes said that when it comes to pruning trees, “Some customers think that the more that gets removed, the better the job.” However, certain pruning practices are considered tree abuse because they can make trees vulnerable to decay and instability. “When trees decline and fall apart, there can be liability and loss of property,” Orfanedes said.
For example, topping, which shortens the height of a tree, involves indiscriminate removal of large branches or parts of the trunk in the upper canopy. The resulting large stubs which are created, sometimes in excess of four inches in diameter, are prone to decay and can produce many weakly attached sprouts right below the cut. According to Orfanedes, “These sprouts eventually develop into weighty limbs,” and because of their weak attachment “they could become projectiles and cause damage when they break out and fall in storms. For these reasons, topping “is not supported by any good tree care best management practices,” he said.

Tree trimmer courses teach participants how to recognize and avoid this and other kinds of tree abuse. The introductory course shows students good pruning techniques and explains Broward County’s tree trimming licensing ordinance. Certified trimmers must return for a refresher course every two years when a company renews its license.

Advanced courses have dealt with issues such as chainsaw, wood chipper and bucket truck safety, tree identification and biology, and tree pruning for storm preparedness. The current advanced course focuses on the American National Standards Institute A300, which provides nationally recognized industry best practices for pruning trees and palms.

In addition to indoor instruction, class participants get to practice outdoors on living trees under the guidance of instructors. Classes are taught in English and Spanish, and competency exams accommodate various levels of literacy. While there is a nominal fee for taking the classes and exam, there is no charge to retake the exam should that be necessary. “We’ve tried to remove major roadblocks to people participating,” Orfanedes said.

“Courses are taught year-round and are also open to interested consumers and property managers,” he noted.

All classes are informed by ANSI standards as well as the research of Edward Gilman, UF/IFAS professor of environmental horticulture. “Informing practicing arborists in Florida about new research and experiences has led to a new awareness of tree care science,” said Gilman. “When this is implemented by our arborists, customers will receive the very best of service. Certification is a great way to bring this information to arborists.”


By: Samantha Grenrock, 352-294-3307,

Sources: Michael Orfanedes, 954-357-5279,

Edward Gilman, (352) 273-4523,


Posted: May 2, 2016

Category: Home Landscapes, SFYL Hot Topic, UF/IFAS Extension
Tags: Lawn & Garden Hot Topic, Pruning, Tree Abuse

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