Chris Strickland

photo by Zac Henderson

Watching arborist Chris Strickland maneuvering among the branches of a tree that towers above the homes on quiet residential street in the Highlands is breathtaking, to say the least. It helps to know that he is an avid rock climber, and yes, he admits there’s a thrilling element that accompanies the dangerous nature of the work. All the more reason to be sure you have hired someone who knows what they are doing when it comes to pruning your trees.

Strickland is a certified arborist and owner of Blue Ox Tree Company, named for the original lumberjack’s best friend. And as much as he enjoys his job—the year-round sunny days and the frequent opportunity to climb tall things—he fully understands that tree health and maintenance is serious business.

In addition to thinning out the branches, which allows air to circulate better, letting the tree “breathe,” he and his two employees often work with ropes, cables and braces to ensure proper growth and safety for those on the ground. “It’s pretty fun, being able to get creative in the tree,” he says. “That’s kind of what keeps the job interesting and fresh, being able to have these challenges of how to do things in the safest way possible while having fun doing it and keeping the tree beautiful.”

The truth is we don’t always think about our trees unless they are causing a problem of some sort. Strickland says a mistake people often make is assuming that trees can just survive on their own. “So many people don’t water their trees,” he says. “They’ll water their flowers; they’ll water their grass, but they don’t realize they need to fertilize and water their trees in this arid climate.” He adds that it’s especially important in the wintertime. “Every once in a while, run the hose on the root ball of your tree, just to keep the soil and the roots wet,” he says. “That’ll go a long way toward making your tree happy.” Another tip: When we get those heavy, wet snows in the fall and spring, he says, go out and shake it off your trees to avoid breakage.

Photo by Zac Henderson

Often, Strickland gets calls for tree removal. And although he says there are times when he finds a tree to be damaged to the point of causing a hazard, he strongly prefers to find solutions that enable the homeowner to keep the tree. “You should do everything you can to keep your trees,” he says, “because they are nice, and they add value to your property, especially older trees. You can’t just replace them; it would take 80 or 90 years.” He cites the energy efficiency of shade trees keeping your home cool and your lawn green. “A good arborist will be able to assess the potential risk and say, OK maybe we can reduce the size of it and maybe reduce the weight, or maybe we can cable it.”

You may be getting the idea that Strickland has something of an affinity for trees, one cultivated in his childhood. “My dad would take me to the nursery and say, ‘Go pick out your favorite tree, and we’ll plant it.’ It’s a good family activity,” he says. “You can still go back and think, I remember when I planted that tree, and it’s still thriving. It creates a connection with your property and the plants that are on it.” He advises thinking about landscaping as soon as you buy a house and planting young trees right away to let them mature along with your family. Of course, it’s important to consider where we live and choose trees that do well in dryer climates and are less susceptible to pests that can survive our mild winters— pesticide management is another key aspect of the arborist’s job.

Strickland says finding the right person or company to keep your trees healthy is partly a matter of working with someone like him who is certified, “someone who’s gone through the classes, gone through the training, with the insurance to do the work.” In addition, his best advice is to “find good workers who are really passionate about the work, someone who likes what they do and treats your home like it was theirs.”

Blue Ox Tree Company
1234 Washington St. | 720.475.6626