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Arborist Q&A with Aussie Christine Rampling

Arborist Q and A with Aussie Christine Rampling

Arborist Christine Rampling was nice enough to engage in a Q & A session with us. We thought it would be a great chance to get some insight into the professional world of arboriculture and maybe even get a different perspective, since Christine is from Australia.

Q: Christine, you're an arborist in Canberra, Australia, working for a tree surgery company. Between climbing trees and running chainsaws, it sounds like a potentially dangerous job. So what's your background and how did you get started in this business?

A: I entered the industry as an apprentice Horticulturalist at Parliament House of Australia. My tasks involved mostly garden maintenance. I then went on to a body corporate maintenance company looking after housing complexes and schools etc. Initially I rarely looked up, I just considered how the tree trunks looked with the surrounding shrubs. As the seasons changed and I watched the process I gradually developed a bit of a fascination with trees. This quickly grew into an obsession and I wanted to know how they grew, flowered and formed branches. Trees have always seemed mysterious to me. When I saw an Arborist climbing a tree I knew I wanted to shift the direction of my career.

Q: What do you like most about your job?

A: The thing I like most about my job is the thrill of climbing. It's an awesome feeling to be up there and then to get down and look back at what you've just achieved. It is a specialist field and requires particular skills to carry out a job safely. I realize there aren't too many women doing this so there's that added feeling of pride for me. I also love educating people on tree care. There is a lot of old wives tails associated with trees so I enjoy putting accurate information out there.

Christine Rampling in a harness in a tree at work. Christine with harness and tools in a tree at work.

Q: Just so people know, what's the difference between arborists and other professions like loggers or tree trimmers?

A: A Certificate 3 Arborist here in Australia, has completed a 2 year course with both on the job training and study. To me, an Arborist is called in for anything involving trees in an urban environment. Pruning, removals, shaping, branch removal, pest/disease treatment, power line clearance, advice, the list is endless. Arborists are supposed to have skills to carry out tree work in confined spaces or complex scenarios such as removing a tree over a pool up against a 2 story house. A forestry worker or logger is usually associated with the timber industry and are experts in felling whole trees.

Q: In your experience, what are some common problems people have with their trees that need the service of an arborist?

A: The most common tree problems I come across are trees affecting power lines and an inappropriate tree planted in an inappropriate spot. Often clients also have this unjustified fear of trees and they want large branches or whole trees removed because they MIGHT fall on the house. Another common one is to remove trees because they drop too many leaves. So a mix of issues but power lines is the most common one.

Q: There is a lot to consider when making trims to a tree, but what are some of the most important things people should know?

A: When pruning trees, it is essential that correct pruning cuts are made. A correct collar cut is made by removing the weight of the branch, usually with a 'step cut' and then the final cut is made just above the branch collar. This collar is so important to the trees health. The tree will protect itself by over time, sealing off that wound created by pruning through compartmentalization. The collar can be difficult to see sometimes and its size and position varies in different species but over time you can develop an eye for it. It is the slight bulge at the base of the branch where it connects with the trunk. If the collar is damaged during pruning the tree may never seal off that wound and this leaves it open to attack from pests and disease.

View from up in a tree. Christine's view looking down through the canopy of a Rhobinia while at work.

Q: What tools and equipment do you use on a day-to-day basis?

A: A lightweight climbing chainsaw is on the top of the list. I also love my handsaw, it makes for a neater cut on small branches and even sometimes it can arguably be quicker than a chainsaw. This is because it can be used one handed and I don't need a second point of attachment in a tree when using a handsaw. Bigger chainsaws for trunk wood. A climbing kit and lowering gear. Extension and handheld hedge trimmers for hedge work. I'm a big fan of the extendable pole chainsaw it can save a whole lot of physical work and time. Loppers and secateurs for finer work. Rakes, broom and bags for the cleanup and finally a blower is absolutely essential.

Q: What are some of the regular maintenances you do to keep your chainsaw running in peak condition?

A: On a daily basis I blow out the chain housing on my saws with an air compressor. Depending on how much dusty work my saws have done I'll blow out the air filter every 3-4 days. I'm constantly sharpening chains, it is absolutely pointless running a blunt saw. Not only does it make substandard pruning cuts but it damages the saw. It unevenly wears the bar, damages the chain, makes the engine work harder and has the potential to injure the operator. So I sharpen daily. I clean the spark plug every few weeks. I'm not too good at tuning them so I get the local small engine specialist to do that for me. Once a year I'll strip the saw down completely and scrub every last bit to make it all new and shiny looking. I'm actually not too sure if I'm doing all the right things but it has worked so far.

Q: Disease is something that you probably come across in your work. Are there any noticeable early signs that a tree might be affected by disease?

A: Diseases in trees are a tough one. The early signs don't specifically point to a disease as the issue. There can be wilting or dieback in the leaves. Sudden leaf drop. Death of an entire branch back to the collar. A sudden loss of vigor and lack of growth. There can also be absolutely no signs at all. An indication that there is fungus present is the appearance of a fungal bracket, so the fruiting body of the fungus. Diseases can be difficult to treat with chemical application. The best approach is prevention. Create the best possible growing conditions for the tree. So good soil, adequate water, correct soil pH, good pruning techniques, sanitize pruning equipment between trees. Planning and research before planting is so important. Choose the right species of tree for the space you have, consider size, climate, surrounding infrastructure etc.

View from up in a tree while clearing limbs for powerlines. Christine's view clearing limbs for powerlines with her favorite Silky handsaw.

Q: For people who can't hire you and your company, what should they look for when they hire someone to take care of their trees?

A: If you are someone that cares about the health of your trees then you should really look for a qualified Arborist that works to preserve trees. There is so much that can be done to extend the life of a tree without first considering removal. It can be incredibly dangerous if not done properly so look for a qualified Arborist that adheres to occupational health and safety regulations and insurance would be advised also. An Arborist that works smart not hard is what I'd call a good Arborist.

Q: There have been wild fires raging in the Southeast of Australia. Is there anything you can tell us to give us a better understanding of what's going on? (Note: Christine let us know that she and her family have been safe throughout.)

A: The plants and animals have adapted over thousands of years to work with naturally occurring fires (e.g. from lightning strikes). This has resulted in the Australian bush heavily relying on fires to regenerate and reproduce. The heat and smoke opens various seed capsules. The fire exposes buds beneath the first bark layer of some trees and the animals return and feed on the lush new growth produced after the fires. I could go on and on about how amazing the Aussie bush is really. There is so much fuel in the bush for fires- a mild wet winter has produced so much growth which has dried out this summer. Hot winds, and 40+ degree Celsius days, it's a recipe for disaster.

Total fire bans are in place- no BBQ's, no gas cookers when you’re camping, no oxy cutting, no welding. It's very serious.

One thing in relation to fires though is that the big old relic trees that are destroyed in fires are quite often forgotten. And rightly so when compared to human lives lost and lives destroyed. But it is also terribly sad to see these trees dead after thriving for hundreds of years. An incredibly important piece of a landscape, an ecosystem or microclimate. Trees are so important to our lifestyles. People often don't realize what they personally gain from a tree. Cleaner air, cooler air, a living backdrop, a natural screen, a Zen type feature swaying in the breeze. There is a huge difference between sitting under a plastic shade sail in your backyard and sitting under a 45 year old Box Elder.

Q: Do you have any thoughts to leave us with?

Trees have this magic about them. I have trouble explaining it and even understanding it. If they were human they would have seen and experienced more than any of us could imagine. They're like big silent soldiers that watch over us, almost guarding us. They're powerful and resilient and adaptable. When I stand beneath a giant tree with my palm against the trunk I am always in awe of the sheer mass in front of me. It's amazing to think it was once a teeny tiny seed.

We would like to thank Christine for her participation in this Q&A. This article / Q&A was written by . If you have any comments, feedback, or would like to see more of these Q&A's, please let us know. E-mail us at [email protected].

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