Remember the trees in The Wizard of Oz, the scary guys who talked tough and threw apples? They didn’t look very happy, you’ll recall, so it wasn’t surprising their bite was even worse than their bark.

Healthy though they appear most of the time, on occasion your trees might become equally shady characters, done in—and perhaps ultimately brought down—by disease or damage or both.

Our ratings of area tree care services will help you choose a professional to do the work.

Our Surveys of Customers

Our Ratings Tables will help you choose companies that can offer advice and perform the work. We asked area consumers (primarily Checkbook and Consumer Reports subscribers) to rate tree care services they had used. We report ratings for companies that received 10 or more customer reviews. Click here for more information on our customer surveys and other research methods.

Although several area companies rate quite high for the quality of their work, the news is not all good. In addition to complaints of lousy customer service by companies that rate poorly, customers often complained of being overcharged, getting poor results, and having their property damaged by careless, untrained workers.

Complaint Records

Our Ratings Tables also show counts of complaints we gathered from the Better Business Bureau (BBB) for a recent three-year period, the number of complaints on file with local government consumer protection offices for a recent two-year period, and complaint rates relative to the volume of work companies do. Click here for more information on reported complaint counts and rates.

Licensure

Companies operating in Maryland must be licensed to perform virtually any tree care work—including removal—for trees taller than 20 feet. Licensure means that at least one employee of the company has passed a difficult written state-administered exam. To qualify to sit for the exam, a candidate must have taken at least two years of college coursework in an accredited forestry, arboriculture, horticulture, or applied agricultural sciences program or have worked for at least three years with a licensed tree care expert. To check on a company’s licensure status, search the state’s online list at http://dnr.maryland.gov/Pages/default.aspx or call 877-620-8367.

Neither the District nor Virginia requires tree care companies to be licensed.

Payment Policy

Check with companies to see if you can wait until the job is finished before paying for the service. Withholding payment gives you leverage to ensure that work is done properly and on time. Most companies will allow you to withhold the entire amount until completion, but a few require customers to pay at least half earlier. If possible, make all payments by credit card, which will permit you to withhold payment under the Fair Credit Billing Act if things don’t go as planned.

Insurance

Check whether a company’s liability insurance and worker’s compensation insurance are currently in effect. Ask to see certificates of insurance, and call the company’s insurance carrier to verify. If a company is not properly insured, it may not be able to compensate you for harm it causes you or damage it inflicts on your property, and may not be able to pay for injury to its own workers or other people, or for damage to your neighbors’ properties. If the company doesn’t pay, you may be liable—even for injuries to the company’s own workers. This is a serious concern because high-powered equipment, heavy branches and trunks, lofty heights, and proximity to power lines make tree work dangerous.