Ask an Arborist Blog

The Rock House

Some of you may be lucky enough to know of this lovely place along the Rio Grande called “the rock house”. My friends live there and are just the most warm and wonderful people you could ever meet. Like many New Mexicans, these acute and resourceful folks are used to solving problems and doing all kinds of jobs, even if they haven’t done it before. They really are good too–professional grade in all ways. So I was surprised to hear from them about a little old tree.

Okay it wasn’t a small tree. It was a large cottonwood that had been uprooting towards the house. Maybe it wasn’t going to come down that week, but some unlucky day it would fall onto the house. We agreed that it was already a difficult tree to remove and it would only keep growing. My friends decided it would be best for us to remove it.

It would have been an awesome and rare opportunity arrive at the job site by white water raft, but alas with a tree that is uprooting we cannot risk sending a climber up, and the crane wouldn’t fit in the raft. Instead, we inched the crane into position because the driveway was very tight like a proper New Mexico driveway.

Once in position all we had to do was get really high in the air in a wiggly crane bucket that pivots freely under your feet in a distinctly unpleasant way when you lean one way and pivots back when you lean the other way. Some people, including Baby Gorillas, enjoy this sort of thrill, but one has to set one’s glee aside to focus on the very serious job at hand—methodically taking the tree down branch by branch.

Our arborists stay in constant communication with the crane operator for safety using bluetooth communication devices in our hardhats. Even when using chainsaws and heavy equipment sometimes 100 feet or more apart our technicians can just speak normally into their noise canceling microphones.


Next, we send a climber up to work in tandem with the crane. We call this process “riding crane ball”. It’s slow and methodical but never boring, just the way we like it. At the end, I’m just using the crane as a safety point for me while I spike the spar and cut chunk by chunk until the trunk is small enough to drop without hitting the house. That’s how we roll at the rock house!

When your gut says you need professionals to work on your trees, call Northern New Mexico’s most trusted tree service. Call Baby Gorilla Tree Service today for your free estimate!

Just A Little Trip

It started, as these things always do, by answering my phone. I never know what to expect when it rings—it could be someone who wants a tiny bush trimmed, or a telemarketer, or maybe someone with something much more interesting for me. This young man was calling to find an arborist willing to drive out to his grandfather’s cabin on Mount Taylor just outside Grants, New Mexico, to remove a couple of ponderosa pines. The only thing was, grandpa thought it would be real keen to build his cabin around two of the ponderosas on his property. AROUND the trees! The trees were incorporated into the deck and the entry way. So the larger tree was actually inside of the house for a story and a half. The holes had to be made larger from time to time as the trees grew and grew, and grew. After three remodels and grandpa’s passing the family decided it was finally time for those trees to go, but by then the larger pondy was 125 feet tall (measured, not guessed) and the smaller one was only 115.


My interest being peaked, I agreed to head out to Grants, a mere 150 miles from Taos. Somehow, I made it all the way to Grants without seeing Mt. Taylor, but it was there waiting for me as I headed north from town, past acres and acres of apparently empty green houses next to the various houses of incarceration. What a sight to behold when I pulled up the long, narrow, and steep driveway. These trees were massive, and as beautiful as they were one could immediately see why they had to go. Figuring out how to get these trees down safely was really fun as these were quite possibly the largest and most challenging trees that any tree service had to remove that year in the whole state.

We had to stay in Grants so we could work full days without all the driving, so we got to see lots of Grants. I highly recommend visiting Grants. Good food, good beer, good times. The plan was to climb the two pondys and use a zip-line rigging system to remove all the branches on the way up to the top. Once there, a mere 120 feet up for the bigger one, we would negative block the tops to the spars and work the wood down in this same way until we were too close to the roof to safely take another piece. Then we would have to employ a 20-ton crane to get the wood out of there and safely lifted through the holes in the house and deck. Sounds easy enough right?

The first days drive went well, we got to the hotel and made merry. The second day we began working the branches off our trees, but the wind was too sporadic and gusty to safely climb to the tops. We had to call it a day early when the rain finally came in. We promise we will always call it a day when the weather turns bad for the safety of our crew and your property, even if it is annoying that we have to come back. The next day we were able to finish the climbs, Sancho in the big tree, and me in the small one. Sancho claims not to be afraid of heights, and she seems to be tickled by them so being that I am quite afraid of heights I let her take the bigger tree. She went all the way to the top, 120 feet up, where the tree was only 5 inches in diameter, she rigged the top and made the cut! She is so amazing.

I on the other hand am so wimpy that I could only make myself climb up about 100 feet before I started becoming very very nervous, just another mere mortal swaying back and forth way above the top of the cabin. I decided to change my plan and not negative block my top but instead throw the 15 foot top from there, free falling it and hoping that it would clear the side of the deck. What a wimp, you would agree if you could have heard the noises I made, kinda like a really pathetic pig squeal, but with a jazzy touch of giggles and caterwauls. But at least I was on my way down.

We took a little longer than we thought we might getting down to where we needed to be for the crane, but the zip-line rigging technique worked famously. Sancho still had a little more wood to do so I went to town to meet the crane. When I got to the hotel I was bummed to see the crane wasn’t there because the day was mostly gone. I was worried we wouldn’t be able to finish it that day and then the crane pulled in and I felt my stomach turn. Keeping the feeling down I went to greet the crane operator and tell him he brought the wrong machine. The crane service sent out a 40-ton crane, which the operator assured me would do anything a 20-ton could do, in fact they suggested it might even be better. The thing was, we needed a 20-ton crane because it was SMALL enough to get up the driveway which would be hard enough, but also the area to deploy a crane must be level and the area at the top of the driveway would barely be large enough for the 20-ton to deploy.  The 40 ton with it’s much larger footprint would have to make the trip back to Albuquerque, and we would have to enjoy another night in Grants.


The next day, the proper machine came out and we were able to pick those huge logs from inside of the cabin. I’d never before in my life had the privilege of cutting with a chainsaw indoors! I don’t recommend it however, as the fumes get pretty bad. One of the neighbors was interested in taking the wood for firewood so we carefully loaded up each long piece in our trucks and hauled them down the road.

Overall, this was one of the most exciting tree removal jobs I’ve ever had the pleasure of undertaking in New Mexico! When you have a dangerous tree removal that is stumping you and your local tree services just won’t cut it, call the pros with the experience you can trust to get even the most challenging job done safely. Call Baby Gorilla Tree Service today for your free estimate.


A Walk in the Bosque

The phone rang. It was my neighbor from down by the river. I’ve worked for them before taking some deadwood from high up in their sprawling bosque cottonwood trees. The word “bosque” [BO-Skay] literally means forest, but here in northern New Mexico it refers to the cottonwood forest in the flood plains of the rivers and springs of the high desert. The cottonwood tree found there is the populus fremontii, a broad leaf poplar tree that can grow quite large and at almost unfathomable angles. I think we all have seen that gorgeous bosque cottonwood in that parking lot in Espanola, New Mexico, where you turn off the main throughway towards downtown Espanola. That one looks like it blew over when it was a teenager, then just decided to keep growing straight up anyways and is pushing 100 years old now.

Gorgeous trees, but the bosque cottonwood can be treecherous as well. They tend to get huge and are prone to losing entire branches at a time. Sometimes large branches will just shear off suddenly or conversely they can dry rot and stay dead in the air for decades. The same happens at the end of the bosque cottonwood’s lifespan—it will either dry rot in place and stay for decades or it will uproot entirely sometimes without warning. Sometimes, they give us a chance and show sign that they are about to uproot, and we are lucky when we catch it in time to spare damage to property.

My neighbor built this beautiful chalet down in the bosque by the Rio in the shade of one of their many large cottonwoods. When it was done being built the chalet was about 6 or 8 inches away from the tree. After a wet spring the distance closed to within an inch and it seemed that the tree could uproot at anytime and crush the beautiful new chalet, which used to be their favorite new place to sleep. Well this kind of unstable tree does not lend itself to climbing due to safety concerns, and there was apparently no way to bring large equipment in close enough to the tree.


The gears spun around in my head, and after a few minutes walking around I churned up a handy solution to the problem. We would build a road into the arroyo and then drive a huge crane down the sandy drainage using our ground protectors, which are made of recycled plastic and are about the size of a full sheet of plywood, so we wouldn’t get stuck.

This foot bridge over the arroyo looked solid enough, so we employed a local welder to cut the bridge off its moorings and used the crane to lift it out of the way. Next, we hand-dug the sand to make it level enough to set up the crane. That was an awful lot of work to do just to get to started working on the large tree removal, which went smooth.

We loaded up all the wood for the journey to my house, where it still remains to this day in these huge pieces. I hope to make a drum or two out of them one day, otherwise they are destined to be firewood. Can you believe no one wanted these?


We were quite happy to solve this tree issue safely and without damaging the chalet only an inch away. I was sad to see the tree go, but was treemendously proud that we were able to figure it out, even if we had to get a little creative. Call Baby Gorilla Tree Service today for your free estimate, especially if you don’t see how anyone could possibly get that tree removed safely. We will always find a way to help keep your property safe. Whether in the bosque of Espanola or in the mountains of Taos, we deliver the highest quality tree service while the others might get stumped.

Is topping bad?

Yes, tree topping is bad. When you top a tree, you create more work down the road for yourself. Suckers that grow back grow out of the cambium layer just under the bark are very weakly attached. As they get bigger it is common to see them break off. Topping a tree also make it look ugly, and this damage is irreversible. Once a hatrack, always a hatrack.

Reducing cuts are preferable to topping cuts. Reducing cuts take the limb back to a junction or crotch. These cuts reduce the length and weight of branches as well as leave the tree looking natural, as if it just grew that way.

That said, there are a couple trees that like to be topped, and even should be–But it isn’t the Siberian Elm! Any fruit tree where we really love the fruit should be topped nearly every year. Fruit trees can tolerate mostly every branch being cut off, and they still thrive. This process keeps the fruit where we can still reach it, and prevents the tree from getting overgrown. Willow trees also like to be topped, and can also tolerate nearly every branch being removed. This is partly because willows will naturally shed their branches, which many willow tree owners are well aware of—they are quite messy. When topped correctly over the years, a burl may develop on the trunk where new branches will readily grow.

Elm trees should not be topped, but rather thinned, reduced, and pruned away from buildings. Although they will survive, suckers that grow back will be weakly attached, and the tree will be ugly. This tree will need maintenance for the rest of its life, and there is no way to make it look like a tree again. Consider removing these trees instead.

Many other trees, like oak, locust, or cottonwood (like the one pictured) may just die from the stress of topping.

When is the best time to prune a tree?

This is a tricky question, because it depends on why you want to prune the tree!  Most trees can be pruned at any time of the year, especially if the goal is to remove the dead, dying, and diseased branches; thin and shape the tree; or trim the tree away from a building or electric wires.  Personally, I like ornamental pruning in the dormant season (winter), because the branching structure is more easily visible since the leaves are gone.  I can still tell which branches are alive by the presence of buds.

Fruit trees, when used for agriculture, are best when pruned just after fruit drop.  This gives the tree more time to grow after pruning, and just before going dormant, the tree will make the flower buds for the next year.  If you prune after the tree is dormant, you will cut off many flower buds that the tree has already created.  If you remove all the flower buds, it follows that you will have no fruit the next year, although the tree is likely to live.  If you remove some of the flower buds, anytime before fruiting, you will get larger fruit.  More flowers is to plentiful small fruit, as less flowers is to less plentiful larger fruit.  Knowing this, if the tree’s purpose is not the fruit, but rather the flowers, then we want to prune just after flowering.

Be careful not to prune too heavily before the hottest part of the year, as stress and sun tend not to mix well.

Why is the top of my pine tree dead? Is the whole tree going to die too?

Blue2bAs with most tree troubles, there is no way to diagnose without first identifying the species, taking a first hand look at the site and obtaining a full history, however I am highly suspicious that your tree may be infested with the Douglas-fir Tussock Moth.  The Douglas-fir Tussock Moth affects Douglas-fir, white fir, and blue spruce in Northern New Mexico, and can easily remove all foliage in a few years, usually starting at the top.  The overwintered eggs hatch from mid May to early June and the baby caterpillars feed on the new growth.  They are compelled to climb as high as they can to release a silk parachute to carry them away in a breeze in hopes of finding a new host tree, but most perish on the journey.  This compulsion of the young to climb upward may be what causes just the top of the tree to die, but it is actually the mature Tussock Moth that does the most damage which can kill the rest of the tree.

505.423.TREE (8733)

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Reza F. in Ranchitos, NM

Reza F.
Ranchitos, NM

Niell W. in Vadito, NM

Outstanding in every regard. Professional, knowledgeable and friendly crew that worked with us to get the exact results desired. Excellent work from the moment they arrived to the end of cleanup. Will definitely hire them again.

Niell W.
Vadito, NM

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