Michael Sugarman is the owner of Pikesville Tree Service in Baltimore, Maryland
1. How did you get started?
I was a sniper and combat driver for the Israeli military for four years. After that I moved back to the States, got married, and moved to Florida where I did electrical work for a lighting company, operating a bucket truck to fix electric signs and lights. I also worked as a security tech installing CCT and security systems for a couple of years. When I moved back to Baltimore from Florida, I started a landscaping business. But over time I realized there’s a big need for tree removal, especially in the frum community. I decided to specialize, and instead of advertising landscaping, I started advertising that I do tree removal, and it took off. A master arborist I met taught me how to cut trees, and he actually still works for my company now, ten years later.
2. Who else is on staff?
We have a couple of climbers who climb the trees to cut them down. Some of the trees are very tall, so the climbers must be extremely skilled in what they do. You can’t just let a large branch fall from 60 feet in the air, especially if the tree is close to a house. The climbers have to rope them down. We have groundsmen who move the trees around and chip up the wood. They also help guide the climbers when they’re roping down the cut-up branches.
3. Have you ever been injured?
Yes, once, climbing a tree at a customer’s house. I cut myself badly with a chainsaw—I had to go to the ER for stitches. But in general I do well in trees—I’ve been climbing them since I was a kid. Anybody who knows me will tell you I love animals. As a kid, I’d go out and catch cats, dogs, and other small wild animals so I could study them. I remember climbing trees to get to birds and snakes and lizards. I’d even bring them to school with me and teach my class about them. Before I started the landscaping company, I actually had a mobile petting zoo with small animals — turtles, birds, lizards, snakes — and I’d go around to schools and do presentations, and the kids could pet them. I also rescue cats from trees.
4. What’s the most common question you get?
“Is my tree dead?”
5. Have you asked any interesting sheilahs related to tree care or removal?
Our sheilahs are mainly about fruit trees — we ask a local rav about what we can and cannot do to them. We don’t remove any living fruit trees, but we can prune them, because proper pruning can promote growth. A lot of our customers are frum — they come from all over the Baltimore and Pikesville area. But even our non-Jewish clientele is pretty understanding about our restrictions when it comes to fruit trees, it’s never been a problem. It’s mostly homeowners looking to care for trees in their yards — having them pruned or trimmed, and if they’re dead or they don’t want them, removing them. We work with property managers for all types of properties, multi- and single-tenant.
6. When is your busy season?
As you can expect, spring, summer, and fall are busy, and we work long days, sometimes up to 12 hours. People think more about doing work outside when the weather is warmer. My team and I are part of Chaveirim of Baltimore. We help with tree removal after big storms or other emergencies related to downed trees — we’ve even traveled to Florida to help out after a hurricane. Winter is slower for us, we work shorter weeks, three to four days, and we do some snow removal.
7. What equipment do you always have on you?
A chainsaw, gloves, a helmet. I man our emergency number for the emergency calls, so I always need to be prepared to get to downed trees fast, especially after a big storm.
8. What was your most memorable job?
Removing a large tree that had fallen on someone’s house after a big storm. It was a large two-story townhouse, and the tree put a hole in the roof. We had to bring a crane in to hold the tree up so we could cut the tree down without it causing more damage to the house or to a neighbor’s house.
9. What tree gives you the most grief?
The ash tree. So many are dying because of the emerald ash borer, a beetle that infests and kills them.
10. If you could give all homeowners one tip about caring for their trees, what would it be?
If you think your tree may be dying, call an expert to see if you can save it — don’t wait until the tree is completely dead to remove it. We can’t send a climber up a dead tree for safety reasons. We’d have to use a bucket truck or a crane to remove it, and in many cases, that ends up costing more. Also, if you think you will need your tree to be trimmed for Succos, don’t wait until the week before to call us, because our schedule is full then. It’s best to call early to mid-summer, so we can get you on the schedule.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 797)
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