New to tree health care? Advice from

LawnSite Member
I was recently asked by a young man, "What would you do if you were brand new to the industry? Where would you get started?" The answer is "Learn as much as possible about why trees go into decline, and ways to bring them back and make them healthy." Insects and diseases are almost always secondary to other issues the tree has or had. Like working 70-80 hours a week - you can do that to yourself for a little while, but eventually your body / mind break down and you get sick. Trees are a lot like us in that respect. A little drought, no problem. Repeated months and years...big problems. Stress factors like trenching near the tree, parking or driving under the tree - even heavy foot traffic can cause a stress cycle to begin. Mowing right up to the base of the non-mulched mature tree, clipping the base with weed-eaters, etc. You can tell the tree is stressed by several clues. Does it seem thinner than other trees of the same species in the same area? Is the color off? Die-back in the canopy - flagging branches? The terminal bud scale scar will tell you a lot about the growth over the last 3-4 years. When did the growth go from 1-2' to 4-6 inches a year, or less? Be the detective for people and ask questions. What changed x years ago? Why is the tree in decline? This helps you figure out what might have happened to begin the decline, and how to correct the issues.

Horticultural problems are often the main issue. Is the tree in turf or mulched, is that correct, is it thick enough but not too thick - no volcano mounds! Turf is in competition with tree roots for water and nutrients, and they take their share first. You might notice there is no turf in the forest! Is the tree under irrigation? Know that should never hit the trunk! It can cause wet-wood diseases, sun-scald and other problems to set in! How frequently is it irrigated? It is better to water once or twice a week deeply than daily, or every other day - for trees, shrubs and turf need deeper roots. Daily watering creates roots that grow along just under the soil / grass line. These shallow roots are guaranteed to be damaged by excessive heat, traffic and will take in lawn herbicides more dramatically if they are frequently used. I would rather see an irrigation on for a solid hour, really deeply soaking the landscape and then off for several days. Make the roots search for the water in the soil depths, they are safer there.

So you learn to give advice to the homeowner, and it becomes you and them versus the problem. You are not selling them anything, you are helping them solve their problem. Once you have moved from across the table, to their side of the table figuratively, you can pitch the solution and the price. The magic number in business is 35%. Never spend more than 35% on products, the next 35% is labor - never exceed that and the rest is profit margin. It is best to figure gas / taxes etc into the last two items. The only thing that pays you to keep the doors open and lights on, is the profit margin. In 16 years of business, I rarely actually made more than 20%. Break-downs in machinery, bad weather, sick days for the salaried foremen and unexpected things always eat some of the margin. That's why it has to be kept at 30-35% as a goal!

So, back to the work you can do with little machinery and investment. A cordless drill and a rubber hammer - boom, you can inject trees with a two year fertilizer. Mauget and tree-tech make good fertilizers for hardwoods, pines and palm trees with no extra equipment to buy. This helps the chlorotic plants you see all the time to green up and gain back some vigor. Once you build a business doing more of this you can invest in tools from Arbor-jet, Rainbow Tree, or Arbor-systems to speed up your work and increase efficiency. They all work, and different systems have draw-backs and bonuses. They fix the immediate problems but do nothing for the soil, and in my opinion that's where most of the long-term 'fixes' can take place, to save the tree for the long term, and make you money, while building your reputation! The equipment needed, no matter which system you chose will pay for itself quickly. The fertilizers are long lasting and the result is usually quite dramatic. Take pictures!

A corded 1/2 inch drill, extension cord - heavy duty 100', a 24 inch by 3 inch auger -(we sell those) and you are in the vertical mulching business! Vertical mulching pictures are found on the web, essentially you are making swiss cheese of the soil under the tree and filling in those holes with a concoction of 'good stuff' to change the soil biota for the better. Soil,unless it is sandy, is like an old kitchen sponge. It gets wet, and wrung out thousands of times, and loses its porosity. It loses the 'air pockets' that allow water and nutrients to move freely. That is where the auger comes in, you drill every two feet in a grid that usually starts about three feet from the tree and extends about 20% beyond the drip-line. The holes need to be 4-14 inches deep. You can only drill so deeply depending on the compaction of the soil - this varies on every hole and soil type! Once all that fun is done you want to put some compost, or loose organic soil in each hole, a fitting fertilizer mixture and Vital blend Bio-char.

Compost can be bagged 'natures helper' - soil conditioner (lowes) , miracle grow soil etc. It just needs to be light and airy and organic. The fertilizer should be Tree-Nutri - 165 plus shipping - for a 50 inch caliper tree. (one ounce per hole) and 50 lbs of Vital blend Bio-char. (65.00 for 50 inch caliper's worth too)Then you kick in the soil and leave each 'hole' over-filled, as they will settle over time with water.

The tree nutri is a 12-12-12 fert plus micros like calcium, iron, manganese, magnesium, vitamin B-1, Mycorrhizae inoculants, and aqua-sorb. This expands into a 'jelly' that acts as a time-release for the fertilizer and helps the tree acces water in times of drought. The Vital blend Bio-char fixes nitrogen in the soil, is charged with fresh water humates, lasts 1500 years in the soil, and sets up 'condominiums' for beneficial bacteria and fungi the tree needs to thrive. A cubic yard of Bio-char holds up to 150 gallons of water without expanding due to it's surface area, which is about 7 square miles per cubic yard of material! It looks like coral under a microscope, and plants of all kinds thrive with its addition! It can even be used to increase corn and soy yields 35%, while cutting down on the fertilizer needs of the crops.


This process really saves distressed trees. It takes time to do and the client has to pay for all the benefits. A typical 24 inch caliper tree will cost the homeowner 650.00 or more to vertical mulch. It will take a couple of hours to do properly. Combine three or more trees on the same lot and you have a nice, profitable day! The key to making really nice sales here is to find homes that are 3-5 years old where they kept the larger trees on the lot and built around them. You will often find the trees growing thinner yearly due to construction damage, but it tells you they value their trees if they kept them from the bulldozer! I have made 3-5000 sales (One very tiring day for three guys) in such neighborhoods, by just stopping and asking people if they would like me to look at the health of their trees. Call on me if you have questions, I am happy to help you begin caring for trees!

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