The Who, What, When, Where, Why & How of Tree Injections
Turn off the engine of your pickup truck, silence your cell phone, tell your crew chiefs not to bother you, and take five minutes to go to a magical landscape land of what-if.
What if there was a new service that created a revenue stream for your business easily and quickly?
What if the equipment and technology required for this new service was simple to use?
What if just about all of your customers could benefit from your new service?
What if the new service took as little as a minute to apply?
What if it had a solid profit margin?
What if the new service was renewable—meaning that you could offer it every year or two to the same customers?
Okay, back to landscape contractor reality, where you know that most what-ifs are just that—what-ifs. However, this what-if is different. This what-if is real. It’s so real that it has a name: tree injections. If you learn the who, what, where, when, why, and how of the simple service of injecting and/or infusing insecticides, fungicides, and growth-and-health agents directly into your customer’s trees’ trunks, you’ll be well on the way to being more profitable and you will be distinguishing yourself from your competition.
The who is simple: it’s you and your company. It doesn’t matter whether you’re as big as some of the largest landscape companies or a neophyte with a pickup truck and a single mower. If you have the desire to generate additional revenue—but equally as important, you want to do a service for your clients—this could be an answer.
The what and why is a longer answer, but it has everything to do with trees; how to keep them healthy and free of disease, fungus, and especially, pests that can weaken and kill them.
Trees are beautiful. They turn carbon dioxide into oxygen to cleanse the atmosphere, they give us wood and shade, and make landscapes out of flatscapes.
Alas, trees have enemies.
Not just we humans, who want to turn them into lumber, firewood, and paper, but also adversaries that can sometimes only be seen with the help of a high-powered microscope. Pests and diseases— many of them foreign invaders with no natural predators that have made their way to this country in shipments of other goods—are ready to attack and kill trees of all different kinds.
For example, recent years have brought devastating infestations of the emerald ash borer, a beetle from China whose larvae feed on the inner bark layers (the xylem and phloem) of ash trees. The emerald borer interferes with a tree’s ability to move water and nutrients up and down the tree.
During the last decade, emerald ash borer infestations have exploded. It has already destroyed millions of trees in Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri, New York, Ohio, Ontario, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Quebec, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin, according to government sources. Untreated, many ash trees attacked by the emerald ash borer will be half-denuded in two years, and dead within four years.
But the emerald ash borer is by no means the only insect enemy that trees face. Asian longhorn beetles, elm bark beetles, and gypsy moths are others. There are also dangerous pathogens and molds like Phytophthora ramorum—the mold behind sudden oak death so prevalent in the Pacific Northwest and California.
According to Doc Picard, technical director at American Lawn and Tree Arborists in Troy, Michigan, a firm that recently celebrated its 111th birthday, most trees that aren’t under insect attack do just fine. “Trees are sturdy,” Picard says. But just as human diets can change, soil conditions at the base of the tree can change, too. Like with humans, an extra infusion can help trees thrive. How does one bring medicine and nutrition to trees that need them?
We people can swallow pills, but trees have roots, not mouths. It’s certainly possible to apply fertilizer, anti-fungals, and anti-insect products in a drench to the soil in the hope that an ailing tree will absorb them. One can also spray a tree from below, though spray is hardly a targeted application.
That said, tree injections and implants, which act much the same way as human injections of antibiotics
or vitamins, are a more targeted approach to promoting tree health. There are a few companies that manufacture and distribute delivery systems designed to get pesticides, anti-fungals, or fertilizers directly into that layer of just-under-the-bark xylem and phloem that serves as a tree’s bloodstream.
The how of each company’s approach is a little different. Some have a technician—that is, you or someone that has been trained from your crew—drill past the outer bark, insert a tube, and then have the tree absorb helpful chemicals from a container attached to that tube.
Another approach is the equivalent of a hypodermic needle, where chemicals are injected into the tree under pressure. Another method is to hand-punch a small hole through the bark, insert a portal tip, and then administer the material.
Part of the “how” of tree injections means learning about trees and their problems. Eric Bristol, marketing manager at Arborjet, Woburn, Massachusetts, emphasizes that while the injection process is simple, injecting can’t be done indiscriminately. “You can get into the business for as little as $600 in equipment and supplies,” he says. “And you might be able to charge $7 to $12 per diameter inch of the tree to be treated. But if you inject a tree in the wrong season of the year, you’re not helping your customers at all.”
Injections into an ailing tree don’t need to be massive. Todd Dodds, president of Mauget, Arcadia, California, underscores that you’ll be adding concentrated amounts of liquid. “We aim at chest height, and space our injections around the tree every two inches. For a tree with a circumference of 24 inches, there would be 12 injections. Each one takes just a minute or so to do.”
No matter what the method, Chip Doolittle, president of ArborSystems, Lincoln, Nebraska, says that the goal is to have as little negative impact on the tree as possible. “You’re aiming for a xylem and phloem zone that’s no thicker than a credit card,” he explains. “With the right training, it is not hard to hit.”
The when of tree injections is something you will learn with training and experience. Doolittle reminds us that timing the injection is not just a matter of the season, but also of local weather conditions. “In a time of high humidity, there’s not going to be much internal nutrient translocation going on in the tree; same thing with nighttime. Prime time is between nine in the morning and three in the afternoon.”
Where can tree injections be effective and profitable for you? Both residential and the commercial properties from coast to coast all have trees that could profit from a nutritional booster or pesticide/ fungicide treatment. Fertilizer application, particularly, can show quick and remarkable results, say Jacob Trom, in charge of landscape design sales at Nierman Landscape and Design in Woodstock, Illinois.
"I have a white oak on my own property," he relates. "In 2009, it was four inches in diameter at the base. I injected it with a fertilizer solution just to see what would happen. Within two days—and that is no exaggeration—the tree greened up considerably. The leaves got noticeably bigger within a week. I have to admin, the dramatic results surprised me."
Nierman added tree injections to its landscape services menu in 2009, as the emerald ash borer invasion penetrated its territory. "We wanted people to know that there's way to fight back." Trom declares. "We want people to know that there's a way to fight back." Trom admits that the initial response was "iffy," but that with additional promotion, tree injection has become a real profit center. FOr American Lawn and Tree Arborists, it has been profitable for a long time.
"We have a lead arborist who identifies trees that need help," Picard says. "And then, we've got someone on every crew who's trained in injection application. We use every system that's available, depending on the judgment of the arborist."
Before embarking for the first time into the arena of pesticide and fungicide tree injections, it's advisable to check in with state and local authorities, to be sure that you have any necessary certifications or permits. Some states and government districts may require pesticide applicator certification or other documentation.
Tree injections can be good for trees, bad for disease and pests, and excellent for you bottom line. Now that you know the who, what, where, when, why, and how of the service, think hard about adding it to your landscaping repertoire.