A little health insurance for trees, shrubs

Most homeowners with yards enjoy the thought of an inviting landscape they can show off and enjoy.

Creating a beautiful outdoor living space, however, takes effort and patience.

“Attempting to force beauty onto trees and shrubs with bad pruning methods and over-zealous spraying for pests is a haphazard approach that results in wasted time and money, with only sickly plants to show for it,” said Tchukki Andersen, board-certified master arborist and staff arborist for the Tree Care Industry Association. “A plant health care (PHC) program can take the effort out of your landscape work and give you back the time you envisioned having to enjoy it,” she said.

What is plant health care? Plants, and trees especially, are valuable resources to your landscape. As assets, they deserve and require long-term care in order to provide return on your investment. A plant health care protection plan supplies these valuable resources with specialized monitoring and problem solving methods that can prevent high-cost plant/tree replacement in the long run.

How does this work? The goal of PHC is to maintain tree and plant health in your yard by providing proper growing conditions for the plants. Most health problems associated with trees can be linked to past environmental stress or declining growing conditions. Healthy trees have natural defenses, but when a tree is stressed, it is more vulnerable to harmful insects and diseases.

“PHC technicians work closely with homeowners to reduce those tree stressors and manage pest problems before they become harmful,” Andersen said. “Managing plant pests and problems rather than eliminating them offers a pro-active and holistic approach to maintaining tree and shrub health.”

There are actually people who do this. A qualified arborist (PHC technician) will make proactive visits to your property to inspect for signs of any plant health problems. Considering your landscape goals, the PHC technician will help guide your plant health regime. Your expectations and concerns about your trees are vital to the success of the PHC program.

Managed landscape plants require specialized “treatments,” as many living things often do. In the past, landscape pest control treatments were primarily pesticide or fertilizer applications made regularly, whether the plant needed it or not. PHC spray treatments are not necessarily obsolete or “bad” for the environment, if performed by a qualifi ed technician for a specific pest. In fact, some spray treatments may be the best option for clients who have overriding concerns about program cost or are only concerned about one specific pest problem. Nowadays though, good plant health care provides specific treatments at specific times, which better targets pests and reduces waste.

But the best treatment methods are those that work in combination with natural processes or are the least environmentally intrusive. A PHC technician may recommend any one or a combination of the following treatments:

¦ maintenance or restoration pruning;

an integrated pest management (IPM) program to deal with any insect and disease issues;

¦ mulching bare soil beneath tree canopies;

¦ testing to determine any nutrient deficiencies and a program to address them;

¦ evaluation of current irrigation practices and a suggested program for correct irrigation cycles;

¦ planting pest resistant varieties of trees and shrubs specifically suited to your site.

But can it help my trees? Most people want to know what the pest problems or the overall problems are in their landscape. Your PHC provider observes your trees and shrubs for changes in their health, and will work closely with you to devise solutions as needed. A custom-designed PHC program for your trees and shrubs will, over time, provide a beautiful and healthy landscape that the entire neighborhood can enjoy. Also, an aesthetically pleasing landscape adds curb appeal to the value of a home.

Who should I call? Qualified plant health care companies save time and money for homeowners. The Tree Care Industry Association has many professional PHC providers who will tap into a huge reservoir of information and experience to make educated decisions and avoid costly mistakes.

A professional arborist can examine your trees and evaluate your plant care regimen to not only determine the source of an existing problem, but to make recommendations that might eliminate or minimize future difficulties.

Homeowners can contact the Tree Care Industry Association (TCIA), a public and professional resource on trees and arboriculture which was established in 1938. It has more than 2,000 member companies which recognize stringent safety and performance standards, and are required to carry liability insurance. TCIA also has an accreditation program which requires companies to meet industry standards and qualifications, including ANSI A300 pruning standards. An easy way to find a professional tree care service provider in your area is to use TCIA’s “Locate a member company program.” You can use this service by calling 1-800-733-2622 or by doing a ZIP code search at www.treecaretips.org.