Over the course of the past year, TCI Magazine has featured its Business of PHC series, aimed at helping to inform tree care companies of the advantages and technical aspects of starting up and operating a successful plant-health-care program. We’ve thrown a lot of information your way, and we hope it has motivated you to consider or even implement a PHC program as an additional service offering to your clients.
This article is a roundup of helpful resources that should make it easier for you to find the information you need as you lay the groundwork for your new PHC program.
PHC Technician credential
TCIA’s Tree Care Academy Training Program offers a module aimed specifically at helping a company’s plant-health-care technicians begin or advance their profession. The PHC Technician credential builds on material covered in the Tree Care Specialist module and includes site mapping, advanced soil management, tree fertilization and nutrition applications, pesticide selection and application, integrated pest management (IPM) concepts, bio-controls and organic tree care concepts.
As an employer, you’ll find that this program will help you verify that your employees understand the technical concepts required to provide plant-health-care services. After completing the program, employees should feel confident they can perform work as qualified plant-health-care technicians.
“Anyone working their way through this program will discover a more-than-general knowledge base of tree and woody-plant physiology, biology, chemistry and stressor diagnosis,” says Tchukki Andersen, BCMA, CTSP and TCIA staff arborist. “The accompanying manual, ‘Managing Insects and Mites on Woody Plants,’ by Drs. John Davidson and Michael Raupp, is just as comprehensive as the PHC Technician manual. It is a detailed reference book on identifying problems in trees caused by insect pests. Armed with these two systematic guidebooks, PHC technicians should have the green light to confidently begin their plant-health-care careers.”
State, county and university websites/extension services
A simple Google search for “how to get certified as a pesticide applicator” will bring you to an EPA.gov landing page dedicated to pesticide worker safety, with links to resources for U.S. state/territory websites. Nearly every state has a pesticide-safety education program in place for certification.
In Pennsylvania, Penn State University has a disease and insect lab where you can send samples for identification and resources to build knowledge about both common and emerging plant-health-related issues. See “Soil-testing labs,” below, for additional university extension-service offerings.
Soil testing determines what unhealthy conditions exist and what corrective actions are required. Poor soil means trees and shrubs can suffer from fewer and/or smaller blossoms, reduced leaf size and vigor, slower growth, persistent insect issues and a greater likelihood for disease attacks.
Soil testing labs include:
- Green Pro Solutions (greenprosolutions.com)
- Penn State Extension (extension.psu.edu)
- UNH Cooperative Extension Soil Lab (extension.unh.edu)
- UF IFAS Extension Soil Testing Laboratory (sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu)
- Other state university extension services
Pest diagnostic manuals & services
First, start with the basics. TCIA publishes an excellent resource manual, “Managing Insects and Mites on Woody Plants,” by John A. Davidson, Ph.D, and Michael J. Raupp, Ph.D.; 246 color photos, 190 pages, Wiro bound. It is the companion guidebook to TCIA’s PHC Technician program.
The third edition of the manual has been expanded and updated. It includes illustrations, digital images, concise life-history descriptions and integrated pest management (IPM) control suggestions for more than 150 insect and mite pests on 50 kinds of trees and shrubs commonly grown in the mid-Atlantic region of the United States. Included is an explanation of biological control, a pest-monitoring timetable, a guide to insect and mite pests by preferred host plants, a synopsis of recommended treatments and an in-depth guide to pest identification, monitoring and control.
This manual also guides you through the process of developing and implementing an IPM program, including:
- Principles and components of IPM;
- Elements involved in developing a program for landscape IPM;
- Creation of a landscape site-evaluation guide;
- Agents of biological control and pesticide use;
- Life cycles of predatory insects; and
- Guidelines for managing populations of naturally occurring predators and parasites.
“Nearly every state has an IPM website to keep professionals and the public up to date on invasive species and other things happening to trees in the area,” says Lisa McCoy, national sales manager for Mauget Company. “This is an excellent place to start if you’re not sure which pests or diseases you may be treating.”
Often overlooked, local extension services from state land-grant colleges provide a tremendous collection of experts trained and educated in pest management. They often have plant and pest diagnostic laboratories assisting with the identification of challenging diseases or insects, usually at a very economical cost, along with the appropriate management strategy to apply for control.
Purdue Tree Doctor and other web-based apps have improved diagnostics significantly, making it simpler for the technician to get a better idea of their pest issue and easier to find a control strategy.
For another approach to learning about pests and other forms of plant health care, Sylvia Provost, president of Henderson’s Tree Service, an accredited, 25-year TCIA member company based in White River Junction, Vermont, suggests speaking to the sales reps who sell the PHC products you’ll be using. “The people selling the products can teach you so much about things like spraying and fertilization,” she says. “I also think it’s important to find a mentor in your area who’s doing PHC. Then read articles, go to conferences, join peer groups, even watch YouTube videos.”
Scheduling & contracts
Scheduling your PHC jobs often is weather dependent. Wind is especially important to consider when the treatment plan involves spraying. The European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF, www.ecmwf.int) is generally considered the most accurate global model by meteorologists, with the U.S.-based National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Global Forecast System (GFS, noaa.gov) coming in second.
Industry pros leverage a variety of solutions and resources to sell, plan, keep records and communicate, including paperwork orders and a robust filing system, Google Workspace, GMass, Route4Me, customer relationship management (CRM) software and industry-independent service software. If you haven’t already, you might opt for software designed specifically for tree care as you introduce a PHC section into your business. These include, but
are not limited to:
- PlanIt Geo
Finding a reliable source for determining GDD (growing degree days) for your target area also is important for scheduling. There are several websites available for obtaining this data, which include GreenCast (greencastonline.com) and GDD Tracker (gddtracker.net). Various smartphone applications also can provide GDD instantly and accurately.
ANSI A300 standards
As all arborists are no doubt aware, the ANSI A300 standards encompass performance standards for the care and management of trees, shrubs and other woody plants. As such, they can be an excellent training tool for those just starting out in PHC. The standards that are applicable to plant health care are as follows.
- ANSI A300 (Part 1) – 2017 Pruning (revision in progress)
- ANSI A300 (Part 2) – 2018 Soil Management (includes Fertilization)
- ANSI A300 (Part 8) – 2020 Root Management
- ANSI A300 (Part 10) – 2016 Integrated Pest Management (IPM) (revision in progress)
Sam Hill, chair of TCIA’s A300 Committee and owner of Sam Hill Tree Care, an accredited, 24-year TCIA member company based in Dallas, Texas, offers some pointers on how the ANSI A300 standards can help business owners who are launching a PHC program, with benefits to both employee training and client relations.
According to Hill, the A300 standards provide an objective set of criteria to use when training employees in PHC techniques, such as pruning and fertilization. “They help make it very clear where we make the application, what the target is, where the correct pruning cut should be and so on,” he says. “It gets everyone aligned and doing things the same way, with the same standardized process.
“From a client standpoint, it helps make it clear to the customer what we are going to do and how we will achieve the objective of the work,” he adds. “We write up each service in the A300 format, so the client has all the details and info they need, and so does our business. Then we can pull out these specifications when dealing with the client if they should have an issue.”
Business of PHC Series Overview
In case you missed any articles in the series or would like a quick reference for where to find specific information, here is a summary of the past year’s articles.
Part 1, April 2021
What exactly is plant health care? Tchukki Andersen, BCMA, CTSP and TCIA’s manager of tree care expertise, offers this simple definition. “The broad definition of PHC is in the initials themselves,” she says. “Plant health care is the care and maintenance of woody trees and shrubs. These are living, breathing life forms that we are managing in their current, often urban, locations.”
Part 2, May 2021
What makes a successful PHC program? And what does your business plan look like? Those two questions are basically the starting point for those who have built their companies’ PHC programs. TCIA’s “Business Management Guide” is an excellent resource for preparing a written business plan. According to the Guide, a business plan is a tool with three basic purposes: communication, management and planning.
Part 3, June 2021
It can seem daunting when it comes down to what equipment and materials you’ll need to purchase in order to launch your new PHC program. But if you bite off just a small chunk to begin with, you may find you don’t have to break the bank to get started. Most arborists agree that it’s best to ease into equipment acquisition when starting up your company’s new PHC program.
Part 4, July 2021
For the fourth installment of this series, we asked a number of industry professionals what we thought was a pretty simple question regarding staffing, training and credentials: “Who is the first person an owner needs to hire, and/or what is the first credential or skill a new or veteran employee needs to have or attain to get started?”
Part 5, August 2021
Plant health care is the science and practice of understanding and overcoming the succession of biotic and abiotic factors limiting plants from achieving their full genetic potential in our landscapes and urban forests. As a science-based concept, plant health care is an important component in overall integrated pest management (IPM).
Part 6, September 2021
Diagnosing the cause of plant problems is one of the foundational components of all plant-health-care programs. Without knowing the fundamental cause of a plant’s problem, it is highly unlikely that a successful remediation strategy can be designed and implemented. Environmental factors of the non-living world – abiotic factors – and those of the living world – biotic factors – can work independently or in concert with each other to affect the appearance, growth, development and survival of plants in landscapes.
Part 7, October 2021
As most arborists know, one of the fundamental building blocks for healthy trees and shrubs is healthy, balanced soil. Sometimes all it takes is a quick look at the condition of a client’s trees to see that something is off. Other times, the causes of poor fruit production, stunted growth or an overall lack of vigor are more difficult to determine, in which case other measures may need to be taken.
Part 8, November 2021
Is structural pruning really plant health care? Given that it can save trees from being prematurely removed from the landscape, it clearly is PHC, and may be one of the more important PHC practices. In some cases, a single pruning cut can save a tree from catastrophic failure later in life. How many other PHC practices can make that claim? So, why is it such a hard sell to clients and, to some degree, arborists?
Part 9, December 2021
For the arborist considering adding plant health care to their service offerings, making the jump to pesticides, including restricted-use pesticides (RUPs), can be daunting due to the tight regulations around these chemicals. Because each state has different requirements for licensure, pesticide storage and recordkeeping standards, this article takes a broad look at the regulations as opposed to drilling down on specific requirements.
Part 10, February 2022
According to those spoken with for this article and for previous parts of this series, marketing and selling PHC is similar in many ways to selling most anything – you need to convey the value of the product and services you offer. You do this by being knowledgeable, communicating this knowledge well, being trustworthy and providing top-notch service.
Part 11, March 2022
Clear communication and properly educating the client starts with the sales arborist. Like regular tree work, plant health care can require an on-site visit with the client to evaluate the property and trees. This is an opportunity to assess soil conditions, planting location and signs of pests or diseases, and then discuss the observations, treatment plan, price and timing with the client.