So, You Want to Offer Plant-Health-Care Services?

Congratulations! You are about to enter what I consider the most fascinating sphere of arboriculture. Plant health care (PHC) involves research, investigation, diagnostics and treatments. Providing PHC services allows you to better serve your clients and their trees, developing long-term relationships and a source of recurring, high-profit-margin revenue. Best of all, PHC is all about saving trees, making us all better stewards of the urban forest and contributing to a greener world.

Client consultation
Client consultation. All photos courtesy of the author.

There are some real challenges to successfully developing and providing PHC services. PHC is a knowledge-intensive field. Not only do you need to know your tree/shrub identification, but you also need to know the insect, disease and cultural issues common for each species. You need to know how each of those issues can be addressed, what products/methods are available for treatment, what equipment and labor will be needed to get it done and how much it is going to cost.

You also need to know and follow all federal, state and local regulations relating to pesticide and fertilizer use, storage, handling and transportation. And you need to do all of this while battling the chronic staffing issues that plague our industry and the sometimes-negative public perceptions of PHC, particularly around some of the products and methods we use to save trees.

Luckily, there are many resources available to guide you through these challenges – but where do you start?

Follow a plan

Here I offer a roadmap to developing a successful PHC program for your business. I will outline eight major steps in their order of execution, along with some guidance based on my experiences to aid you in the completion of each step. I will also try to point you toward reliable, available resources that may be of further help to you.

Roadmap to a successful PHC program:
Step 1: Decide what types of PHC services you will offer.
Step 2: Research and design your PHC program.
Step 3: Determine what equipment and tools you will need.
Step 4: Determine what personnel and training will be required.
Step 5: Develop your plan to launch your PHC program.
Step 6: Execute your plan.
Step 7: Evaluate and adjust your PHC program.
Step 8: Grow your PHC program.

Step 1: Decide what types of PHC services you will offer
I see two major roads you can go down here based on the answer to one question. Do you want to offer pesticide treatments in your PHC program? Using pesticides commercially requires strict adherence to federal, state and local pesticide regulations. These regulations may require: licensing of individuals and the business with the state; meeting minimum insurance, storage and transportation requirements; record keeping and usage reporting; providing pre- and post-application consumer information; posting of signs around the treated area and notification of neighbors.

PHC inspection

These regulations vary by state, and you will want to explore your state’s requirements before making the decision to use pesticides. In most states, non-pesticide treatments to landscape trees and shrubs (usually fertilizers and other soil amendments) are not regulated or not regulated at the same level as pesticides. When starting to get your PHC program off the ground, it may be easier to begin offering non-pesticide treatments while working through the requirements you need to meet to use pesticides commercially.

Regulation resources

For more information regarding pesticide and fertilizer regulations, see the following resources:

The Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA)
This is the federal law governing pesticide use. It is good to be familiar with the provisions of this document, as it drives what the states are allowed to do. Day-to-day regulation of pesticide use will be at the state and sometimes the local level.

Your state regulatory agency for pesticides

This may be the Department of Agriculture, Department of Environmental Management, Conservation or Protection or even the Department of Consumer Protection. The best way to find out is to use your favorite search engine and search for “pesticide regulations” or “pesticide licensing” and the name of your state. This should lead you to some helpful links and contacts for more information, including a copy of your state’s pesticide regulations. Regulations can be difficult to read, but it is imperative you are familiar with all provisions that will impact the work you will perform.

About This Series
This is the third of a series of articles aimed at small-business owners planned for TCI Magazine during the next 12 months. Previous articles include: “Marketing Strategy vs. Marketing Plan: The How and Why of Successful Marketing,” by Mike Sisti, September 2023
“Safety Belongs at the Root of Your Tree Care Company,” by Pat Turley, November 2023
We plan to address human resources, outsourcing, sales, office operations, cash flow, taxes and other issues. If you have a topic you would like to see covered, email us with your ideas at

Cooperative extension

Your state and local cooperative extension services are part of the federal Cooperative Extension Service, and are great sources of pesticide information and recommendations as well as pesticide licensing and regulatory guidance.

Product manufacturers/distributors

I have found many manufacturers and distributors to have a good working knowledge of local pesticide regulations, and they can often give you ideas as to how other companies may be complying with certain provisions of these regulations.

Taking a soil sample.

Step 2: Research and design your PHC program

What specific PHC services will you offer? What products will you use? How will they be applied? At what rates will they be mixed and applied? How often will they need to be applied? What regulatory requirements will you have to meet that are specific to those products? These and other questions will need to be answered in this step.

It is best to start with your most common local PHC issues as you design your PHC program. If you don’t know what these are, talk to other arborists in your area, attend meetings/seminars and talk to cooperative extension services and state universities. Many state universities put out weekly landscape reports during the growing season that are a great source of information about your local PHC issues. They also have archived issues from past years you can review to get a feel for what services your clients may need.

Once you have a feel for your local issues, consult cooperative extensions, state universities and product manufacturers/distributors to determine what products, treatment methods and equipment are recommended to address those issues. You will need to thoroughly review the labels for each product to determine mixing and application rates, reapplication intervals, target pests and hosts, use sites, restrictions on use, equipment, PPE and other application information needed to design your PHC program. Remember that when it comes to pesticides, the label is the law!

Step 3: Determine what equipment and tools you will need

Once you have determined what services you will offer, what products you will use and how those products will be applied, you will have a good idea of the types of equipment you will need to put your PHC program into action. First and foremost, what PPE do you need to purchase and use? Check your product labels to determine all PPE that will be required. When it comes to application equipment, there are many options available.

Equipment can be as simple as a soil auger and a funnel for applying subsurface granular fertilizer or as complex as a dedicated multi-tank spray truck with all the bells and whistles for spraying large trees and delivering large volumes of soil-applied materials. Between these two extremes you have handheld and backpack sprayers, handheld and backpack soil injectors, disposable and reusable trunk-injection equipment and slip-on sprayers that fit in the back of a pickup truck or van.

Once you have decided on what equipment you will need, research various manufacturers of that equipment to find out what will work best for you. Industry trade shows like TCI EXPO are great places to research equipment.

Step 4: Determine what personnel and training will be required

There are options for staffing your new PHC department. It may be something you want to take on yourself, challenging yourself to learn a new aspect of tree care. You may have an existing employee who shows some interest or aptitude for PHC, or you may need to hire someone either with or without experience. The quickest way to get up to speed would be to hire an experienced PHC specialist who can hit the ground running and help you to set up and manage your program. That is a lot easier said than done these days.

More than likely, you will need to provide at least some training for your new PHC staff. Luckily, there are good resources available to assist with training. There are many online and in-person courses offered through various sources covering a variety of PHC topics. Check with your industry associations, local cooperative extension and state universities to see what is available in your area.

Nothing beats hands-on, in-field training, and one source for this type of training is product manufacturers and distributors. They will often come to your site and provide hands-on training to your staff for the specific products and equipment they manufacture or sell. There are some consulting arborists out there who focus specifically on PHC and may be able to provide this kind of training as well. The Tree Care Industry Association (TCIA) Plant Health Care Technician Training Manual is an excellent place to get started on the road to learning the basics of PHC.

Step 5: Develop your plan to launch your PHC program

Now that you have gathered all of the information you need, it is time to sit down and put together your business plan to guide the launch of your new program. First, determine what level of marketing will be needed and develop a marketing plan, including costs. This may be as simple as making your existing customers aware that you are now offering PHC services, or it could involve the use of social media, web content and search engine optimization (SEO), direct mail or email and many other avenues to drive customers to your business.

Foliar treatments
Foliar treatments can be performed with a variety of equipment, from backpack sprayers to full-sized, truck-mounted spray units.

Make sure you know all of your costs associated with the sales, production and administration of your PHC services before you set your pricing for each service. Labor, equipment, materials, PPE, insurance, compliance, training, sales, marketing, general and administrative and any other expenses you will incur all need to be considered as you set your pricing. Be sure you are figuring in your profit and check your pricing against competitors, if possible. Do a little market research by asking your customers what they would be willing to pay for various services.

Your plan also should include the metrics you will monitor to ensure the success of your program. Safety and compliance must be monitored to prevent injuries and legal action. Productivity of field crews should be tracked to ensure you are hitting your financial targets. You should have some way of comparing production capacity to sales pacing, so you can make sure to meet your commitments to your clients.

You must have a method to gather client feedback and measure client satisfaction. It is the only way you will know if you are doing the right things and doing things right. There are many more aspects of your business you can measure to monitor and ensure success, but to me, these are the minimum you need to be looking at on a regular basis.

Step 6: Execute your plan

Now it’s time for the rubber to hit the road and to put all of your planning into action. Get your insurance and licensing in place. Market and sell your services. Purchase your PPE, equipment and materials. Hire and train your staff. Ensure you are in regulatory compliance. Go save some trees!

Step 7: Evaluate and adjust your PHC program

You must be constantly evaluating and adjusting your program to ensure it continues to be successful. Client feedback is a great barometer for how you are doing, and can be collected easily with a leave-behind mail-in comment card or email address. Site evaluations are an absolute necessity and will tell you whether your program is working or not. Make sure you follow up after treatments to confirm you are delivering the results you promised your clients. Pay attention to your business metrics on a regular basis so corrections can be made before they become major issues.

In the world of PHC, things are always changing, so continuing education is a must. New insects and diseases are constantly showing up. New materials or application methods can increase your efficiency and profitability. And new regulations can cripple your growing business. Attending industry events and joining industry associations can help you keep up with these changes as they occur. Adjust your program as necessary to minimize or to take advantage of these changes.

Step 8: Grow your PHC program

Once you start offering PHC services and see what they can do for your clients and your business, you will want to do more. Make sure you plan for growth. I have talked to many PHC practitioners who told me they wish they would have bought a larger truck the last time they purchased one. Things may start slow, but once they get going, you may find it tough to keep up with demand. Start small and build off of your successes. If you find something you do well and are getting great results for your clients, capitalize on it and find ways to do more of it.

Look for opportunities to expand your program and the services you offer. Continuing education is a great way to learn about new services you can be offering. Property inspections are an excellent way to discover new opportunities. Keep records of what issues you are seeing on your client’s properties and look for trends you can take advantage of to grow your program. Nothing is better than getting it straight from the horse’s mouth. Use your clients as a resource, ask them what else you can be doing for their trees and find ways to provide solutions.


Undoubtedly, there is a lot more to starting a PHC program than I can capture in these few paragraphs, but I hope this roadmap will help to guide your entry into the very rewarding world of plant health care.

In case you are still not convinced you should be offering PHC services, let me reiterate three great reasons why you should.

  • You will be helping to preserve the urban forest and make the world a better place.
  • You will provide better service to your clients and their trees.
  • You will increase your profits and add value to your business.

Patrick Parker, CTSP, is PHC program director for SavATree, a 38-year TCIA member company headquartered in Bedford Hills, New York.

This article is based on his presentation at TCI EXPO ’22 in Charlotte, North Carolina. To listen to a pre-recorded video created for that presentation, go to TCI Magazine online at Under the Resources tab, click Video. For February Digital Edition click here.

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