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If These Trees Could Talk

Lana Robinson | Tree Care



If trees could talk, it would sure take all the guesswork out of the equation. However, if you know what to look for, ailing trees can speak volumes. Some deficiencies, like chlorosis, are obvious, but other systemic problems are more subtle. Compaction and construction damage, along with a lack of organic matter, poor fertility and sometimes, high soil pH associated with alkaline irrigation water and excessive fertilizers from surrounding lawns, can cause a tree to struggle. Then there are also fungal diseases and bugs. Fortunately, today?s arborists and landscape professionals have access to a wide range of products and technologies to address the needs of just about any tree. Two particular areas that easily fit into the landscape contractor?s model are mycorrhizal inoculants and tree injection. Since both are equally important, we?re running these articles side by side.



Profit With Mycorrhizal Inoculants

An alternative community of tree professionals is convinced that city trees are silently crying out for help because beneficial organisms, which occur naturally in forest soils, are missing from man-made landscapes.
The truth is, the cause of many problems is often the root system. To that end, several respected companies have emerged that offer mycorrhizal inoculants to enhance tree growth and health. And like their conventional counterparts, the simplicity of treatment makes this a natural extension for the landscape maintenance contractor wanting to venture into tree care.

Inoculants are formulated as transplant soil amendments, injectables, and bare root preparations. Some companies provide ?all-in-one? or ?biological cocktail? packages which contain spores of mycorrhizal fungi along with soil-enriching bacteria and their food supply; organic biostimulants which stimulate feeder-root growth; natural surfactants; and soil-water management gels. Even though the technique is not all that difficult, an understanding of how mycorrhizae benefit the tree and the importance of applying the product to ensure contact with the root is a prerequisite to success.
Dr. Mike Kernan, a scientist in the Technical Services division of Plant Health Care (PHC), Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, describes PHC as a microbial biotechnology company devoted to bringing forest soil biology back to urban and suburban soils.

?We?re in the business of developing plant health-care products and natural systems solutions for the commercial tree care, horticulture, turfgrass, forestry and land reclamation industries,? notes Kernan. ?Our goal is to provide plants and trees with the benefit of an economy that involves other normal forest soil organisms, such as bacteria, fungi, or worms.?

Each contributes in a different way to soil biology and to the complex plants evolved, i.e., the forest, which is vastly different from those places where people choose to plant trees. Everything is different, from a biological and mineral standpoint. We try to provide selected natural biological microbes, so the urban landscape can benefit from a natural source. This is a broad population approach to plant health care.?

According to Kernan, mycorrhizal fungi grow out from the roots of trees and penetrate vast volumes of soil, where they efficiently absorb water and minerals, which are transported back to the roots. ?In this way, the tree?s ability to extract soil nutrients is dramatically increased. The fungi also benefit, because they have access to simple carbohydrates, or sugars, produced by the tree,? Kernan explains.

Moreover, this symbiotic relationship between the fungi and plant increases the tree?s tolerance to drought, and adverse conditions such as compaction, heavy metals, salinity, toxins, high temperatures, and problematic pH.
Bacteria in the rhizosphere (rhizobacteria) help trees by converting insoluble mineral sources, such as phosphorus, into a soluble form for root uptake. At the same time, the roots provide life-sustaining nutrients to the bacteria.

Kernan says large, well-established colonies of microbes and other organisms, such as earthworms, in the rhizosphere make it harder for diseases to get a foothold. He maintains that natural ecosystems do not require fertilization because a continuous recycling of nutrients is carried on by organisms in the rhizospheres.

Mycorrhizal products are really gaining credibility with the scientific community, notes Michael Behler, vice president of Horticultural Alliance, in Sarasota, Florida.

Dr. Mike Amaranthus, Mycorrhizal Applications, is among the scientists who tout the virtues of mycorrhizae. He notes that some studies indicate the fungus can increase by more than 700 percent the absorptive surface area of root systems over non-mycorrhizal roots.
?A thimble full of soil can actually contain several miles of microscopic filaments, which essentially work as a catchment system to retain nutrients and water,? says Amaranthus, a former professor at Oregon State University and author of more than 40 research studies on the subject of inoculating plants with mycorrhizal spores and hyphae.

Amaranthus? company specializes in diverse, specifically-selected mycorrhizal fungi that improve plant establishment, vigor, and growth. He is also the scientific advisor for ROOTSinc, which developed out of the School of Forestry at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, and still maintains a research center there.

Mike Davison, ROOTSinc president, suggests mycorrhizal inoculants could be helpful to the landscape contractor in two ways: 1) at planting, to ensure a better product and less loss; and 2) in a deep root feeding program.
Davison explains that when the products are used at installation, the plant will receive a benefit. ?The plant, which will experience very little transplant shock, is going to look better. And secondly, it will reduce the incidence of loss.

?A way for landscape contractors to actually make money by using mycorrhizae would be on existing trees and shrubs. That could be done in one of two forms, most likely in a soluble form through a deep root feeding program. I think this would be a great opportunity for the landscape guys. Arborists will do it, but their real business is cutting and sawing. Landscape contractors feed lawns all the time, so they could easily feed trees. It?s an excellent moneymaker for arborists. There is no reason why landscape contractors couldn?t join the fray. There?s plenty of pie to go around,? explains Davison.

One expense a contractor might have is the cost of an injection rig or fertilization tank (new or used) with a high pressure pump and a hose probe, necessary to force the mycorrhizae into the root region.

It is very important that the spores come in contact with the root hairs, otherwise they won?t spawn. That?s why you can?t really just pour it on top of the ground. It won?t really get down very deep. For best results, you need to inject it into the ground.

?You would spray for about two seconds, move two feet away and do another hole ? maybe 10 holes all around a small tree,? Davison continues. ?Then you could do the shrubs along the side of a house, making a hole every two feet or so.?

The landscape contractor could charge a lump sum or a ?per hole? fee, but he suggests charging by the tree. ?For example, an oak tree that is four to five feet in diameter may require 100 holes in the ground around it. The contractor could bid a fixed price of $100 to $200 for a tree that size.? Davison suggests that the contractor should figure his price to allow for at least a 50 percent margin.

Tree treatment programs would be a service the contractor could add to his existing business that would enable him to come back to the same client on a consistent and ongoing basis. ?It probably needs to be done once a year, so it gives the contractor a chance to get close to his end user,? says Davison. ?And the first person that homeowner will think of when he wants something done is the guy that comes around every year and does wonderful things to the trees

Inject Profits Into Your Business

More and more, landscape maintenance contractors are branching out and starting their own tree care divisions ? some out of necessity, since they can?t always get an arborist when they need one; others, because they realize that tree treatments can be profitable. And it?s a practical move, since the contractor is already onsite tending to other landscape needs. With very little additional expense and effort, the contractor is poised to resolve major problems for his clients, and pump potential profits into his business.

An onslaught of exotic insect pests over the past few years has heightened the need for more surveillance of trees and targeted insecticide treatments, presenting more opportunities for the landscape professional to provide assistance.

Although various infestations seem to be restricted to certain parts of the country, we know that many infestations broaden their scope and travel to other states. We know the Asian longhorned beetle has done tremendous damage in the New York and Chicago areas, while on the West Coast, the lerp psyllid (Glycaspis brimblecombei) has wiped out tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of Eucalyptus Red Gum trees, from San Diego to San Francisco, since its migration here from Australia in the 1990s.

The Emerald ash borer, another new exotic pest, has shown up in Michigan. Some months ago, the Citrus longhorned beetle was introduced in the State of Washington. The name is deceiving because it attacks hardwood, conifers as well as fruit trees. Washington State, in cooperation with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), put these trees under quarantine.
Arnold Farran, the technical director and research coordinator for J.J. Mauget Company, notes that the Asian longhorned beetle is a nationally-quarantined insect.
Current quarantines and eradication efforts established by USDA?s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) have confined infestations to Chicago and New York. ?Only the USDA can mandate treatment,? says Farran. ?Over the last three years, we?ve treated better than a quarter of a million trees with Imicide.?

First discovered in New York in 1996, the Asian longhorned beetle arrived in the U.S. on shipping crates from China. This insect, which has no known natural predator in this country, poses a serious threat to hardwood trees. According to the USDA, if the Asian longhorned beetle becomes established here, it has the potential to cause more damage than Dutch elm disease, chestnut blight, and gypsy moths combined, destroying millions of acres of hardwoods, including national forests and urban trees.
Imicide is micro-injected into the trees and travels throughout the transport system, and out to its leaves. Leaves viable at the time of injection are protected, as well as any new growth.

The approved treatment for the Asian longhorned beetle, the lerp psyllid, the Emerald ash borer and the Citrus borer is Imicide. Developed by the Bayer Company, imadcloprid is the active ingredient in Imicide, which has been formulated by the J.J. Mauget Company for use in micro- injection. Bayer markets imadcloprid under the brand name of Merit, and it is used as a soil drench as well as a spray application.
A number of companies, including J. J. Mauget, provide products and technologies for treating tree borers, and injection fertilization. Mauget now offers 45 tree treatments ? insecticides, fungicides, antibiotics and fertilizers ? in micro- injectable form. They can be used alone or with an existing spray program. Jerry Pulley, a Mauget distributor and owner of Tree Clinic in Austin, Texas, says it?s easy to get started.

?All you need is a portable drill and a rubber mallet,? says Pulley, whose business boasts 55 years of combined experience in the tree care industry.

Micro-dosages of Mauget?s fertilizers, insecticides and fungicides are pre-measured in double-sealed capsules, eliminating drift, spill, and waste. And the injectable chemicals are long-acting. In fact, Imicide has demonstrated efficacy for up to two years. Other advantages of micro-injection over conventional spraying, cited by Pulley, are reduced risk of liability and risk to the applicator. In addition, because micro-injection materials are labeled, color-coded and premixed, the possibility of human error is kept to a minimum. Finally, unlike sprays, injectable materials can be used in adverse weather conditions, including wind.

Another source of micro-injectable products and technologies is ArborSystems, with headquarters in Omaha, Nebraska, and distributors throughout the nation.

ArborSystems? Wedgle injection system uses a wedge-shaped insertion needle and a high-pressure injection unit that penetrates the bark only.

?We use more of a pinprick approach,? says Chip Doolittle, designer of the patented device and ArborSystems president. ?We only inject the chemical under the cambial layer. We don?t drill a hole. We insert the tip underneath the bark. We don?t go into wood.?

Doolittle?s arsenal of treatments is aimed at countering leaf and vascular diseases.
?Time is very important to the people who use our system. As opposed to maybe an hour for a capsule to drain into a tree, it only takes 10 or 15 seconds to inject the trees. Then you can walk away. No waiting. No nothing,? he says.

Rainbow Treecare of Minnetonka, Minnesota, got its start in the throes of a Dutch elm epidemic in 1976 and launched its treecare division in 1988. Rainbow?s process is also relatively quick, with estimated uptake time for 90 percent of elm and sycamore infusions at less than one hour, and 50 percent less than 45 minutes. Uptake times for oak infusions, which are more variable, should be less than 1? hours. Set-up and breakdown using the Rainbow system should average about 30 minutes total.

Tree Tech in Williston, Florida, manufactures a patented plastic syringe micro-injection unit. Tree Tech?s units are available with three kinds of insecticides, three fungicides, three fertilizers plus Alamo, Ciba?s systemic fungicide for treating oak wilt and Dutch elm disease. For those contractors who emphasize use of organic products in their operations, yet another company ? Arborjet Systems ? offers commercial organic and natural-based pesticides and plant supplements in injectable form that target specific pests.

Creative Sales in Fremont, Nebraska, offers a non-restricted use systemic insecticide (Orthene) in a convenient gel-cap implant form called Acecap. Again, the product and process are simple, making it feasible for the landscape maintenance contractor to expand his scope of services. No special equipment or protective clothing is required. All you need is a drill, tape measure, hammer and dowel rod. Creative Sales? pest management product, Medicap, can also be administered in an easy, one-step application. No need to wait or monitor for chemical uptake.

The product is economical, efficient, and provides protection for two to three years.

However, insects and diseases aren?t the only reasons to inject the trees. Fertilizing trees can help keep them healthy.

Mauget?s Stemix family line of fertilizers is based on chelated elements. Depending on soil conditions, Farran says the benefits of these micro-injection treatments are usually evident from one to five years, when compared to adjacent untreated trees.

Specifically, Stemix is an all-purpose, balanced fertilizer containing a formula of agricultural minerals designed to stimulate both foliar and root growth without extended damage to trees.

?It is particularly effective in promoting new foliar, cambial and root growth where conventional applications of fertilizing amendments alone do not produce this effect,? says Farran.

ArborSystems? Iron Nutriboosters will begin showing change in the treated trees in seven to 10 days. Results vary, depending on what is being treated. ?Complete green-up may take two weeks,? Doolittle adds.

If you?re interested in injecting profits into your business, but still a bit hesitant because it?s unfamiliar turf, many of the manufacturers of these micro-injection systems have detailed instructions and information on their Internet Web sites, and some offer online seminars and/or certifications. In addition, technical support is just a phone call away.



September 2002

 
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