Sick Trees

Sick Trees? Tree Doctoring Has Its Limits
Get a Second Informed Opinion
Publication by Dr. Ed Barnard1
Forest Pathologist & Supervisor, Forest Health Program
Florida Division of Foresty


Sick, declining, dying trees!
Not what most folks want in their yard. Trees are valuable for shade, beauty, historic purposes and real estate value. Few people want their trees to die, and many will do anything to save their trees. There’s the catch – all too often unknowledgeable and/or unscrupulous ‘tree experts’ capitalize on their customers’ love of trees to sell tree treatments that in many cases simply don’t work or are unnecessary in the first place.

Tree Experts
Services marketed variously by firms identifying themselves, as Landscapers; Arborists; Tree Surgeons; Landscape, Arboricultural or Horticultural Consultant; or to the point, ‘Tree Experts’ have expanded dramatically in Florida in recent years. Such service providers have for some time enjoyed a boom market bolstered by a strong economy and growing public interest in things green and environmental.

Many Florida homeowners have benefited from services provided by well-trained, honest and competent professionals. Unfortunately, however, the ‘tree expert’ business, not unlike other rapidly expanding lucrative, and perhaps under-regulated service oriented enterprises, is subject to a spectrum of ‘expertise,’ entrepreneurial zeal (if not greed), and professional ethics.

On occasion, consumers get the short end of a deal, and are taken for a proverbial ride by market-wise and market-driven vendors whose expertise (limited or extensive) is often overly influenced by opportunity. In other cases, consumers are simply short-changed by purchasing services from ‘experts’ that simply lack the technical expertise they presume to sell. Be careful, and get a second opinion.
Tree Experts: How do you know they’re experts?

Credentials: What is your ‘expert’ marketing? Does he/she possess the educational background and/or experience to back up his/her product(s) and services? Is he/she licensed, certified, etc…..by whom? How does he/she guarantee his/ her work?

Diagnosis: Does your ‘expert’ have professional education in the fields of tree physiology, pathology, entomology, or ecology, to support his/her diagnosis of a problem?

Prognosis: Many tree problems are not really problems. They will often go away on their own, without treatment. Other problems are for real and often fatal, or at least untreatable. Does your ‘expert’ know and communicate the differences?

Treatment: Many tree problems require ‘treatment’ and treated trees often respond favorable. Other tree problems do not require treatment. For other tree problems, effective, proven, and legal treatments simply do not exist. Does your ‘expert’ have the education, training, and/or experience to know and communicate the difference? Remember, if he/she sells you a ‘treatment’ he/she makes money.

Rx: Tree Injection
Tree injections of one sort or another have been utilized for decades to introduce insecticides, mineral nutrients, fungicides, and antibiotics into the vascular systems of trees for prevention or control of a variety of maladies. However, the efficacy of tree injections is variable, and in most cases certainly not fool proof.

First of all, for tree injections to work, many factors need to be in place. To begin with, the ailing tree(s) must be alive. No joke – some folks have been sold injections for dead trees! Also, the treated tree(s) must be sufficiently vigorous to take up the injected ‘medicine’ and distribute same through its vascular system to where it is needed, in the correct chemical form(s) and quantity(ies) to be effective. This is a tall order!

Second, effective tree injection requires accurate diagnosis of the problem in the first place. If the diagnosis is wrong, the treatment will be also. Further, most trees normally recover from inconsequential, seasonal, or passing ailments without tree injection or any other treatment.

Others decline and die, even if they are injected. Sadly, many tree injection entrepreneurs lack the education and experience necessary to make accurate diagnoses and prognoses. Sometimes ‘tree experts’ are clueless; but treatment means sale, and sale means money – your money!

Third, tree injections must be administered at the proper time and in a proper manner. For example, injections are often ineffective if administered during the wrong time of the year. For certain tree diseases, injections may provide protection or prevention, but only if applied before the disease is actually contracted or in the very early stages of disease development. Some insecticides (and fungicides) are completely useless if injected after the damage or symptoms is/are visible.

Fourth, depending upon the nature of the problem being treated, single injections may not be sufficient, and rarely are tree injections particularly effective as disease therapy. Once a tree has reached a certain threshold of disease of decline, tree injections (and other treatments) are often of little or no value.

Lastly, it bears repeating that some tree conditions (e.g., disease, insect infestations, physiological abnormalities) do not warrant treatment of any kind. They are natural, short-lived, and of little consequence to otherwise healthy trees. It is also wise to remember that tree injections, by their very nature, puncture the bark and create wounds in treated trees. Tree injection promoters and sales personnel often downplay this injury, but in certain situations it can be problematic.

1 Reprinted from Division of Forestry (DOF) brochure prepared by Ed Barnard, Ph.D., Forest Pathologist & Supervisor (retired), Forest Health Program. Other DOF publications can be obtained from the DOF website at www.fl-dof.com