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Branching out to offer tree care services

August 17, 2020 -  By
People injecting a tree (Photo: Tree Solutions Hawaii)

A closer look Tree Solutions Hawaii has figured out how to add tree assessments into
its service mix. (Photo: Tree Solutions Hawaii)

For the better part of five decades, Steve Nimz has been the embodiment of the Hawaiian arboriculture industry. When the Landscape Industry Council of Hawaii was formed, Nimz served as inaugural president. He founded The Tree People and co-founded Hawaiian Earth Products. He was a charter member of the Aloha Arborist Association and, in 2014, was named a True Professional of Arboriculture by the International Society of Arboriculture.

Nimz’s current firm is Tree Solutions Hawaii, but if he’s learned nothing else in 50 years, it’s that no business can stand perfectly still and hope to thrive. Three years ago, Nimz brought on biologist David Golden. He has also integrated his daughter Ilana Nimz, a wildlife biologist, into the practice. Both are certified arborists, as well; Golden is a certified landscape technician.

With their help, the scope of the business (and the technology deployed to achieve it) has expanded.

“Steve is still the boss,” Golden says. “He’s been in the business so long, and he really does remain the go-to guy here in Hawaii for tree assessments. He’s such a great teacher and mentor. “But since I came on, along with Ilana, we are branching out into more environmental consulting work,” he says. “It just made sense to everyone to expand into the areas of native species assessment, protection plans, health assessments and wildlife monitoring. We also have an entomologist on staff who runs our plant health lab.”

People injecting a tree (Photo: Tree Solutions Hawaii)

Trust the process Some Ficus trees are 120 inches in diameter, so they may take multiple injections. (Photo: Tree Solutions Hawaii)

This service expansion is emblematic of a regional trend taking hold in pockets across the U.S., according to arborist John Fech, an extension educator at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. In places like Hawaii and California, where environmental awareness is high, Fech says there is great opportunity for arbor practices to expand the scope of their work.

“Right now, most of the industry is paid by how much insecticide they might spray or inject or how many limbs they can take off,” Fech says. “That’s all fine, but arborists are not always being paid for their training or education. I’d like to see the business move more in that direction, as this firm in Hawaii is doing, but that approach doesn’t work just anywhere.

“It’s always a matter of demand, and that demand exists in Hawaii, obviously. Where possible, I’m a huge proponent of landscape and arbor firms creating two divisions within their companies, where one does regular weekly or monthly inspection and analysis work and the other does the actual landscape and arbor servicing. That’s the direction we need to go, but not every market will support that.”

Carin Prechtl is the Hawaii field representative for Arborjet, makers of TREE-äge and IMA-jet, two products the team at Tree Solutions Hawaii (TSH) deploys to treat two popular species of Ficus trees on Oahu and throughout the archipelago. She sees what Fech sees. Indeed, it was exactly TSH’s progressive business outlook that identified the firm as a candidate to pilot test some of her firm’s latest technology.

When Arborjet needed to see how its new, 3D-printed QUIK-jet AIR portable injection units would perform in the field, Prechtl thought of Golden and TSH. “They get the big picture in so many ways,” she says.

Person injecting a tree (Photo: Tree Solutions Hawaii)

A perpetual cycle In tropical places like Florida and Hawaii, pests produce multiple generations a year. (Photo: Tree Solutions Hawaii)

So far as Golden is concerned, the verdict is in on the new 3D-printed components, which he has been using for about a year. They are more lightweight compared to the original equipment, he says.

The Ficus species at issue for Golden, TSH and Arborjet are the Ficus microcarpa and Ficus benjamina. Both have extensive, elaborate, external root structures. The pests in question are the stem gal wasp for the Ficus microcarpa and the lobate lac scale for the Ficus benjamina. Several injections are required per tree — TREE-äge for the microcarpa, IMA-jet for the benjamina.

“The QUIK-jet AIR unit comes in an over-the-shoulder pack that you carry with you up to the tree,” Golden says. “When we inject, we go for those external limbs and roots — the lighter unit allows us to get into nooks and crannies better.

“You want to put an equal amount of the treatment chemical into the trunk of the tree. And, we’re talking trees with diameters between 80 and 120 inches. That requires a lot of injection points. We have to work our way around the trunk, in and out of these external root structures. The Ficus trees tend to grow in some funny spots, too — on top of rock formations, for example. We’ve been hanging over rock cliffs in some cases. So, lighter is always better.”

With a client mix of private residences, schools, municipalities and hotels/resorts, the injection approach is the way to go, Golden says. Customers like it best because nothing gets sprayed into the air, no pet can drink it up off ground and there is no drenching.

“It’s been a really effective way to treat the Ficus, which takes the treatment up quickly,” he says. “So far as I know, this infestation is just happening in tropical climates. Wasps attach to new stem growth, way down the stem. Then you get stem die back and eventually tree death. We get the call because people see this happening and are rightly concerned.”

The longer-term inoculation approach checks out with Fech, particularly with the Ficus benjamina and its tropical nemesis, the lobate lac scale: “I know that in Florida, they are notorious because of the 12-month climate. In Nebraska, you have one to two generations of the pest in a year. In Florida or Hawaii, it’s perpetual. They’re tough to get a handle on. The pest is a fledgling for a time; for two to three weeks you have a window. Then they spin wax on top of them, and you can’t touch them for 11 months. These are piercing, sucking insects. Because they suck plant juices, the carbs and sugars of the plant, they can gradually degrade the tree’s health.”

While this sort of work accounts for 75 percent of TSH’s business, Golden and Ilana Nimz have worked hard to leverage their biology backgrounds. They have secured wildlife monitoring gigs fixated upon Blackburn’s sphinx moth (Manduca blackburni) — one of Hawaii’s largest native insects and a federally listed endangered species — along with endangered and native Hawaiian waterbirds, geese and seabirds.

Tree Solutions Hawaii is also determined to leverage the latest technology when it can. For example, TSH works with U.S. Army Garrison natural resources managers using thermal cameras to protect an endangered bat, the endemic Hawaiian hoary bat.

“We want to make sure there are no bats in the tree during pruning,” Golden says. “They roost in trees during the day. June through September is the bat pupping season, where the young bats that cannot yet fly are vulnerable to pruning activities. So, we get in there and carefully assess the tree using a thermal camera to see if there are bat heat signatures present. If not, we give them thumbs-up to go ahead and prune.”

Hal Phillips is a Maine-based freelance writer, writing on behalf of Arborjet.

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