One company’s preventative approach

Photos by Wendy Komancheck.
Dan Rothermel Jr. in front of Green Giant’s office.

“The expression, ‘An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,’ is true with plants as well as humans,” says Dan Rothermel Jr., vice president of Green Giant Lawn and Tree Care in Fleetwood, Pa. “We begin by trying to keep the plants healthy. We keep the plants properly fertilized and use products that include mycorrhizae to provide an environment as close to what would exist in a forest.”

Fertilization is the key

Green Giant Lawn and Tree Care,, focuses on proper fertilization when it comes to taking care of trees. Rothermel says that his company uses a biostimulant that Green Giant has developed through trial and error, as well as studying the needs of trees. “A few years ago, we began using a biostimulant instead of a high nitrogen fertilizer, and have had very good success. The nitrogen just feeds the insects like scale and aphids. With the biostimulant, we’re seeing a lot less of these insects,” he says.

According to Green Giant’s Web site, “The fertilizers we use have some ‘special’ ingredients, such as sea kelp, beneficial rhizobacteria, biostimulant complexes, humic acid, micronutrients and soil surfactant. The fertilizer is injected about 6 inches deep, under pressure in a grid pattern. The fertilizer is injected around the base of the tree and under the entire drip line.”

This pressure application allows the fertilizer to spread out in a horizontal pattern in the soil and “provides a uniform amount to the entire root system. The root system is literally bathed in the nutrients. Soil microbes then slowly breakdown the fertilizer to provide a slow, controlled release of nutrients.”

Integrated pest management (IPM)

“We use IPM for all of our customers,” says Rothermel. “The advantages are that the proper plants get treated with the proper materials. This effectively takes care of the problem while not getting rid of beneficial insects. It also keeps pesticides out of the environment.”

Green Giant uses smart tree care practices. Their Web site educates clients about why IPM is an effective choice in tree care, and explains that their technicians take a holistic approach to tree care by looking at the tree and its surrounding environment. Specifically, they look at fertilization, watering, pruning and mulching practices to see where the tree’s problem lies.

However, tree illnesses do arise, and Rothermel explains the diagnosis process. “When a problem arises, the first step is to identify the plant and diagnose the problem. Then, we determine if there are cultural problems, [such as] the tree needing some pruning to let sunlight in or [checking to see if] the customer is piling too much mulch around the tree trunk. If there is a disease or an insect problem that warrants treating, we determine what treatment method will do the best job and make the application.”

One of Green Giant’s trucks. Green Giant’s signage.

Green Giant customizes their tree care packages to meet each of their customer’s needs. Rothermel explains that, “All of our tree care customers are on an IPM program. We inspect and treat as needed. For us, as well as most quality tree care companies, the days of blanket spraying are long gone. Our tree care programs are truly customized for each customer, depending on the plants that they have. Many companies say they have customized programs, but they don’t. With tree care, much more so than lawn care, a customized approach is the only way to provide exactly what the customer needs.”

Green Giant organizes the tree services, including an IPM schedule, for their customers before the season starts.

Daily business

From Thursday morning meetings to e-mails and handouts, staying on top of current tree care practices is vital to Green Giant and their employees. The Thursday morning meetings are structured trainings for all technicians, both on the tree care and the lawn care sides of the business. On a daily basis, as well as when different pests are spotted in their customer service area, e-mails, informative handouts and discussions ensue on how to effectively deal with these pests. Green Giant also sends their technicians to outside training so that all the employees are up-to-date on current tree care practices.

An example of Green Giant’s tree care.

Green Giant’s clientele consists of residential homeowners, school districts, colleges, office complexes and hospitals. Due to thriving communities that constitute eastern Pennsylvania, Green Giant faces competition from other tree care companies in the area. Rothermel says, “There are so many different ways to get customers, it’s hard to pick just one. Probably, the most important aspect of getting and keeping customers is to have a high level of knowledge regarding the care of trees. There are a lot of people in the industry that simply don’t have much technical knowledge, and those people end up with a high customer turnover.”

Green Giant hires 22 to 24 full-time employees. One of the challenges that he and his company face is “finding employees with a working knowledge of tree care. I would like to see more high school programs offer comprehensive horticulture education.”

Green Giant started in 1982. Rothermel’s father, Daniel K. Rothermel Sr., bought the business in January 1990 and is currently president of the company.

Prevention as well as a high regard for tree care knowledge are the ingredients that make Green Giant Lawn and Tree Care stand out among their competition.

The author is a freelance writer based in Ephrata, Pa.