Plant Health Care (PHC) is a refreshing and dramatic new concept in professional landscape care. It is a holistic customer-driven approach to plant care that focuses on the health, growth, and beauty of plants and provides a wealth of information to facilitate informed decision-making.


Woody landscape plantings are a joy to behold. They provide a multitude of personal and social benefits and are significant assets that add to property values. Unfortunately, more than ever before, trees and shrubs are subjected to a host of environmental stresses such as disturbed and poor soil, drought, bad planting techniques, soil compaction, air pollution and much more. These stresses tend to weaken their natural defensive systems and leave them subject to diseases and insect infestations. If left undetected and untreated, these problems can seriously damage and even destroy the plants.
Until recently, tree care professionals (arborists) and other landscape care providers were called in only after problems had reached an advanced stage and became noticeable. Drastic reactionary measures were then necessary to save plants and, all too often, even the most radical interventions failed.

PHC Offers a Change for the Better

Plant Health Care begins with the premise that if you tend a plant properly-- if you can prevent a plant from undergoing stress by giving it the proper location, sunlight, soil, moisture, and protection from pests -- the plant will thrive. With PHC, arborists and other landscape professionals establish ideal growing conditions for the plants they tend. They remove the stresses which drain a plant's energy, then bolster its natural defenses by determining and meeting essential requirements. By modifying the basic elements of plant growth, the PHC specialist can turn weak plants into healthy and vigorous specimens.

Plant and Human Health: An Analogy

PHC, in many respects, parallels advances in human health care. Not long ago, people were willing to take some medicine whenever they became ill. Today however, there is a tendency to practice prevention and accept drugs only as a last resort. People are aware that there are many components to health maintenance, including regular check-ups, proper diet, exercise, supplemental vitamins, and avoidance of stress. Prevention now occupies the front seat -- far ahead of treatment, therapy, or medicine.

PHC's Origin

The Plant Health Care Management System is a multi-faceted method of landscape care that was unveiled in 1992. It was developed by a team of plant care experts after a study of America's urban forests disclosed some rather alarming findings and the need for many changes: changes in attitudes and thinking on the part of landscape care providers; changes from a focus on (reactive) pest control to emphasis on proactive plant health; changes favoring environmentally conservative methodology; and increasing the availability of vast information resources to plant care providers, to name a few. After several years of development, Plant Health Care has accomplished all these initial objectives and more.
Let's look at some of the features and advantages you can expect from a PHC program.


Professional Support

Personalized service starts on your landscape by the PHC practitioner asking questions, exploring priorities and expectations. You can be assured that a firm which practices PHC will have a staff of well-trained, educated, and experienced professionals who are familiar with your landscape plants, their needs for optimum health, and the pests and diseases most likely to attack them.

Customer Specific

PHC recognizes that every property is different and that every plant offers its own unique challenges and opportunities. By exploring the landscape with you and understanding your desires, the PHC specialist develops an individualized care program that meets your specific needs. PHC allows for one, some, or all plants to be monitored. Certain information will surface concerning "key plants" which are of significant monetary or sentimental value. The client's desires and expectations drive the PHC concept.


Frequent monitoring ensures early detection of problems. Several times during the growing season (usually every 3 to 6 weeks depending on the practitioner and geographical area), a professional "scout" trained in the diagnosis of horticultural diseases and deficiencies visits a client's property for an inspection. When the inspection is completed, or soon after, the client receives a scouting report which advises of any existing or anticipated problems. Should either exist, the client is given complete information about the problem and the urgency for treatment, and is advised of all available treatment options.


Plant Health Care bridges communication between the plant care professional and client. PHC practitioners consult with the client before and after treatments, providing clear and relevant information that enables the client to be an active partner in landscape decisions. Their expertise is available to assist clients in choosing the right plant for the right place. The cornerstone of the Plant Health Care concept is the understanding that intelligent decision-making is both the key to a healthy and beautiful landscape as well as the client's peace of mind.


Alternative treatment options are usually available. Typically, the best choices are those that work in concert with natural processes and are the least intrusive. PHC offers a vast arsenal of treatment options. They include pruning for health maintenance, eradication, or aesthetics, cultural practices such as soil aeration or mulching, fertilization, thinning if overcrowding of plants is a problem, and cabling and bracing. Chemical applications are used only as a last resort, but remain a viable PHC option --- especially during early stages of a PHC program while optimum plant health is being achieved.
Beautiful landscapes are by-products of the stimulation of health and vigor of plants. Only healthy plants can be beautiful plants and with PHC, the client is assured of both.

Environmental Sensitivity

For some, environmental sensitivity is PHC's most significant attribute. PHC focuses on maintaining healthy plants, which stimulates their natural defensive systems. This, in itself, serves to suppress pests. If, however, pests become a problem, PHC specialists utilize a wide variety of environmentally sensitive treatment strategies to maintain a more natural balance. Whether it be the use of insect traps, tree injections, horticultural oil treatments, pruning or small-scale spot spraying, Plant Health Care employs measures that are effective and also meet or exceed government standards. Routine blanket chemical sprays for eradication of insects will soon be a practice of the past. Research now tells us that not all insects are harmful and, in fact, some are actually beneficial. PHC also recognizes that small amounts of pest damage can often be tolerated without long-term harm to the plant, depending on the circumstances.

Cost Effectiveness

Because Plant Health Care maintains the vigor of the landscape, plants are much less susceptible to pests. Proactive PHC practices cost considerably less than reactive interventions. In the past, money was spent to purchase costly treatments, usually broadcast sprays, to combat pests that plagued weakened plants. Since the underlying imbalances that induced the problems were rarely corrected, it was an endless cycle of treatments with minimal gains. Professional plant maintenance can actually pay for itself when considering how much healthy, beautiful plants add to property values.

Locating a PHC Specialist

As stated earlier, the Plant Health Care Management System is a relatively new concept receiving wide acceptance within the landscape industry. Look to the yellow pages under tree care to see if any local arborists are advertising Plant Health Care. If not, call tree care providers and ask questions, using the information presented in this brochure. County extension and state conservation offices may possibly offer useful leads.
This brochure is one in a series published by the International Society of Arboriculture as part of its Consumer Information Program. You may have additional interest in the following titles currently in the series: Insect and Disease Problems; Mature Tree Care; New Tree Planting; Trees and Turf; Benefits of Trees; Tree Selection; Plant Health Care; Avoiding Tree and Utility Conflicts; Recognizing Tree Hazards; Why Hire an Arborist; Buying High-Quality Trees; Tree Values; Pruning Young Trees; Pruning Mature Trees; Why Topping Hurts Trees; Pruning Young Trees; Pruning Mature Trees; Avoiding Tree Damage During Construction; Treatment of Trees Damaged by Construction.

Developed by the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA), a non-profit organization supporting tree care research around the world and dedicated to the care and preservation of shade and ornamental trees. For further information, contact: ISA, P.O. Box 3129, Champaign, IL 61826-3129, USA.

1995 International Society of Arboriculture.

The Plant Health Care Management System was developed to meet the environmental requirements of the urban landscape. The International Society of Arboriculture Research Trust, National Arborist Foundation and the USDA Forest Service funded development of the PHC program by a project team of researchers, educators and practitioners from the University of Illinois (USA) Natural History Survey.