Ornamental Shrub and Tree Services

SIC 0783

Industry report:

Companies primarily engaged in performing a variety of shrub and tree services make up the ornamental shrub and tree services industry. Activities common to this industry include ornamental bush and tree planting, pruning, bracing, spraying, removal, and surgery. Tree trimming around utility lines also constitutes a significant share of industry revenues. Companies that perform lawn and garden installation and maintenance are described in SIC 0782: Lawn and Garden Services, and companies offering shrub and tree services for farm crops are included in SIC 0721: Crop Planting, Cultivating, and Protecting.

Industry Snapshot

The ornamental shrub and tree industry consists mainly of small, family-owned businesses; most companies offer the service in addition to lawn care and maintenance. Working with shrubs and trees requires more education than merely working on lawns, since there are more plants and pests to know. According to Dun & Bradstreet's Industry Reports, ornamental shrub and tree services represented an almost $4 billion industry in the United States in the early 2010s. Ornamental shrub and tree services attract many firms to the field. The failure rate is high, though, and many companies don't survive the first few years. According to Lawn & Landscape, there were approximately 80,000 U.S. landscape businesses in operation in 2008, and many of these--especially those in south Florida and California--were negatively affected by the economic recession of the late years of the first decade of the twenty-first century.

Organization and Structure

The biggest difference between lawn care and maintenance and ornamental shrub and tree services is education of employees. A company adding shrub and tree care to its business must invest at least six months into education. There are hundreds of shrub and tree types, not to mention pests and pest control. The commitment is costly in terms of time, and companies adding shrub and tree specialists need to be assured their investments will be worth the effort.

Weather plays a big role in the industry. For example, along the mid-Atlantic area, hurricanes can actually be beneficial for shrub and tree firms, as the destruction opens an opportunity for re-landscaping. Strong housing starts are also advantageous for business.

Background and Development

The popularization of the gasoline-powered truck during the early 1900s made it possible for growers to easily transport trees and shrubs, prompting the development of a recognizable industry for ornamental plants. However, it was the rapid proliferation of suburbia during post-World War II economic and population growth that spawned a widespread demand for shrub and tree services. Growth in the number of installation and maintenance contracts for corporate campuses, residences, institutions, and other landscape markets bolstered industry growth throughout the mid-years of the twentieth century.

Strong housing starts, increased spending on homes by baby boomers, and a general trend toward more elaborate landscapes in both commercial and residential sectors aided many industry participants during the 1980s.When housing developments stalled and commercial construction markets collapsed in the late 1980s and early 1990s, however, many ornamental tree and shrub service companies suffered. Steady utility tree trimming markets and a revival in housing starts in 1992 and 1993 helped to buoy diminished earnings for some competitors. In addition, a string of natural disasters, including Hurricane Andrew in 1992 and the 1993 floods in the Midwest, hiked demand in some regions.

Housing starts were increasing through the mid-1990s, and by March 1997, the rate of starts was approximately 1.4 million. This increase was encouraging news for the industry.

In the mid-1990s, ornamental shrub and tree service companies tried to take advantage of a trend toward naturalized landscapes. Another growing segment of the industry was the relocation of mature trees from development sites to zoos, housing communities, or commercial properties. Companies also strived to invent advanced strains of shrubs and trees that would deliver improved performance and aesthetics. Utility line tree trimming companies grappled with increased community environmental sensitivity, which forced some companies to adopt low-impact trimming techniques. Many power companies have simply suggested carefully planning the planting of trees and shrubs to avoid future problems with power lines: for example, large trees should be at least 30 feet away from utility lines.

From 1995 to 1996, landscaping tree shipments increased, an indication that the industry was doing well. In 1995, evergreen trees were most popular, with 51.8 million units shipped, and this increased to 60.2 million in 1996. Shade trees accounted for 37.5 million units in 1995 and increased to 46.6 million in 1996. Flowering trees accounted for approximately 27 million units in 1995, increasing to about 33 million in 1996. About 11 million fruit/nut trees were shipped in 1995; in 1996 about 13 million units were shipped.

As the industry was evolving, more companies, such as Asplundh, were becoming concerned with regulations in order to comply with safety standards. Work crews and customers were often supplied with information on new regulations, including OSHA changes, ANSI standards, and state wage guidelines.

With the economy booming in the late 1990s, both corporations and private homeowners were spending more on landscaping. The Christmas holiday was a busy time, with malls and office buildings often erecting large, living, Christmas tree displays. Some of these displays could cost up to $100,000. While the sluggish economy of the early years of the first decade of the 2000s put a damper on spending in most industries, the landscaping industry was protected by a growing number of housing starts, the result of record low interest rates. In 2003, a record 1.085 million homes were sold. However, the industry did feel the effects of rising health care costs, as well as increased fertilizer and fuel prices, all of which undercut profitability.

In 2003 ornamental shrub and tree services accounted for 7.1 percent of the lawn and garden services sales, compared to 5.3 percent in 1998. This extremely fragmented industry was dominated by thousands of small, privately held companies making less than $1 million in annual revenues. In fact, the ornamental shrub and tree businesses garnering more than $1 million in sales in 2003 represented only half of the 13.3 percent of all lawn and garden services firms that reached this sales milestone in 2003. The ornamental shrub and tree businesses securing revenues between $100,000 and $499,999 made up roughly 15 percent of the 40 percent of lawn and garden service firms that filled this sales bracket, and those posting sales of less than $100,000 in 2003 accounted for 12 percent of the 37 percent of the lawn and garden service businesses, constituting the lowest sales segment of the industry.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines environmental horticulture as trees, outdoor plants, bulbs, turfgrass, and groundcovers, excluding bedding and garden plants. In 2003 the USDA reported that the environmental horticulture industry took in $13.8 billion, up from $13.7 billion in 2001. At the retail level, which includes delivery and landscaping services, environmental horticulture accounted for $136 per household in 2002, compared to $120 in 1998.

Current Conditions

Like many businesses in the United States, the ornamental shrub and tree service industry suffered from the economic downturn of the late years of the first decade of the 2000s. Single-family housing starts, also affected by the sub-prime mortgage crisis, fell from almost 1.8 million in 2005 to 445,000 in 2009, which in turn reduced the demand for landscaping services.

Nevertheless, according to Dun & Bradstreet's (D&B) Industry Reports, the ornamental shrub and tree industry brought in $3.98 billion in revenues in 2009. About 18,037 establishments employed 72,913 workers in this industry, based on D&B figures. A large majority--93 percent--of companies employed fewer than 10 workers, although firms with more than 10 employees accounted for about 57 percent of total industry sales.

Industry Leaders

Most of the companies in the ornamental tree and shrub industry were small, privately held firms in the early 2010s. One leader was Asplundh Tree Expert Co. of William Grove, Pennsylvania. The company mainly trimmed trees for public utilities to clear lines. Asplundh reported 2009 sales of $2.58 billion and employed 27,589 people in the United States, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia.

ValleyCrest Co., formerly Environmental Industries Inc., of Calabasas, California, was the nation's largest commercial landscaping business in 2010. The firm had more than 10,000 employees and reported annual sales of more than $1.0 billion. In the early 2010s, the company grew more than 2 million trees annually for relocation and had more than 100 offices worldwide.


A labor shortage was felt across the lawn and landscaping industry even as unemployment began to rise in the United States in the early years of the first decade of the 2000s. Younger people, who typically would fill the labor-intensive positions in the industry, are better educated than ever before and tend to have higher career aspirations. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in 2009 859,960 people were employed in the United States as landscaping and groundskeeping workers. The average hourly wage for this occupation was $12.18, although the BLS reported that the pay for tree trimmers and pruners was a little higher ($14.41 an hour in 2008). States with the highest concentration of landscaping and groundskeeping workers were Florida (76,880), Arizona (26,990), Nevada (10,500), Hawaii (7,450), and Vermont (2,620). The total number of workers in the ornamental shrub and tree industry in particular was highest in Florida, according to Dun & Bradstreet, followed by California, Texas, New York, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

Research and Technology

One of the most significant technological advances in the shrub and tree industry in the first decade of the 2000s was microinjection. Microinjection allows for application of a pesticide in small, concentrated amounts under the bark of a tree. Contractors no longer need to worry about poisoning themselves or other people in the area. The technique saves time because the contractors don't need to notify neighbors, barricade the area, and don special equipment. The only drawback to microinjection is tree wounding, so contractors must take care how they inject the tree.

Landscaping companies were also looking for more environmentally responsible and sustainable products and methods in the early 2010s, as the "green" movement continued to take hold in the United States.

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