Published January 12, 2012 | By Robert LaHoff

I happened into the world of horticulture simply by needing a summer job after my freshman year at Rutgers University. Metropolitan Plant Exchange in West Orange, New Jersey is where my formal education began. Two of my most favorite people in this world, Tony Maiello and Stephen Schuckman have been guiding and mentoring me for the past two decades, not as employers anymore, but as business professionals and friends concerned for my well-being. Tony taught me business 101 and Steve aka “The Dr.” helped me on my way with horticultural discipline.

Stephen Schuckman attended Quincy College and obtained a BS in biology and chemistry in 1981. He attended the University of Missouri-Columbia and achieved an MA in botany, studying tall grass prairie and old growth sugar maple/basswood forest. He managed Metropolitan Plant Exchange, “Metro Plants”, from 1987-1993 where we both worked for Tony. Steve has worked for the city of Montclair as the Superintendent of Parks and Shade Tree, was horticultural manager of the Van Vleck House & Gardens from 1998-2005 and is currently the owner of First Mountain Arboriculture, a horticultural consulting and urban forestry company. Concurrently he is also the forestry consultant for Bloomfield, Montclair and Hawthorne. Steve is an ISA certified arborist; NJ certified Tree Expert and continuing education instructor at Rutgers OCPE… where he teaches advanced pruning and Municipal Shade Tree Management. This guy is no dummy and there should now be no doubt why his friends and colleagues call him “The Dr.”.

Thinking about a topic that would be interesting for gardeners this month, it dawned on me to ask my friend and colleague a number of questions about trees. 20 questions to be exact… so here we go.

  1. What is your background? I believe we covered this in paragraph 2.
  2. What are your thoughts about the appreciation the public has for trees? “They either love them or hate them. They hate them in the fall when they have to clean up leaves and love them in the summer with the shade they provide.”
  3. How have people responded to the snow event in October? “Initially, people were taken by complete surprise and overwhelmed. Now, aside from fear, the public, in some cases, is asking why aren’t things being done faster? In a nutshell… it caught everyone off guard!”
  4. What is your favorite street tree and why? “I have fallen in love with Hardy Rubber Tree, Eucommia ulmoides, a rock solid tree that is disease and pest resistant and always looks good.”
  5. How often do you see trees planted incorrectly? “Every day… and by people who claim they are professionals in the industry.”
  6. What books/ journals do you recommend for the public? “Anything by Michael Dirr without question. ISA Publication will also teach you and keep you wanting more.”
  7. What is your favorite tree and why? “Black Tupelo or Black Gum, Nyssa sylvatica, has good bark appeal, structure and outstanding fall color. It also makes the finest honey in the world… Tupelo honey is fragrant and delicious.” Did I mention that Steve is also an apiarist?
  8. What is your favorite ornamental tree? “American Dogwood, Cornus florida, has it all… structure, interesting bark, fall color, fruit and grows well as a smaller tree. Anthracnose is overrated! Healthy trees don’t get disease!” Steve is a purist!
  9. How often do you recommend pruning, fertilizing and having your trees assessed by a professional?“Landscape trees every three to five years. Fertilization… only with a soil test first!”
  10. What is a fall dig hazard and what trees do you recommend not planting in the fall? “Trees whose roots don’t recover from being dug late in the season or thin barked trees i.e. Swamp White Oak, Elms, Beech and Hornbeam.”
  11. Explain the difference between planting and transplanting. “Transplanting is digging a plant and moving it from one location to another. Planting is a technique that varies depending on the circumstances.”
  12. How do you feel about spraying trees/shrubs with insecticides/fungicides as a preventative? “Not necessary… unless prior conditions/events require you to. Do you really need to spray a pest unless you know that pest exists?”
  13. Is Merit (Imidacloprid) as good as they claim it to be? “In my opinion many of the systemic pesticides are more damaging in the long term than the short term results.”
  14. Are cultivars the answer to our prayers? “Cultivars are being introduced at a rapid pace. Do we really need 8,000 cultivars of Hosta? Some cultivars have their purpose, but time will tell… let’s see where Hydrangea ‘Little Lamb’ is in 10 years.”
  15. What are some tell tale signs your trees may be in trouble? “Trees that don’t “leaf out”, have undersized leaves, show early fall color and/or are declining at the top of the crown are all indicators.”
  16. Two words… Mulch Volcanoes! “I am offended that the landscape industry is so unprofessional at times. I just don’t understand that this can occur despite the volume of information in front of the industry.”
  17. Explain what the “Root Flare” is and why it is so important to know what it is when planting? “A root flare is simply the transition from stem to root! Roots belong underground and stems above the ground. When stems are below… trouble ensues!”
  18. What goes through your mind when you see a Norway spruce planted five feet off a house? “Time to remove it! Right tree for the right space… that tree needs a big space to mature. The biggest problem I see is plantings where plants don’t belong!”
  19. Describe what a girdled root is and why it is detrimental to a trees success? “A root encircling the stem, it chokes off water and nutrients. Think of how you would feel if you buckled your belt too tight!”
  20. Describe the differences of park grade plants, #2 plants and premium plant material. “Sadly, New Jersey does not have an established grading system like Florida. Premium plants have had much more care given to their roots and tops. Without this understanding… buyer beware. Seek a professional’s advice you feel comfortable with.”

Metropolitan Plant Exchange is where it all began for me! To this day Tony Maiello and Steve Schuckman remain two of my dearest friends. These two gentlemen have guided my well being both personally and professionally. One of my favorite movies of all time is Frank Capra’s, It’s a Wonderful Life. In it “an angel helps a compassionate but despairingly frustrated businessman by showing what life would have been like if he never existed.” Every person can have an affect on another’s outcome! These two gentlemen have given me more, in life, than I could ever hope for… for that, I am always indebted to them.



Posted in Garden Tips