How to Grow Your Tree Service Business with biochar

with Laurie Mann

Many people have heard of biochar, but may not know exactly what it is or how it can be used. Is it a fertilizer? Is it alive or dead? Animal, vegetable, or mineral?

On today’s show, you’ll learn all about biochar and its many benefits! We’ll even give you some ideas about how you could put it to use in your own yard, how you could add it into your tree care services, and how to talk to customers about the benefits of biochar.

Don't want to watch the episode? Keep scrolling for the transcript!

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Many people have heard of biochar, but may not know exactly what it is or how it can be used. Is it a fertilizer? Is it alive or dead? Animal, vegetable, or mineral?

On today’s show, you’ll learn all about biochar and its many benefits! We’ll even give you some ideas about how you could put it to use in your own yard, how you could add it into your tree care services, and how to talk to customers about the benefits of biochar.

[00:00:00] Monica Hemingway: Today, we're talking with Laurie Mann. She's the co-owner of the American Biochar company. It's a company that's been manufacturing biochar blends for more than seven years. Laurie has a Master's of Science Studies, and she taught high school chemistry and biology for more than a decade. Today, she's helping companies and practitioners improve soil quality to improve the health of the plants that are growing in it. Welcome, Laurie!

[00:00:37] Laurie Mann: Thank you, Monica. Hi.

[00:00:39] Monica Hemingway: So, we're really excited to have you here to talk about something that a lot of people don't know much about. So many people have heard the term biochar, but may not know what it is. I mean, I know when I first heard it, I thought of charcoal briquettes. I don't think that is what this is. So, can you tell us what is biochar? What's it made of? How do they make it? How's it different than charcoal?

[00:01:02] Laurie Mann: Well, that's a really good analysis on that. Most people think of it as charcoal and charcoal briquettes and things like that. It is not the same thing! There's a relationship to it, but what happens is biochar is produced through a process called pyrolysis. Pyrolysis is very similar to combustion, but it's at a higher temperature and there's practically no oxygen where combustion needs the oxygen. Oxygen is removed and it rushes through the organic matter and leaves behind only this carbonized material. And because we use Southern Yellow Pine, we're very specific with what we call feedstock, that's what goes in to make the biochar. We use Southern Yellow Pine. And what it does is pyrolysis burns off everything, including the volatile organics, and leaves behind only the lignans skeleton of the tree.

If you visualize all those vessels in a tree, it's very porous and we can crush that down into smaller parts. Then, that's just the biochar. It's the carbon skeleton of a tree. The porosity of our biochar is very good because of the feedstock and because of how we do it. In fact, a six-gallon container of the biochar by itself represents over 550 acres of surface area; which means, that's an area where biology and water can be held and food and air, and everything else. So, you can increase the surface area and just a small area around a tree by using the biochar.

[00:02:47] Monica Hemingway: Biochar itself, those little pieces of it-

[00:02:51] Laurie Mann: (Holes within it).

[00:02:53] Monica Hemingway: If you were to look at the surface area on all of those little pieces-

[00:02:56] Laurie Mann: You spread it all out.

[00:02:57] Monica Hemingway: That's where you get the 550 acres?

[00:03:01] Laurie Mann: Yeah, we've been able to do testing to verify that amount. Some biochar’s have that amount and many do not. But, we've been able to use a certified test to show that amount of biochar space.

[00:03:16] Monica Hemingway: So that is unique to Southern White Pine or Yellow Pine?

[00:03:20] Laurie Mann: I believe so because we can clean it out. If you cannot clean out the organic compound being used burned, then you're not going to have that kind. It's going to be filled in with what was originally there.

[00:03:34] Monica Hemingway: Ok, so you've got this black stuff, and you've crunched it down into little pieces. Now, what do you do with it and why, what does it do?

[00:03:44] Laurie Mann: Why? Is a good question. First thing you do is you want to get into the ground. It doesn't have to be deep in the ground. A lot of people will just put it over the top, and then it works itself into the soil. A lot of people mix it with soil and put it in there, like a follow-up to planting a tree. What we have is a liquid that we also can do, and it can work itself into this. I'll talk about that later if that's okay. It's a good product, but no matter what, we're getting it into the soil.

Why are we doing that? Because we have so many different kinds of soils that plants are trying to live and grow in. Real heavy clay soils, or extremely sandy soils, those two have their own, pros and cons. But clay always has a problem with water percolating through because they're so compact. And sand allows everything to go through so it can't hold organic matter very well. So, it's improving the structure of the soil that biochar does a good job of. Medium tight mixes of soils do well, as well. You get that in there and you're creating a change and improvement in the structure of the soil.

Monica, biochar can take over 800 years to break down. It's not going to be gone. Mulch and things like that compost? You come back the next year. You come back later that same year it's gone. This (biochar) is going to be here. It's going to be here for way beyond our lifetime and our children's lifetime. Most importantly, it's going to support the growth of soil biology, that we really are lacking in many of our soils in the urban trees, as well as an agriculture, the whole gamut. When putting biochar into the soil, you're going to immediately see up to 30% increase in water-holding capacity. Not just water-holding capacity, but also in reduction in compaction and water percolation through the soil.
But that's not the most important part of what you're ending up doing. What you're ending up doing is increasing that soil biology. It's the soil biology in that area, around the roots that rhizosphere that actually is going to hold water better and allow water to percolate through and reduce compaction.

So, it's only the starting. The soil biology, such as the bacteria, they create a biofilm that is kind of sticky and helps the soil kind of aggregate. By aggregation, that allows the water to flow through the soil, but it also holds water. The fungi will increase and fungi create what's called glomalin.
And glomalin too, will increase holding capacity of water around the root system. So, although we start with the biochar, it's not the biochar, that's actually doing most of that water holding capacity or air compaction, etc. It's actually that increasing support of the biology around the group hairs.

[00:06:51] Monica Hemingway: So, it's kind of creating the environment for the biology to thrive.

[00:06:56] Laurie Mann: That's perfect.

[00:06:57] Monica Hemingway: Biochar itself then is inert. There's no innate biology.

[00:07:02] Laurie Mann: Nobody's eating it or anything like that. It's a good point too, because I have to explain that to people sometimes. It is not plant food, it doesn't feed the plant or the biology. What it does is it supports it all around.

[00:07:16] Monica Hemingway: Well, given all the good things that biochar can do, if you look at a tree service company that's offering plant health care in some form, how would they incorporate biochar into their services? And why would they do it?

[00:07:29] Laurie Mann: First of all, the way arborist companies should look at it is as a way to take what they're already doing and up its ability and its effectiveness.

What I mean by that is this, when we have put in different types of nutrients and/or fertilizers, when we have that kind of a program - a lot of times the actual volume that's put into the soil is higher than is necessary because the whole point is a lot of that fertilizer that might be easy to mix with water will also move through the soil and get past the root hairs and leach away.
So, one of the neat things about the biochar’s, is it's going to hold a lot of that there. So, one of the things we tell people is they should reduce. They can reduce the fertilizing or a nutrient program by 50%. Now a lot of them feel that's a lot. So, we suggest, them to reduce it by 25% or reduce it by 10. But the bottom line is this, you're not going to need as much and get more out of it mostly because of two things. I'm going to keep coming back to this. One, you're going to reduce that leaching, but also Monica, we're increasing that soil biology health, and the soil biology is going to be able to utilize a lot of what's being put into the soil around trees, and then effectively get that to the tree.

Side note: Breathing. Side note: We feed trees. Agriculture in turf, lots and lots of fertilizer and it's going to start getting really expensive in the near future. The reason we do that is because we don't have the kind of soil health soil balance that we should have. Therefore, we have to feed a plant a lot more direct, it's like baby feeding.

It's like a liquid diet, whereas if more organic material was in there and the biology was working at the point it should be - that's their entire job. Their job is to take material and present it to the planet, to the tree, to those roots, in the form that is best for that tree. We are actually helping that tree utilize what the arborist is putting into the soil. We don't need as much. So, there might even be a more effective response to what they've been doing, but less by incorporating the biochar blend. You don't want to put biochar in all by itself, on a turf or around, you need to blend it.

The actual term is charging the biochar. By charging or blending the biochar, you end up filling up some of the little holes there. Because it's like, if you were to dig a hole and it rained, where would most of the water go? They would fill in that little hole. A lot of the nutrients that already are in the soil, if you put in biochar all by itself, and it's a good quality biochar with lots of porosity. It's got to first pull nutrients from the soil or the plant. You can actually see a yellowing chlorotic effect in lawns when you throw just biochar on there. So, what do we do? We're biochar blenders. You had caught that I had said that earlier on, and we blend ours with humate, which is a bioavailable immediately decomposed plant and animal material from when we had oceans in the United States. Then they moved out and we pull that and we mix it together, very decomposed, but you can do that with compost tea.

You can do that with manures or even fertilizers or a mix of nutrients you have, like composts. We're just a really good soil. You can just mix those up together. I'd give it a little bit of time, but no matter what, you don't want to put a good biochar into your soils or on top of your turf without blending it with something. Then it just goes like gangbusters.

[00:11:43] Monica Hemingway: So that's the key then. Blending it with something that's going to provide nutrients for the plants. And then the biochar would otherwise sort of, "suck up" initially.

[00:11:55] Laurie Mann: Then after a year or two, but who wants to wait that long before that? It'll start giving back, but not at first if you do just do biochar, and I think that was probably a black eye for the biochar industry when it was first put out there. They didn't realize that the blendings are as important as the biochar itself.

[00:12:18] Monica Hemingway: I see. Okay. So, if we bring this back then to a tree service company, who is thinking great, I work in urban areas. For example, I know the soils aren't very good. How would they go about using biochar as part of their services?

[00:12:34] Laurie Mann: The whole PHC program, right? Well, a lot of PHC programs have some kind of a nutrient fertilizer or organic nutrient process they're using to feed their trees. This is only going to take that another level up. Generally speaking, when we talk to whether it's landscape, turf, or trees, we tell them if you're doing any kind of a fertilizer-like or nutrient-like process, you want to actually reduce that amount because what happens (specifically with fertilizers), the volumes they put in are assuming that that fertilizers going to work through the soil and much of that fertilizer will never get to the plant, it'll leach away.

All those pores, Monica, it gathers it up. It holds it there. So, you reduce a lot of your leaching and therefore you don't have to put as much on. We've intentionally done our biochar blends in two ways. We have it granular, which is just the granulates. So, it's like rough coffee and you can blend it into the soil.

You can just spread it along the top and it can work through the soil. And we've also taken our biochar and milled it down into five-micron size. Then with the granular, we put it with granular humate and with the five-micron size, we put it in liquid humate.

[00:14:04] Monica Hemingway: That was actually one of my questions because it's not going to clog up. Say you're spraying it or you're injecting it, it's not going to clog up the system.

[00:14:16] Laurie Mann: Not with our five-micron size. We actually designed that for our agriculture so that it could be in their drip lines and things like that. So, it wouldn't clog it up.

Now that doesn't mean you don't have a whole bunch and then you leave it in your hose. You can have a buildup that way, but overall, it should not be a problem, which is why we set it up those two different ways.

[00:14:38] Monica Hemingway: From the homeowner's standpoint and a tree service business as well, if you don't have to fertilize for life as often, or with as much, from a business standpoint, doesn't that mean that the company might be losing?

[00:14:57] Laurie Mann: We've had people discuss that. First of all, the fact that what you're doing is more effective for the plant, that doesn't mean you'd have to reduce how often you're out there, just make smaller applications.

If that's the processes, your visits are part of how you charge the client. But if you start really increasing to a point where the amount of time that you're there and the number of clients you have, that's finite. You can only do so much, but you want to grow. This would also be a good way to reduce the number of visits and increase your number of clientele and how much people talk to their clients. I think it's a really great thing to come to your clients and say, "we have found a way to make our applications of this material more effective for you"; or, maybe they don't change that and they just reduced the overall amounts to do the timing as often as usual but letting your client know. You are part of helping with the climate change issues. That's in the forefront of a lot of different people's minds. Maybe by that (if you don't want to change anything on pricing or timing or anything like that), maybe just add an additional charge.

You're getting the premium application because you are being part your part of that carbon sequestration by adding carbon to the soil. You're building more of the biology and the soil. And you and I were talking about that earlier, Monica, about how in reality, climate change isn't somehow finding a way to take the carbon out of the soil so much as preventing more carbon from getting into the air/atmosphere. Also creating more of a carbon base in the soils themselves.

[00:16:58] Monica Hemingway: It's not just, we take carbon, we stick it in the ground and we leave it there forever and we've taken it out of the atmosphere and everything is wonderful. It's taking it out and using it in a way that is beneficial for plant life.

[00:17:14] Laurie Mann: Exactly.

[00:17:14] Monica Hemingway: For bacteria, for fungi, all those things that are going to help your plants grow. So, we're actually using it not just locking that away.

[00:17:23] Laurie Mann: We're capturing that, putting it into the soil and then we're enhancing through that soil structure. We're enhancing that biology creation. This whole idea of, like you said, grabbing it and throwing it in the ground and trying to capture it for hundreds of years. That's not sustainable anyway, but, creating that carbon and capturing that carbon. When you're producing more carbon, it is reducing the amount of carbon that gets released into the air.

[00:17:52] Monica Hemingway: So, I assume there's research to support all of this use of Biochar?

[00:17:57] Laurie Mann: Just plug-in Biochar, Monica, and you'll get lots and lots of things online. There's a lot of work with all different kinds of things, Biochar Tree. Bartlett tree even did a lot of studying with that as well. We've done a lot, some of it observational. Some of the observational tests that we saw were, for example, on Chinese Chestnut. Missouri, we had extended growing periods much longer than the other trees, the untreated trees. So, it expanded the growing time to where it was still creating leaves and staying healthy, instead of going into hibernation, so to speak, that deciduous trees go through. We've done studying with biology. We have seen increases from around 40%, all the way up to 90% of increased biology within the first season.

Germination has been shown to increase with the seeds. That one's been a lot of different tests that mostly have been in something besides trees, but we can assume a germination with trees as well, because it's, again, the biology and the soil more than anything else. We did a really neat one where we tested blueberries. (I had to get this out so I would not be making any errors). We saw with blueberries for one season, just one season comparing untreated to treated, we saw moisture content increase, total sugar increase, dietary fiber 33%, and antioxidants, 11% increase. And that was just after one season. It was a shortened season because we had done the test a little early, and we saw protein 125% increase. Tropicana did some citrus tests and they found they were able to reduce the time to harvest. So, they were actually able, by 25%, reduce the amount of time and get harvest.

[00:20:02] Monica Hemingway: It sounds like, in a way, that biochar is almost the wonder cure for everything to do with trees. So, if people wanted to learn more about American biochar or biochar in general, where would you send them? They can contact us through our website,, or they can call our office directly (269) 663-2224. And they can also email us at That sounds like something a lot of our listeners would be interested in, and I think across the entire tree service industry. It's something that not only would the businesses gain from, but also customers as they start to see healthier trees and appreciate them a little more.
So, thank you so much for joining us today, and I hope that some of our listeners will get in touch with you.

[00:21:07] Laurie Mann: I hope so too! Thank you, Monica!



Homeowners like to see you out there. I get that. You know, like whether it's like, "I'm pretending I'm doing stuff" or you're really doing stuff.

Approaching an arborist company and the PHC - Okay, sorry. PHC program. Thank God. Okay, starting again.

It was very hard. Have you ever heard of those elevator speeches having like 30 seconds? (Chuckles) I'll just see you see on the next floor.

Thanks everyone for joining us on this episode of the Tree Care Business Show, where we looked at how biochar. You can watch more episodes at, and subscribe to our YouTube channel to watch more content created just for tree care business owners. Thanks again for joining us, and we look forward to seeing you again next time.

In This Episode

Here's what you'll find in this episode:

0:00 - What is biochar?

3:34 - How and why to use biochar

7:16 - Biochar and tree service companies

11:55 - Biochar, fertilizer, & long-term soil health

14:38 - Marketing messaging for biochar

16:58 - Carbon & sustainability

17:52 - Research on biochar

20:02 - Where to get more information on American BioChar


American BioChar Company

Laurie Mann
P.O. Box 962
Niles, MI 49120
Phone: 269.663.2224
Mobile: 269.663.7467
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ATTACHMENT DETAILS American Biochar Company logo

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