Talking Trees with Davey Tree

Planting a Tree Near a House? Here's What You Should Know First

June 23, 2022 The Davey Tree Expert Company Season 2 Episode 23
Talking Trees with Davey Tree
Planting a Tree Near a House? Here's What You Should Know First
Show Notes Transcript

Jay Reitter from Davey's New Jersey office tells us what you should know before you plant a tree near a house, such as species that are safe to plant close and what kind of research you should do beforehand. 

In this episode we cover:

  • Right tree, right place (0:46)
  • Talking with the client (2:26)
  • Tree topping and free consultations (4:07)
  • Trees that can be planted near a house (7:10)  
  • Hornbeams (8:23)
  • Predicted heights (10:16)
  • How Jay started his job (12:28)
  • Jay's favorite big trees (13:51)
  • Advice for planting a tree (17:27)

To find your local Davey office, check out our find a local office page to search by zip code.

To learn more about planting a tree near a house, read our blog, The Best and Worst Trees to Plant Near a House.
To learn about what to do if there's a tree branching hanging over your house, read our blog, Tree Branches Hanging Over or Touching Roof? Do this...

Connect with Davey Tree on social media:
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Facebook: @DaveyTree
Instagram: @daveytree
YouTube: The Davey Tree Expert Company
LinkedIn: The Davey Tree Expert Company

Have topics you'd like us to cover on the podcast? Email us at We want to hear from you!

Doug: Welcome to the Davey Tree Expert Company's podcast, Talking Trees. I'm your host, Doug Oster. Each week, our expert arborists share advice on seasonal tree care, how to make your trees thrive, arborists' favorite trees, and much, much more. Tune in every Thursday to learn more because here at the Talking Trees podcast, we know trees are the answer. This week, I'm joined by Jay Reitter. He's a district manager in Morris Plains, New Jersey for the Davey Tree Expert Company Jay, how we doing?

Jay: Everything is good. Weather's starting to break. Hopefully, we get a little bit warmer.

Doug: Today, we have 90 degrees here, so it's tough on the trees, that's for sure. Today, we're talking all about, basically, right tree for the right place. Talk a little bit about that. I know from talking to arborists all the time I've been doing the podcast, we talk a lot about how it drives all of us crazy to drive by especially new construction and see a tree planted in the wrong spot where it's going to get too big too quick and shouldn't have been put there.

Jay: Yes, it's probably one of the most common things we see outside of being planted too deep, but I don't know if it's that a lot of landscapers don't know or people just want what they want and they want it to look good right now and they end up putting up a tree and it's going to look good for the first couple few years and then it's going to be just a constant need to keep it there.

Doug: Talk a little bit about driving by those properties and how you feel about it because when I'm driving by, my family doesn't want to hear it.

Jay: It's driving by and then they're just pulling up to appointments and meeting with people and it's the upset look on their face when they say, I'd like to get this, I'd like to keep this here. It used to be look really good and then explain to people that yes, this tree wants to be 50 feet wide and your house is in the way of that. You're trying to fight nature as opposed to selecting something better from the start that would have been better for that area all along and easier to maintain.

Doug: Yes, so when you're looking at adding a tree to the landscape and people are thinking they want it relatively close to the house, talk a little bit about some of the choices that you're looking at and how you decide that distance, how far it should be from the house so that this doesn't happen.

Jay: Right, a lot of that's in a discussion with the client as far as how much maintenance they want and what look they want. Probably starting with that, moving toward, all right, well, does this maintenance plan work for you? We have to be here every year pruning it, possibly twice depending on the species of tree, possibly once, maybe we can use a growth regulator to keep it in that area. A lot of it's in a discussion with the client as far as what they're looking for and then it's explaining the maintenance reality because all these trees, no matter, even if you get a smaller ornamental tree, there is going to be some sort of maintenance requirement anytime you're placing a tree that close to a house. It just might not come for eight years as opposed to three. The reality of pruning a smaller tree, to maintain that area is going to be less of a budgetary impact than all right, you want this big tree and you want to keep it here for as long as possible and then that requires annual maintenance. I guess starting that discussion with them right up the gate and that helps figure out how much people want to actually have that tree that they think they want.

Doug: Then I hear from people at times, and I'm sure you do too when clients, that tree was in the wrong spot and they want to do something like cut the top off it so that it doesn't get too tall. That's something that's not a good idea, right?

Jay: Completely not a good idea because everything they're trying to avoid, they're making that situation worse in the long run. Now they're going to bust out a bunch of water sprouts that are going to grow quick and become weakly wooded. Everything that they wanted to avoid that in their head they were scared of, they've just made it far more likely to happen. Now instead of one top, they have three or four, three to six.

Doug: That's a bad thing for the tree for sure. I know you're never supposed to top a tree.

Jay: Yes, it's amazing how many people, they just want it and they see their neighbor. The neighbor found someone to just do it for them and that's what they want. You try to educate people and sometimes you just say you have to walk away from it and say, "We're not going to do that. These are the things I can offer you to do. Now we could take it down, we can plant something more appropriate, but we're not going to top that tree down."

Doug: That's the importance of having a certified arborist come because where my son just moved into this neighborhood, they must have a Chuck in a truck who is driving around and he's telling people that every year you've got to crop the tops of your maple trees off. As I'm walking through the neighborhood, I'm looking at this horticultural nightmare. These trees look awful. They're just all water sprouts and stuff. When you're dealing with pruning, when you have these issues with your tree, just talk about the importance of having somebody there that knows what they're doing. Certified arborists will come for free, right?

Jay: Yes, especially if a Davey's certified arborist will come out for free and give homeowners a real recommendation as far as what's the best way to proceed for what they have, where they want to go and what they'd like to do with their trees. Sometimes they are harder conversations as far as homeowners want what they want and sometimes they see their neighbors have something and it's all in communication and discussions. To me, that's one of the biggest things about a certified arborist as we can communicate about something about a tree that people don't actually know as opposed to be like, "Oh that's what you want. All right, this is how much it's going to cost and let's just do it." We can give you the information and put it in a sense that you'll understand.

Doug: What are some of your favorite smaller trees that could be planted around the house, again, depending on the site?

Jay: Right, so depending on the site and depending on what people want, because sometimes people want something really columnar in front of their house and there's some great hornbeams that are fastidious that you can keep. Especially with a maintenance plan for pruning, you can keep those relatively close to your house and have that columnar look in front of your house. There's definitely a lot of Japanese maples that make a lot of sense around houses. There's dogwoods for the flowers.

I do like redbuds, but if you get them too close to the house. Their tops like to fan out so much. Again, that's just a discussion with maintenance. They're not a hard tree to prune, but we will have to prune them. There's different options for the different sites and Japanese maples, there's just so many different ones that provide so many different colors and options that I think that's one of the better ones right now.

Doug: School me a little bit on the hornbeam. What maintenance does it take? I put one in the woods. I have an oak forest that's, it's getting old, the oaks, whatever I need to, I'm replacing them with something with a little bit more diversity than all oaks. I put a hornbeam in, but I didn't think about it close to the house.

Jay: The more fastidious ones will stay tighter, whereas the non-fastidious ones, they'll get a little fatter at the base. That may be fine for a situation kicked out a little bit further from the house, but if you wanted it tighter, the fastidious grow more like a column, a tapered column. You can keep those a little tighter with an occasional pruning for, just keeping it a little tighter, but they tend to do really well.

Doug: How often does a tree like that, that's close to the house, that style of tree, column-like tree, how often are you working on that? Is it got to go be once a year or more often than that probably?

Jay: No, those ones, probably every, two to three years, depending on how tight you want to maintain it. Just like people with their boxwoods, sometimes they want to keep those things super tight and almost like an English garden type look. If you want to have your columnar

super tight then yes that will. Everything grows throughout the year so you'll have to tighten things up but you can get away with going two or three years depending on growing seasons to keep a look without being crazy tight.

Doug: When I look at a plant tag and it tells me a tree is going to be 20 feet tall by 20 feet wide, will it get bigger than that that's my understanding that just from talking to the arborist that it doesn't just stop there but it is that-- School me on that a little bit.

Jay: They're good general guides for just saying whether or not something is a super tall shade tree or a small to medium sized tree. The reality is if it's not growing it's dead. Once it gets to 20 feet, it's not like it says, "Oh my tag said I got to go stop." Everything's going to continue to grow until it's dead. It's just as they get larger though that those trees they tend to slow down with their veracity but they can definitely get bigger than what they said. Now when you read a tag like that and say it says 20 by 20 that's typically a good tree that you could put and maintain to keep smaller through good practices like pruning and talking with an arborist. You don't want to start that process and that talk once it's too big. You'd like to start that process and say, "I really don't want to get let it get much bigger so what can we do?" Because there's ways for us to keep a tree looking smaller but yet large and maintained in an area where you're not going to see big cuts and you're not going to see big pieces taken off. Once you get talking with an arborist or designing something for your landscape talking with an arborist saying, "Ideally this is where I'd like this thing to go, when do you think we should start training this tree and what are things we need to do so that this tree doesn't get too big for its site and we're not taking off arm-sized branches because they was let go for too long?"

Doug: Tell me a little bit about how you got into this line of work and why it's right for you.

Jay: I got out of high school right before 9, 11 and I was working at a state park and I enjoyed being out doing maintenance on trails and keeping the grounds nice and was pretty content doing that up until 9, 11 working for a New York State Park. I got laid off and then decided, "All right I have to go to school for something and figure this out." So I went to Paul Smith's College up in the Adirondacks and saw the guys climbing switch majors into the urban tree management and have loved it ever since.

Doug: Tell me a little bit about what you get out of it working with those clients every day.

Jay: Probably the best part about the job is working with people and helping them discussing their goals and helping them achieve their goals for their landscapes. One of the parts of my day that I enjoy the most that and working with our crews and helping them hone their craft.

Doug: It's so much about education of teaching homeowners yes that tree looks good today but you must realize how big it's going to get. Now let's switch things. Let's talk about some bigger trees that you love. I'm just going to pick your brain because I'm thinking about things that we're replacing here once a year, maybe twice a year, a big oak that is tired and it's done. What are some of your favorite bigger trees. I know it depends on the site but we're just talking in [unintelligible 00:14:16].

Jay: My favorite big tree would probably be the Dawn Redwood.

Doug: All right I inherited a Dawn Redwood here and it's got to be a hundred feet tall and it's not used that much in the landscape though is it or do you guys plant them?

Jay: We do plant them but you don't see them everywhere. Actually I just moved into my house, it's over a year ago and that was one of the first tree I planted, was a Dawn Redwood.

Doug: Tell people about it. Tell them why it's so awesome.

Jay: Well, it's an evergreen that's not quite an evergreen. It's a deciduous evergreen so in the wintertime it drops its needles. It is a family member to the Redwoods out in California. It grows really relatively fast as far as putting on height and girth it's nice. Looks like a giant teardrop. It's got that central lead that shoots up to the sky really high and then it just gets a nice fat bottom skirt and goes all the way up to the top so just absolutely beautiful tree.

Doug: When I first moved in here my kid who was about 12 figured out a Dawn Redwood is a great climbing tree-

Jay: Yes it is.

Doug: -because the way the branches are set up and one day I walked out there I swear he had to be 50 feet up in the air and I had a heart attack. Get down, get down.

Jay: The nice part is they're like a ladder so it was easier for him to get down as opposed to some of those trees when you're a kid you climbed down and up on them and weren't really sure how you were going to get down.

Doug: What else would be on your list of big trees that you like?

Jay: I always like the sugar maple. I just love the color that they shoot in the fall. Ginkgos

Doug: It's funny how often the sugar maple comes up when I ask that question. I would think 50% of the time maybe more when I talk to an arborist, sugar maple comes up and then you said ginkgo too right?

Jay: For one that the sugar maple is such a native tree that is underutilized now especially with all the faster, weaker growing maples that are everywhere. It's nice to see a native maple. They have beautiful color in the fall. Same thing with like the ginkgo tree. That one is with its fanned leaf it has a unique look that you don't see in any other tree and then in the fall when it gets it's brilliant yellow that it kicks out, they just stand out. I would say those two.

Doug: Best advice for a homeowner when they're planting trees. You touched on it earlier saying first off don't plant it too deep but let's get it from you. Know how big that tree is going to get, right?

Jay: Yes, know how big it's going to get. Know what it likes. There's plenty of trees that you put it in the wrong situation, it's going to struggle. Whether it's soil you have, how much light it's getting, the wind. The wind can affect it so know the planting environment and if that tree is going to enjoy that or not. Then making sure that it's planted properly because those are the things I see everyday. Improper planting, improper site, those two keys make up 90% of my conversations about what's wrong with this tree.

Doug: All right, Jay, I'm going to leave it right there. That's good stuff and great advice. Very much appreciated your time and giving us all that great information. Thanks so much.

Jay: All right, thank you. You have a good day.

Doug: Check out a Dawn Redwood if you've got space for one. It's an amazing tree. I love mine. Tune in every Thursday to the Talking Trees podcast from the Davey Tree Expert Company, I'm your host Doug Oster. I'd love it if you would subscribe to the podcast where else are you going to have this fun, right? As always we'd like to remind you on the Talking Trees podcast, trees are the answer.

[00:19:24] [END OF AUDIO]