Todd Sherbondy from Davey’s East Pittsburgh office talks about why your tree might be losing its leaves in late summer or early fall, as well as some underused trees he recommends we plant more often.
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Doug Oster: Welcome to The Davey Tree Expert Company's podcast, Talking Trees. I'm your host, Doug Oster. Each week, our expert arborist share advice on seasonal tree care, how to make your trees thrive, arborist's 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. Well, I'm excited because I'm joined by an old friend. Todd Sherbondy is a sales arborist at the East Pittsburg Office for The Davey Tree Expert Company.
Todd and I have worked together for many years, and today, we're going to talk all about trees that are losing their leaves before fall. Todd, how are you doing?
Todd Sherbondy: Doing well. Thanks. Unfortunately, not joined by our other guest, Olivia Sherbondy. Maybe next podcast, we can have her on with us.
Doug: Yes, we had a lot of fun. We were on the radio together and my radio show's early Sunday mornings and Todd would bring his daughter in. We just loved it, having her in there, so maybe next time.
Doug: When you think about leaves dropping off the tree before fall, what's the first thing that comes to mind for you?
Todd: The first thing that comes to mind is it's hot. We've been seeing, across much of the United States, Pittsburg definitely in that category, a lot of heat. Early on in the season though, it was pretty cool. It was temperate. The nice thing was we were getting adequate rainfall, so the gardens were doing well, the trees were growing like mad, the lawns were doing really well. Now, seems like the faucet kind of shut off on us through the mid part of the season.
Doug: First thing then is the heat but then tell me about my flowering crabapple why it's losing its leaves? [chuckles]
Todd: Yes, already in the season. Two things that come to mind on that. Number one, we had an excessive amount of rainfall early on in the season and that causes a lot of things to happen. The most invasive problem with that is the fact that fungal spores are spread all over the tree. A lot of people say, "Well, I thought my crabapple was doing okay and the heat hit it through the season and now it's starting to lose leaves." That started, as you know, well into the beginning of the season. The unfortunate side of it is, if you didn't recognize the issue early on, there's not a whole lot of help for it going into the end of the season here.
Apple scab is a big part of the equation, the fungal infections that we see on crabapples and a lot of apple trees this time of the year.
Doug: Should we be worried about it or does the tree usually rebound from such a thing?
Todd: Yes. Typically, they can rebound. A more mature tree. I don't want to call them old and offend them, but a more mature tree may have issues going into the later part of the season where they're relying more on their carbohydrate reserves to push back either a new flush of leaves or help it to start the next growth cycle into the next year. It's definitely something we want to monitor closely. Ensure that you're properly fertilizing and watering the tree, even going into the end of the season.
Doug: What if I have a big oak this time of the year and I see it starting to lose leaves? What could be the issue there?
Todd: A lot of oaks we've seen some real devastating issues with some nasty diseases that are common to this area like oak wilts and some other odd ones that we haven't seen in a while. Usually, if you're seeing just portions of the tree dying off or a few leaves here or there, scattering of leaves here and there, couple of things could be happening. One, you could have some issues with some other types of diseases, even things like maybe a petiole borer or something of that nature that could cause an insect infestation.
The other thing that we've seen a little bit of is anthracnose, another common leaf disease that will cause the tree to lose leaves. All is not lost by seeing the tree losing a few leaves, but it's definitely a cause for continued monitoring.
Doug: When do I know if it's right to call a certified arborist?
Todd: What you would look for-- If the tree is losing leaves at the very tips of the branches, that's always a cause for concern. Typically, the plant shouldn't be losing leaves way out on the ends of the branches like that. If you start to see it in through the middle of the tree, maybe not as big of a concern. Something like a river birch, you would see a lot of leaf lose this time of the year because of the heat and a little bit of dry conditions. I don't want to say drought but the drier conditions. In essence, if you're seeing it at the ends of the branches, definitely cause for a concern. If you're seeing it in the middle of the tree, maybe lesser concern. Still worth the call.
Doug: I just want to remind people that you can call a certified arborist. Somebody like you, Todd, will come out for free, right, and-
Todd: [crosstalk] That's right.
Doug: -look at the problem, and there's nothing better than having somebody that knows what they're talking about looking at your trees. Looking down and looking up, right?
Todd: Right. Still do house calls. Great part of our job is showing up at client's residence and walking the property with them. The fun thing is you get to see different smattering of trees and people's interest. You guys are the eyes and ears for us. If you're seeing the problem, if the client's seeing the problem, don't hesitate or wait. A lot of times, we can remediate or provide some help to get this addressed before it becomes a real issue.
Doug: For your regular clients, how often do you visit the property?
Todd: Gosh. I would say a minimum of two to three times a year. With large mature shade trees or even trees that are showing signs of issues, stress-type applications where maybe they're seeing some bagworms showing up or something of that nature, so two to three times a year. That's a pretty good average related to what we're seeing.
Doug: The way things are going in my property, I'm going to have to rent out a room. I just had a giant oak tree drop a branch right on a garden shed, which now will become a sea shed for my wife, so as soon as we rebuild. I was talking to my local arborist today. Talking about scheduling, getting that thing off there, and whether they're going to take the wood or leave the wood. It's so funny because my wife and I always argue about that. I said, "Leave the wood and we'll just stack it up out here."
Then she says, "I don't want all that wood stacked up here." We've got to figure it all out.
Todd: One more project for you to work on, I understand.
Doug: Yes. It was sad to lose that shed. The funny thing was, my garlic was in there curing. I was able to save the garlic. I don't know if I was more excited about saving the garlic or more sad about losing the shed but I was glad to get my garlic out of there. Hey, when we're thinking about it and our property is about trees losing leaves, is there anything else that comes to mind for you that you think about we should be worried about?
Todd: Definitely. Proper planning is a key element associated with your garden or with your property. You know as well as I do, certain plants don't like to be in maybe certain areas. Something that's not happy in an area, it might be a good idea to either move it while it's young or consider not planting that particular species in that area. Going back to a tree like a river birch; a lot of times, they're just planted in the wrong application which is hot, it's sunny. They are lowland dwellers. They like to be in a pond, marshy area.
Proper planning is something that we try to work through. The right tree for the right site always. If you are already stuck and you have all the trees, you absolutely could want and you don't have a plan for moving them, how do you manage that? You can call us then and we can take a look and help you develop a management plan, a property management plan for how to maybe supplementally water that tree if it's in a really poor area and it needs to be irrigated, such as river birch. Or something like a big oak is structurally sufficient. Is it something that's going to thrive in that particular area? Those are things that we are looking for.
Doug: I feel so much better now that I have an arborist coming from Davey, like you said, two, three times a year just because, as I say all the time in the podcast, they live in an oak forest. It's an older oak forest too. As the oaks decline, I'm working with him. I'm that plan because I want more diversity in my forest. American hornbeams and sourwoods, and sassafras, whatever else I can get in there. Talk a little bit about that, about mixing things up, and not having the same couple trees growing all over the place.
Todd: Yes, I agree with that. Love the plan, diversification. A monoculture on a property or all the same species of one plant is not particularly the best approach that we would want to see on a property. One of my favorite trees, probably a very underutilized tree, Nyssa sylvatica, black gum, native tree, absolutely gorgeous tree in fall, probably one of the best, the showiest fall colors around. The cool thing about that is there's not a lot that bothers black gum, quite frankly. These guys have adapted ways to work within the issues that we're seeing out there day to day.
The introduced species and all that, they don't have adaptations for, but their particular zone or their hardiness level, a lot of times they're better at adapting to those stressors.
Doug: Is a black gum a hard sell for your clients or are they accepting of that tree? Because I know that is a phenomenal tree, and like you said, the fall color is unparalleled.
Todd: Yes, striking. Once you see them, and I always recommend, go and see one. I try to push people out to see them on a property or somewhere out in the woods. I know there's a monster black gum over in Oakmont. If you get to see it, truthfully, it's not a hard sell at all. Once you see them, you'll fall in love with them as far as I can tell.
Doug: Would you have another tree on your list of things that aren't planted as often as you would like them? Always with the caveat, right plant for the right place.
Todd: Yes, I agree with that. American hornbeam, I think you mentioned that. Beautiful tree, underutilized in so many regards. Almost a perfectly conical growth habit as well, which gives it a full head and it's just a gorgeous looking tree all the way around. I think it's underutilized.
Doug: How would you characterize your season this year?
Todd: This has been a tough year. The good thing is, it started out really in a positive flow, but as the season went on, we've seen a lot of fungal infections, a lot of insect activity. You and I were talking about the spotted lanternfly earlier on. We've seen a lot of issues with the disease pressure and the climate-changing applications that are out there right now. It's been tough on the trees. They've really struggled. We saw, and this is my characterization, August weather in July, which is not a normal application, I think.
Doug: How is this job right for you and how'd you get into it?
Todd: Completely happenstance. I was recruited by a Davey recruiter many years ago. The cool thing about my job every day is, and I had it best told to me by a client many years ago, you get to drive around and talk to people about their trees all day. Boy, isn't that a great job? It actually is. Being shy and introverted, it's hard for me. I'm kidding, of course. It's hard for me to imagine doing anything else quite frankly. I love being out. Again, we still do house calls. The fun part about the day is getting out there and getting dirty hands on with the trees.
Doug: Yes, shy and introverted. That's Todd, right?
Todd: Yes, and Olivia. Olivia, my daughter.
Doug: Yes. Tell me a little bit about what you get out of it when you are spending time with your clients and you're able to, in some cases, many cases, tell them that, "Hey, man, this tree's going to make it because we love our trees."
Todd: Yes, I do indeed agree with that. The fun part about it is we have so many great resources with the Davy Tree Expert Company. Our institute, if there's something that we can't diagnose, which is not too often out in the field, we can take samples, which are a free service to our clients, send them off to our lab, get some really great minds behind it, and get some ideas of what are the next steps for our client. That gives them proof positive of two things.
One, knowing that the science is quality behind what we're doing, but also that we have some really great minds working behind the scenes and giving us the technical expertise and knowledge to manage maybe the needs of their property that they couldn't be managed otherwise.
Doug: Todd, that's great stuff. I'm going to leave it right there. It was great to talk to you again. Wonderful information. Say hi to your daughter, Olivia, for me.
Todd: I will definitely do that. She misses the morning show. I'm not going to lie to you. She asked me the other day, just recently, if I still talk to you. I did say yes.
Doug: That sounds good. We'll talk to you again soon. Thanks again.
Todd: Appreciate your time. Thanks, Doug.
Doug: Always great to talk to my old friend, Todd. Now, tune in every Thursday to the Talking Trees podcast from the Davy Tree Expert Company. I'm your host, Doug Oster. Next week, we have a great show in store for you with a long list of drought-resistant trees. Do me a favor, subscribe to the podcast so you'll never miss a show. As always, we'd like to remind you, on the Talking Trees podcast, trees are the answer.