Mike Presta from Davey’s North Austin, Texas, office talks about the impacts of drought on trees and what trees are more tolerant of drought.
In this episode we cover:
To find your local Davey office, check out our find a local office page to search by zip code.
To learn more about picking the right tree for drought affected areas, read our blog, How to Pick the Right Trees for Drought-Prone Landscapes.
To learn more about caring for drought affected landscapes, read our blog, How to Keep Your Landscape Resilient During Seasonal Summer Drought.
To learn more about watering trees during a drought, read our blog, How Often to Water Trees During a Drought.
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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 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. I'm joined this week by Mike Presta. He's a district manager at the North Austin, Texas office for the Davey Tree Expert Company. Today, we're talking all about drought-tolerant trees. How you doing, Mike?
Mike Presta: Pretty good, sir. How are you?
Doug: All right, tell me the last time you got a good rain.
Mike: Probably, it's taking me a minute to remember. It's been that long. I'd say March.
Doug: Oh, my gosh, are you serious?
Mike: Yes, it's been a minute.
Doug: Tell me what that has meant for your job and for the trees in your area there.
Mike: Actually, right now, we're starting to see some pretty significant impacts from the drought. We had some other weather events that caused issues with trees in 2021 with a week-long freeze. Coupled with that, now with the drought, I was actually on a site today where a red oak has just turned completely brown and is holding onto its leaves. That damage to the vascular system without the water it needs has probably just about caused mortality at this point.
Doug: Wow. When is your ideal planting season?
Mike: Typically, we'll start planting in February. That varies every year. If we're getting enough rainfall and temperatures are not getting too hot for us, then that could extend for six to eight weeks. Fall, in my opinion, here in Texas, is ideal. That's going to vary, as well. We may start mid to late October, or we may even start planting in November, just depending on whether or not we're getting that rain we need and things have cooled down for us.
Doug: Right, and under these circumstances, with no significant rain since March, you wouldn't want to start planting until you've got some decent rain, right?
Mike: Right, yes. Even if we're irrigating the planted trees and that sort of thing, the drought's going to be pretty stressful for 'em.
Doug: Any restrictions right now on watering and that sort of thing, or you can put water in the trees?
Mike: There are some restrictions in certain areas. Austin's going to have some restrictions. Some HOAs even have restrictions, that sort of thing. We're still able to water some, and it's picking and choosing what you want to water and when you can get away with it.
Doug: If you're looking at a landscape, tell me a little bit about what you would be looking at to pick and choose to water.
Mike: Right now, I was actually talking to a client today, and we were joking about watering the grass because, at this point, it's not even really worth it. I typically focus on smaller, newly planted trees, shrubs, and then balancing what's going to be the most tolerant to the drought and what really needs it when.
Doug: Whenever there's a drought, that's a really depressing thing for anybody who loves plants. How are you dealing with it, and how are your customers dealing with it?
Mike: Really, like I said, dialing into what really needs what and when. It is a shame because we are losing some things here and there. This has been a pretty rough drought year for us. It seems it may continue to be like that for-- it could be another month or so before we get anything significant in terms of rainfall.
Doug: Let's say, okay, the weather breaks as it normally does, you start to get some rain, but you're going to recommend something that's going to be drought tolerant to plant because of the way things have been, especially down where you're at. What's the first thing on your list?
Mike: Generally, I'm going to recommend a variety of native trees. Live oak is going to be very adapted to drought here. Cedar elms are pretty good drought tolerant trees. They're struggling a little bit at this point, though. Post oak. Yes, so the Monterey oak is also a favorite for me because of its drought tolerance.
Doug: Do me a favor, go over those trees because I don't know a lot about 'em. I don't think we can grow them up here. I'm over in the mid Atlantic States, Pittsburgh. Tell me a little bit about those trees. Of those, which one do you really love more than any other? We don't always talk right tree, right place, but there's got to go be one there that like, "Hey, this one covers a lot of bases."
Mike: My probably, my go-to would be the live oak. That's a Central Texas classic. It's really well adapted for the climate that we have here. It's Texas, so we get some droughts periodically. Next would probably be the bur oak. That one's just a personal favorite, not necessarily because of its drought tolerance, but I just really like the look and the color of this tree, in particular. Obviously, we don't want too many live oaks in a neighborhood because then we potentially are creating a monoculture. Mixing it up and having a variety is pretty important, as well.
Doug: In general, how are the oaks doing through the drought? We're seeing a decline in oaks in the mid Atlantic States. Are you seeing that there?
Mike: Currently, for the most part, oaks are doing pretty good. I'd mentioned the red oak that I've looked at today, and then driving around town the past few weeks, I'm starting to see problems with red oaks and getting pretty wilty or discolored. It's really a mixed bag. The damage from the freeze that we had in 2021, it was pretty significant. Now that we've got another factor at play as well that's detrimental to tree health, we're starting to see decline in certain species versus others.
Doug: In a big red oak, could you put enough water on it to get it through this? When I think of a big oak, how big is a red oak get down there?
Mike: You can get some pretty large ones, upwards of a 24-inch diameter, depending on what parts of Texas, Dallas red oaks can be very large. Here in Central Texas, a 40-foot red oak is not uncommon. You could potentially water that tree enough that you could get it through that, but it would have a relatively high water demand at that point.
Doug: Of course, for anything that was newly planted last season, a small tree, that's going to have to have water, right?
Mike: Yes, so absolutely. Obviously, transplanting is stressful to the tree, as well. The benefit to newly planted trees is your water demands can be much less.
Doug: But essential, right?
Doug: Anything else on your list when you're thinking drought tolerant trees or what we should be looking for if we're concerned about-- because drought in the West and where you're at and other states, too, is becoming a serious concern.
Mike: Yes, and so you had touched on the right tree in the right place. I get the opportunity to see trees all over town and enjoy getting to visit different sites all day. I get to see a lot of different things. Planting native trees is going to be really important because they are going to be tempered to the climate that you're planting them in. Then, obviously, if you've got a, say like a bald cypress or a cottonwood or sycamore, you want to be careful about planting that in an upland site or somewhere where water isn't going to be very plentiful because those trees are going to be a first to start struggling in the situation of a drought.
Doug: We talk a lot about mulch here, too. Is that part of what you're doing down there?
Mike: Yes, and so definitely with newly planted trees, that's going to help out a lot in terms of retaining that water that you're putting on your tree. Picking the right amount of mulch is going to be important, too, because that can affect the water getting down through the mulch into the soil,
but definitely a consideration to be making when picking where to put a new tree.
Doug: What are the other natives for down there that you think about planting that are drought resistant?
Mike: It's actually pretty tough drought tolerance-wise here. Those four trees that I had mentioned, that's usually all I really recommend.
Mike: If I've got, especially up in the hill country, if we're in the black line prairie, then we've got deep enough soils there, then it's not too tough to get other things going. If I'm in the hill country, and I've got real shallow soil profiles and that sort of thing, those are my go-tos because the other trees are just going to struggle.
Doug: Do people listen to you? Are there people like me that move there and say, "Oh, I want something with flowers, and I want this, and I want that," and you're saying, "You're in Texas now, buddy."
Mike: Yes, it's pretty tricky in that regard. Most people understand that, but occasionally, they're going to go with something else regardless of what I have to say.
Doug: Can the shape of the tree make a difference as far as its drought tolerance?
Mike: I don't really see that. I, typically, drought tolerance here-wise, obviously, you're not going to want to put pecan trees in certain sites because they're going to have a higher water demand, and then the tree's just not going to grow to its potential because it's going to be limited. The live oaks that are native here, we have some on our shop property, and they're probably 50 years old, maybe older, but they're only about 20 feet tall. They've got pretty large trunks, but they just don't turn into very large trees. Certain species and picking the right place for 'em definitely makes a difference.
Doug: Do you get the same relief that we do as homeowners when it does start finally raining?
Mike: Yes, so definitely, it's tough to go visit a client's property and their trees are having a really hard time, especially with something like drought where it's impossible for us to control and we're left trying to limit the damage the heat and lack of rain is causing.
Doug: Tell me a little bit about how you got into this, why this job's right for you. I don't hear a Texas accent. Am I missing something?
Mike: Well, I was actually born in California, but pretty much raised in Texas. My mom's English, so that might have part to do with that. I, actually, I've got a degree in forestry wildlife management and studied out in East Texas for that but needed a job in college, and my buddy with an urban forestry degree got me on with local tree service. I did that for most of my college career. When I graduated, I just fallen in love with it, gained a lot of experience and knowledge there, and just kept going with it.
Doug: Tell me a little bit about your job. What's the best part of what you do?
Mike: Really just growing and learning with all of my employees. We've got a great group of guys here and gals, and getting to share what I know about trees. A lot of people don't really know much about trees, might surprise you to hear that, but there's a lot of stuff that you can teach people and show 'em, and it's just interesting.
Doug: Tell me a little bit about your interaction with your clients.
Mike: Our clients are great. We serve a really diverse group of people, whether it's commercial clients, construction clients, and then, of course, our residential clients. We have a variety of different needs that we need to get taken care of for them. Being able to provide different services at the right times of the year is great.
Doug: We're all hoping you get some rain down there because we know what it's like not to get rain. How, like I said, depressing it can be for anybody who loves plants. I sure appreciate all this great information, and I'm sure we'll talk again. Thanks, again, for your time.
Mike: Yes, sir. It looks like maybe a thunderstorm in the forecast next week. We'll keep our fingers crossed.
Doug: We're crossing them up here, too. Thanks, again.
Mike: Thanks, Doug.
Doug: Rain makes all the difference in the way a season ends up, that's for sure. Tune in every Thursday to the Talking Trees podcast from the Davey Tree Expert Company. I am your host, Doug Oster. Next week, we've got a very special show talking about transplanting trees. That can be a scary thing for homeowners. I can't wait for you to hear the great information about moving your favorite tree. Do me a favor, subscribe to the podcast so you'll never miss an episode. As always, we'd like to remind you on the Talking Trees podcast, trees are the answer. [00:15:52] [END OF AUDIO]