Talking Trees with Davey Tree

How to Care for Mature and Young Trees in the Winter

December 08, 2022 The Davey Tree Expert Company Season 2 Episode 47
Talking Trees with Davey Tree
How to Care for Mature and Young Trees in the Winter
Show Notes Transcript

Ben Cuddeback from Davey’s Northwest Detroit office talks about winter tree care, his favorite trees and his Davey career.  


In this episode we cover:  

  • The first thing that comes to mind for winter tree care (0:45) 
  • Trees that have to be pruned during winter (1:10) 
  • Evergreens before and during winter (1:40) 
  • How much to water evergreens (3:30) 
  • Caring for new trees (4:00) 
  • Balled and burlapped Christmas trees (4:39) 
  • Should you leave or knock off snow and ice on trees (6:00) 
  • How Ben got started in the tree care industry (7:36) 
  • Ben’s favorite trees (8:10) 
  • What Ben looks for during winter visits (10:10) 
  • Green giants (13:15) 
  • Stopping deer from rubbing on trees (14:20) 
  • Winter fertilization (17:40) 
  • What the winter season is like for Ben and Davey (19:30) 
  • Ben’s relationship with his clients (20:46)  


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

To learn more about caring for trees during the winter months, read our blog, Seasonal Tree Care Checklist: How to Keep Trees Healthy This Winter. 

To learn more about pruning during the winter, read our blog, Winter Tree Pruning: Young Trees, Fruit Trees, Spring Flowering Trees. 

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

Connect with Doug Oster at

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


Doug Oster: Welcome to the Davy 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. We're joined today by Ben Cuddeback. He's a sales arborist for the Northwest Detroit office for the Davy Tree Expert Company, and today we're talking about how to care for mature and young trees in the winter. How you doing, Ben?

Ben Cuddeback: Doing great, Doug. Thanks for asking.

Doug: When do you think, when I ask you that, like what should I do for my winter trees, what's the first thing that comes to mind for you as an arborist?

Ben: As an arborist, depending on the trees. You're talking about your deciduous trees, your big maples, oaks, things like that. You want to get a lot of your pruning done in the wintertime. All right? You have a lot of insects that are dormant, a lot of fungus issues that won't be there. It's a lot safer for the trees, and they'll have time to recover for the springtime.

Doug: Certainly, there are certain trees that absolutely have to be pruned during this dormant period, right?

Ben: Yes, absolutely. Especially oaks and elms. Now since oak wilt it is becoming very prominent in this area. It's very, very important that you maintain the pruning standards of doing that through the winter months.

Doug: Well, you brought it up. Every podcast I talk about, I talk about oak wilt [laughter] and the constant battle I have with it, but that's for another day. Let's talk about evergreens. Here, I'm in mid-Atlantic states, Pittsburgh. The ground hasn't frozen solid yet. It's getting cold, but is there anything in particular for evergreens we should be thinking about for the winter?

Ben: Yes. For evergreens in the wintertime, it's really important to know that they need a lot of water before the ground freezes over. They are evergreens, they do still photosynthesize and transpire, so they're sucking up water or trying to. When the ground is completely frozen, it can't do that. That's when you start to get a lot of winter burn or browning on the needles. Things like an anti-desiccant treatments or trans-film that we use. It's a transparent film that clogs the pores in the leaves, the stomates, that, basically, gets them through the winter months without having to suck up the ground or try to.

Doug: Is that like a liquid that's sprayed on the tree? How is that done?

Ben: Yes, it is a liquid that is sprayed onto the trees. Especially you're talking most things that we use that for are going to be actually more of your shrubs, but use boxwoods and arborvitae especially. It can be done on spruce trees, firs, pines. The main thing, those are a bit more robust though and can tend to get through the wintertime.

Doug: If we haven't had much rain and the ground hasn't frozen, nothing wrong with getting the hose out there and giving a tree a drink.

Ben: Right, especially.

Doug: Basically, though, how do I know how much water to give it? Especially this time of the year. Do I know?

Ben: You don't really know. I guess it more depends on if you know what kind of soil you have. If you're in a sandy area, you're going to need to put down a lot more water as the water tends to leach through the soil. If you're in a heavy clay area which, in Michigan, is almost everywhere you go, you're going to end up not putting as much down because the clay retains the moisture.

Doug: Then how about new trees? What should be looking out for on new trees?

Ben: Well, new trees, same thing. You really do want to water them. Make sure you get as much as you can before the ground freezes. You can also mulch them, okay, with a thick layer of mulch to try to keep and maintain that moisture through the cold months.

Doug: At this point in your area, are you done planting trees?

Ben: Yes, we're pretty much done at this point. The ground's not frozen yet and you still can, but most of the nursery stock is low.

Doug: Yes. I talked to somebody yesterday, they were doing the-- They wanted to do the balled and burlap Christmas tree. I always try and dissuade people from doing that, but they had their heart set on it. First house, this and that. Have you ever had any experience with that, dealing with homeowners that do that?

Ben: Oh, no, not particularly, no. Every once in a while I'll run into that. I'll run into that question too. I'm really homeset on doing that balled and burlap. That would be really important if you could do a anti-wilt transparent film on a tree like that. Especially if it's on the inside for a portion of the time, and you really got to go water that thing. Those trees take so much water out, more than people know.

Doug: I said maybe a week, maybe two weeks indoors tops. Was I right there or --

Ben: Yes, I would say so. You see a lot of those cut trees out at the stores now and then. I've seen them out, oh my gosh, at the beginning of November. Thinking like, "How are those going to make it?" Obviously, people are going to stick them in their little stands and water them, but they also do get treated, usually, the cut ones do, with an anti-wilting spray.

Doug: When we finally do get snow and ice, which we haven't got much of it down here yet, do I just leave that stuff on the tree or should I knock it off? How do I know?

Ben: I would leave it on the tree. The snow is going to actually be a good insulator for your evergreens as well as the deciduous trees. When you get those heavy ice storms, we tend to get those here in Michigan, I know out east they do as well, you're going to end up doing more damage to the trees by breaking that off rather than just leaving that.

Then when the ice melts, call an arborist out to see if the tree has adding damage that needs to be corrected or if there's anything that can be done depending on how bad that ice storm is.

Doug: You know what's funny, another job for me in my forest this time of the year is walking the property and cutting all those grapevines, but I had a Davey arborist tell me that it's actually easier to see if you're doing the right thing when they're actually in active growth because you'll see the green wilt away. I'm getting as many as I can now because I've got the time to do it. I don't want big giant grapevines on my trees.

Ben: Sure. No, nobody wants that. They do a great job of strangling trees and whole areas. You really want to take care of that as much as you can and as quick as you can. Yes, doing it in the growing months, it's a lot easier to see it wilt. Then you can see if you actually got the right vine. Sometimes you don't know. There could be one that's,-- Start two houses down, and it grows over and you can't get it. You don't know where it's coming from.

Doug: How did you get into this and why is this job right for you?

Ben: Well, I got into this about 10 years ago. I went to school at Michigan State for horticulture and just wandered into this, if you will. This particular company is wonderful to work for. We all are one giant team across the entire country, really. It's just been a lot of fun. I can't really complain. [laughs]

Doug: Do you have some certain trees that might be off the beaten path? Now, we always, always preface this with right tree, right place, but are there any certain trees that you love that aren't getting planted as much as you think they should be?

Ben: Oh, that's a tough one. I'll have a lot of those. My favorites are the eastern redbud though. Here in Michigan, it's actually pretty native, and you can find it from time to time in the early spring. Especially when the leaves haven't come out in all the big forest sections, you'll see all this bright purple. Which is a kind of fun, wake up, spring's coming type of a thing to see happen. That's my favorite tree to see. You know what? It does get planted a fair amount. It's just a matter of making sure that you set the right tree in the right place and getting it in the right spot.

Doug: Well, I was actually at a garden this spring and saw one that had white flowers. I had never seen that before. I'm assuming that's some kind of hybrid or something that they-- A breeder made, but you're right, redbuds are amazing. When we talk about redbuds, you got that heart-shaped leaf, and a lot of people like to use that tree in memory of something or someone because of its heart-shaped leaves.

Ben: Sure.

Ben: Again, that's something I also try to dissuade people from doing because I always worry about the tree not making it, but a redbud's pretty tough, right? Would that be one that you could use for that reason?

Ben: It is. There's also different variations of it. A forest pansy redbud's more of a purple leaf. That's a nice thing to see if you need a little bit of different color as opposed to your standard green. Then there's the weeping versions which are really pretty. If you have a nice little small spot, if you want to put a little garden or a remembrance plaque or something, it does well and it doesn't overtake an entire area. Something like that would work really nice for that.

Doug: When you do visit a property this time of the year, what are the type of things you're looking for since you don't have to worry about looking through that foliage? You can see the actual structure of the trees themselves, and certainly, the-- How they're going into the ground how that looks.

Ben: Oh, for sure. What I'm looking for right now are some big crossing branches, things that are rubbing on each other that could potentially cause damage later on down the road. Obviously, a lot of deadwood. You can still pick that out if you know what to look for. I've been doing it for a long time so you can-- I can see the buds in the trees still and know if that's still viable or not. Now is the time that you can really pick that out. You can even tend to shape a tree a little bit. Depending on what it is, obviously. Seeing that structure, it's a lot easier to go forth and do that.

Doug: Then how about looking down at the tree at the bottom? Anything in particular in winter?

Ben: Yes, absolutely. Absolutely, thank you. The trunks. I tend to definitely look at the trunks, make sure that people are-- You see this a lot too. I see this a lot. Street trees, depending on where they're facing, if the sun's going to heat a lot of those up. A lot of people put a lot of maple trees here on their street trees right next to the road. Those will heat up in the warm winter days, and then when it freezes really quickly at nighttime, they usually you get a split in the bark.

Every once in a while, you'll go down the street, and you'll see, why is there this-- Every tree trunk has a split going down it? It's usually because of the winter scald there. It's just exploding the bark open. Something to look out for. People can actually wrap the tree. Some people I've seen use white paint before, but I don't really recommend that, but there is some white wraps that you can do if you're concerned to keep the heat from reflecting, the sunlight reflecting off of the trunk to keep that from happening.

That also goes for deer. Up here we have a huge deer population and the smaller trees tend to get ravaged with the antlers, so anything you can do to put a physical barrier up on those trunks, especially the newer planted trees, the better off you're going to be. Arborvitae are also a favorite to be fed on around here so any kind of deer repellent works pretty well, or burlap if you can around a whole hedgerows of arborvitaes.

Doug: Sometimes you see arborvitae listed, though, as deer resistant, but not in Pennsylvania.


Ben: You have some pretty hardy deer out there. Some are more preferable than others. I found that the emerald greens tend to be their favorite to munch on. Green giants are a lot less susceptible, and those are a huge hot seller for a lot of people this year and the past few [crosstalk]

Doug: Tell me about that, because I've talked about that for the past two seasons with different people in the industry. Now green giant is probably one of the most famous privacy borders we've seen-

Ben: Yes.

Doug: -in the industry, but because of COVID, because everybody wanting privacy, that tree's getting harder and harder to find. At least temporarily, right?

Ben: No, not at all. The nurseries-

Doug: Oh really?

Ben: -here-- Yes, the nurseries here have huge numbers of green giant arborvitae. I do recommend planting them on the smaller side, six foot, seven foot tall. They grow insanely fast. You don't need to put the giant ones in to fill in that void so quickly. Yes, the nursery stock here is huge, and they keep it replenished.

Doug: That's good to hear, because over here, and I guess I haven't talked about it maybe six months or so, but I was hearing that people were only able to find smaller ones, three to four foot, but that's great that you're able to find them. Again, that has become a very popular tree when people were stuck at home. Let's go back to the deer rubbing. What kind of stuff do you use on the bottom of those little trees to try and stop them from doing the rubbing? Is it like a physical barrier so they can't get to the tree or--

Ben: Yes, that's your best bet is a physical barrier. Some people, I've seen go as far as putting like chicken wire, wrapping around the-- Not necessarily on the trunk, but with stakes around it to keep the deer away. Also, that plastic wrap that spirals down the trunk. You'll see that from time to time. That helps protect that. Corrugated pipe. You can even do that too. You can cut that lengthwise and plop it around a newly whipped tree, like a two or three-inch diameter tree. If that deer rub goes all the way around, you just girdle the tree and the tree will eventually die.

Doug: Well, that's what I use is the corrugated stuff. Luckily, the guys at my local hardware store cut those vertical cuts for me. [laughter] With some kind of Dremel or something, because I would've been out there an idiot with-- I don't know what I would-- How I would've cut it that way, but that works really well. When we're talking about deer rubbing, I'm sure, seasonally, it changes, but about when that is that for you? When is that rot that you have to worry about that?

Ben: It's early fall for us, so you're talking more October timeframe. September, October is when I start to see it the most. Then deer hunting season's huge up here, so after that it tends to die down a bit. [chuckles]

Doug: Then as far as our shrubs are concerned, certainly want to keep the deer off them. When they get desperate, they'll eat anything.

Ben: Oh, for sure.

Doug: You're using some repellent on the properties?

Ben: Yes. The repellent that we use is called DeerPro, and it does work pretty well. It's sprayed onto the shrubs and the arborvitae as well, and it does do a great job through the winter months to keep them at bay. Some people will say, "I've used everything, and I don't really trust that." In that case, a physical barrier is usually your only option at that point. That means you're putting burlap around, a physical barrier. That's your thing.

Doug: Well, since I am-- Talked to a lot of Davey Arborists, DeerPro sent me some of that stuff, and I left it in my car in the container in the box for like three days. I don't know how long ago that was, but my car still smells like DeerPro.

Ben: [laughs] Yes, it does have a little scent to it. Not nearly as bad as something like DeerFence, but DeerPro does have a little-- It's a little more of a minty scent to it, I think. When it's sprayed and applied on your trees and shrubs, you don't really notice it. It's not that bad.

Doug: This is the concentrated version-

Ben: Yes. [laughs]

Doug: -that I should not have left in my car, but at least I, when I'm driving down the road, at least I know that the deer will stay out of the way.

Ben: Yes, right. [laughs] They'll stay out of your way.

Doug: Anything else when you're thinking winter tree care that we haven't talked about? Too late to fertilize?

Ben: No. We use a deep root fertilization, our Arbor Green PRO that we use. We inject it straight into the ground. So long as the ground is soft enough to accept a probe, you can absolutely fertilize still right now. The fertilizer also that we use, it's a slow release, so, okay, it lasts for a year in the ground. If you do it now, it's going to be there waiting for them when they come out of their dormancy to just automatically pick that up and just take off growing.

Doug: I think something that homeowners don't think about is the importance of fertilizing those trees and sometimes big trees. Really, the only way to really, in my opinion to do it right is with that probe to get that down into that root zone. Talk a little bit about the importance of fertilization for a tree.

Ben: Sure, absolutely. It's quite vital. Absolutely. A lot of people put your fertilizer on your lawns, and they'll think, "Ah, it's good enough for everything that's there," when really, it's not. That only gets down a couple inches down into the ground. The deep root fertilization, most root zones on larger trees are mainly in the top two to three feet of soil, but you need to get it down in there.

The fertilization really opens up the ability for the tree to uptake the nutrients that are in the ground as well as the fertilizer, and give it that health that you're just at-- You want a healthy tree. The healthier it is, the less likely it's going to get-- Succumb to fungus issues, insect issues. They can still happen, but the tree has a much better ability to fight off those things that are happening to it.

Doug: Is this time of the year still busy for you, or does it slow down a little bit?

Ben: It's starting to slow down a little bit on our end, but we work through all the winter months. We do a lot of winter pruning, a lot of city pruning. You'll see that happening too up here at this time of year. Mainly a lot of oaks and elms that a lot of people have up here. We have a huge oak population, so there's a lot of people who are on board with keeping the maintenance program happening through the wintertime.

Doug: This would be a great time for somebody

to reach out to Davey, since you have a little bit of time, to come look at the property. It's not crazy crazy.

Ben: Oh, no, absolutely. It's perfect time. I'll be happy to go around and talk to everybody. We tend to talk a lot. All of us do. [chuckles] But we give out a lot of good information. Even if it's just to come and say hi. I will stop by to a lot of my clients who use us a lot over the years just to stop in and say hello. It's just a nice working relationship I have with a lot of people here and people like that about Davey. Very personable, and we like to get the jobs done for them, but we don't try to push things on people too

Doug: Well, before I let you go, that's my last question. Tell me a little bit about your relationship with your clients and how important it is to you as a sales arborist.

Ben: As a sales arborist it is the number one thing that is very important is our customer relations and keeping that going. It's this the one thing that keeps us back on the property year after year. Knowing that we'll have an answer for them. If I don't have an answer, I have a huge resource to figure it out and get that answer to them. It's just probably the most important thing that we have is our relationship with our clients and our customers. At some point they become friends. I have some that I've been doing business with as a sales arborist, for me It's been the past five years, I've known them for five years. They've moved houses, then they called me up and say, Hey, come look at my new house.  They want that relationship. It's already there, and it's really important.

Doug: All right, Ben, I'm going to leave it right there. That's great stuff. Thanks for schooling us on winter tree care, and it was a lot of fun to talk to you.

Ben: You're welcome, Doug. Thank you very much. You have a great day.


Doug: Tune in every Thursday to the Talking Trees podcast from the Davey Tree Expert Company I am your host Doug Oster and do me a favor. Subscribe to the podcast so that you'll never miss an episode. Next week, we'll learn how arborists are trained. I'm looking forward to that. If you've got an idea for the show or some feedback, send us an email at That's As always, we'd like to remind you on the Talking Trees podcast, trees are the answer


[00:22:45] [END OF AUDIO]