Talking Trees with Davey Tree

New Year’s Resolutions for your Trees

December 29, 2022 The Davey Tree Expert Company Season 2 Episode 50
Talking Trees with Davey Tree
New Year’s Resolutions for your Trees
Show Notes Transcript

Marcus Parker from Davey’s Southeast Chicago office talks about the best resolutions for your trees, his favorite trees and his Davey career.  

In this episode we cover:  

  • Marcus and Doug’s New Year’s resolutions (0:35)  
  • Resolution: Watering (1:50) 
  • Marcus’ favorite trees (3:30)  
  • Resolution: Mulching (6:08)  
  • Resolution: Fertilizing (8:22)  
  • How Marcus started in arboriculture (13:15)  
  • What Marcus enjoys about his job (14:39)  
  • Other resolutions for homeowners (16:15)  
  • How often should a certified arborist visit a property? (18:08)  


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 mature trees, read our blog, How to Care for Mature Trees. 

To learn more about mulching, read our blog, The Proper Way to Mulch Your 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 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, we're talking with Marcus Parker. He's a district manager for the Davey Tree Expert Company in Southeast Chicago. Marcus, it's all about New Year's resolutions. First off, do you do New Year's resolutions for yourself? Because I have some for my trees.

Marcus Parker: I do. I don't stick to them, unfortunately. Start off, try to stay away from all the breads and sweets. It's that time of year that it's everywhere and I can't keep my fingers out of it.

Doug: I feel your pain there. Let me give you a New Year's resolution for me. The thing is, I tell everybody when I'm recording the podcast that I live in this oak forest. What I haven't done a good enough job doing is looking up and looking down to be sure that these trees are doing what they're supposed to do. I'm the host of the Talking Trees podcast. I'm supposed to know this because my arborist has come over from Davey and he's just like, "Did that thing leaf out?" I said, "I don't know. It's a huge, giant tree over my garage." That's my New Year's resolution and I'm sticking to it, at least for January.

Marcus: Absolutely. Yes, pruning's very important, especially for the health and safety of friends and family.

Doug: When you think New Year's resolutions for trees, what's the first thing that comes to mind for you for your clients?

Marcus: Staying on top of watering is the biggest thing because as far as I'm aware, all living things need water to survive. If you're not getting enough of it, none of us are going to be very healthy. It goes for trees as well.

Doug: I'm assuming that's especially true for young trees, something that we might've just planted this year or last.

Marcus: Absolutely. They have less of a root system, so they're going to need supplemental watering. I relate in a lot of trees to all life. We need to take care of our children, because they're not going to take care of themselves. We have to make sure that they have plenty of fluids.

Doug: When you think about watering even big trees, how do I know if I'm getting enough rain or if the tree needs water? We certainly want to get water on these trees before the ground freezes solid, which in the mid-Atlantic states where I'm at, Pittsburgh area, the ground has not frozen yet.

Marcus: Correct. There's all sorts of different ways to water. If you have a large tree, sometimes just a fan sprinkler will work. Do that for about 15 minutes at three different locations under the canopy. That would probably work for a large tree. I actually have small trees on my property, so I do hand watering, which everybody says is a no-no, but it is effective. It's about five minutes with a garden hose, just wet everything underneath the drip line of the canopy, which is from the tips of the branches to the trunk. I do that about once a week.

Doug: Okay, I got to know what you planted. Anything cool?

Marcus: Yes, I have a rising sun red bud, which is a eastern red bud that has three different colored leaves as it grows.

Doug: Oh, nice.

Marcus: It starts off like an apricot, turns a yellow, and then green at the end. It's a unique tree. It's somewhat man-made. You're not going to find that in nature, but that's one of them. Then I've got a European hornbeam. I just like the nice, tight structure, very oval canopy. Then I also have a little baby. I mean, this is a sapling of a black gum or sour gum tree. Very nice fall color.

Doug: Oh, you arborist with your black gums.


Marcus: Yes, nice trees. Underappreciated.

Doug: I've got to get one of those black gums in the ground because, as you said, that is one of the most spectacular fall colors you'll ever see.

Marcus: It is, and a lot of people don't know what that tree is, so it's a conversation piece whenever you have friends over.

Doug: Could you school me a little bit on the difference between an American and a European hornbeam, or are they very similar? Are they the same?

Marcus: They're different, and it's always confusing because the names are very similar. You have a European hornbeam, which is upright, oval. You have the American hornbeam, which it's more of an understory tree. If you have a forested property, it's a good understory survivor, if you will. [crosstalk]

Doug: I'm glad you said that because I put American hornbeam in as an understory tree. Again, we talk in the podcast a lot about, I'm trying to get more diversity into my forest as my oak trees decline. American hornbeam has been one. I got to find a place for a black gum. Man, that red bud sounds amazing. You've already given me some good suggestions.

Marcus: It is pretty neat, and the red buds are-- you can get them single-stemmed form or multi-stem depending on the shape that you're looking for. I tend to like the multi-stem better just because it gets more horizontal than vertical. The flowers that come up in spring are spectacular on that. They almost glow.

Doug: We talked about watering. I guess the next thing is I would think mulching. Whenever we say the word mulch, we have to disavow the volcano mulching that is going on out there.

Marcus: Absolutely. I see that everywhere. It's, more isn't better. There's a sweet spot whenever you're talking about depth up against the trunk. You always want to be able to see that flare at the base of the tree trunk, where you can almost see the roots go into the ground. Whenever you have it mounted up and it's surrounding the trunk, it takes a number of years, but it does slowly rot the tissues of the trunk. Then all of a sudden your tree starts to decline, wondering why, and then you move the mulch away finally, and you see all the bark rotting away. It's almost like a stranglehold.

Doug: Does it drive you nuts? Because it drives me nuts every time I drive by these places and it gets worse and worse every year. As I see, I come out of a radio studio every Sunday, and right in front of me, they must have six feet of mulch around a big giant oak. It's just like, they're like throwing it in my face when I'm sitting at that stoplight. I'm like, "If you only know, if I could only yell out," but no one's there on Sunday morning.

Marcus: Yes, I wish the word would get out to more companies as to proper mulching. I tell a lot of my customers, everywhere you look, you want the opposite of what you see. Whenever you have it mounted up, if you take the mound down and actually mound around the edge of the mulch ring, it really makes sense with watering as well. Because if you're hand watering and you go up to a bowl or a moat, if you will, you can fill that bowl and it percolates out into the soil, into the root system. If you have a mound, you try to water that, it just goes straight down to the grass. The grass is happy, but the tree is not.

Doug: I hope eventually that we win the battle, Marcus, because these guys throwing that mulch up on there, as we know, and as I've been tutored from arborists, that is the worst thing you can do. When we're thinking of New Year's resolutions, what else comes to mind for you for trees?

Marcus: Fertilizing with the correct type of fertilizer is very important as well. I keep going back to the all close relations between all living things: we all need to eat right. That includes a well-balanced diet, which can be related to fertilization. If you have a complete fertilizer that has nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium in it, slow releasing is key to that, because a quick release can actually do more harm than good. I'm not sure if much about the two, quick release, slow release?

Doug: No, yes, school me on that. That's interesting.

Marcus: Two main groups, slow release, quick release, so everybody understands the idea of the names. A quick-release fertilizer is something that you spread or spray out, and it's quickly released from the capsule that it's formed in and gets right to the root system. A lawn fertilizer, that's mostly quick-release fertilizer in that. That's why you fertilize the lawn, it turns green right away, it starts growing like mad.

The downside to that type of fertilizer, if you overdo it, you're burning the lawn. It all comes down to how that fertilizer is made. The fertilizer is made by attaching nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, that's all the three macronutrients that all plants use in large quantities.

They attach that to a salt, you spread or spray it on the lawn, water dissolves the salt, releases the nutrients, everything starts growing. It has so much salt in it that if you overdo it, it can pull the moisture right out of the plant.

I always equate it to if we had a bag of salt and we stick our hand in, we're going to come out all ashy and dry because it pulled the moisture right out of our hand. That's a bad thing. If you're pumping that into the tree roots, the tree roots that are doing the absorbing are the fine root hairs, not the big ones, the big ones are just transportation. If you're injecting that into the soil, you can actually burn those little hairs causing more harm than good in the long run. That's the quick-release side of it.

Slow release, a lot of times it's going to be a carbon-based fertilizer. We actually have a really good one, it's called Arbor Green Pro, and it's a 30-10-7, so it's a high nitrogen nutrient source, but it's slow release. Instead of using water to break down the fertilizer, it's actually mixed in a truck rather under constant agitation. That way, it's easier to inject into the root system.

The way ours breaks down is through microbial activity in the soil. Microbes, same thing that breaks down mulch, dead leaves, any other organic matter in the world, comes up to our fertilizer and they eat the carbon, that's their food source. As they eat the carbon, it releases the nutrients into the soil. Now they eat at a constant rate, so if you can imagine a carbon chain, they eat a carbon, it releases nutrients.

Eat another carbon, it releases nutrients, so on and so forth. It takes them a year to eat through our carbon chain. The fertilizer is constantly working as the tree needs it, because plants do go through different periods where they need more or less. The idea with a slow-release fertilizer like Arbor Green Pro is that the nutrients are there waiting to be used by the plant. It's a neat concept.

Doug: That is. That's fascinating, I've never had it explained to me. That's really great to know. Now for your little trees, for the red bud and the black gum, are they too young to be fertilized or are they fertilized at that stage too?

Marcus: They are fertilized at that stage too. Actually, whenever we're planting trees, we usually put some of our Arbor Green right into the planting hole. Then we try to get everybody on an annual program so it doesn't get lost from year to year. It's just a renewable service that helps the trees to thrive. I wish I did more with my plants. Watering is important, but a lot of times time gets away from me. All of a sudden, it's a hot summer and I'm like, "I haven't watered in a couple weeks and it hasn't rained either." At least I'm staying on top of fertilizing. The fertilizing will encourage root growth so it has more chances of pulling the natural moisture from the soil.

Doug: Marcus, how did you get into this? How did this become your way to make a living?

Marcus: Interesting. I grew up on the east side of Indianapolis suburbs, but I'm going to say I'm a city kid. I'm not total out in the woods. I graduated high school, had no clue what I wanted to do after high school. I got accepted to Purdue University, I thought I wanted to be an engineer. Once I got into it, not so much. I heard about forestry from a friend that was taking an elective class. At the time, I thought, "I want to be a park ranger or something," I didn't know anything about it.

He actually schooled me on different careers in forestry and it just opened my eyes. I was like, "Wow, that would be really neat to know what I'm looking at. Trees are everywhere." I looked into that and talked to some professors, thought it sounded interesting, and I switched over into urban forestry, which is what I do now. It all deals with plant health care from lawns, shrubs, trees, insect disease controls. I really loved learning about that stuff. It was a good fit for me. I think I just got lucky.

Doug: Tell me a little bit about your job now and what you get out of it.

Marcus: My job now is, you know I've been doing this for about 23 years, so it's changed quite a bit. Start off in the field and work your way up. Right now, I'm a district manager in southeast Chicago, which is Mokina, Illinois. I'm not only people manage, but the core of our services is taking care of trees. That's what I truly love to do. I like talking to folks. I like the investigation because, as we all know, trees don't communicate the same way that we do. We have to figure out why they're not doing well, why they're sick. It's very gratifying whenever you can do a few things, tweak the environment or control an insect or disease, and the tree starts to thrive after that. Gives me a lot of satisfaction.

Doug: Yes, that's the part that I find most interesting. Dealing with my local arborist is just how happy he is when he can tell me, "No worries, we can do this and that and you'll be okay." Whatever it might be, whether a tree falls into another tree and the arborist can tell me, "Oh, don't worry, you're flowering crab. If I take this off and take that off in a couple of years, it'll look fine." As a homeowner, this relationship is wonderful. It's definitely symbiotic. Was there anything else that comes to mind for you when you're thinking New Year's resolutions for us homeowners looking up and down at our trees and we love our trees?

Marcus: Yes, getting on a regular pruning cycle is ideal. Unfortunately, I hear all the time, "Oh, the trees take care of themselves," which it's like saying that I take care of myself, which I really don't do very well with all the breads and sweets. [laughter] Pruning trees is very important, not only for the health and safety of everybody that's hanging out under the trees, but also for the long-term health of the tree, the way the tree grows and heals.

If dead wood isn't taken out on a somewhat regular basis, that's how trees form cavities. You have a dead branch, it tries to heal and then the living tissue is right underneath the bark, but the center of all trees is actually dead, so as it tries to heal over the surface, that branch is decomposing and it starts in the main parent branch or the trunk. If it's left for too long, then all of a sudden a cavity forms in the trunk and then you have a major structural issue, and of course it takes time to do all that.

I'd say that's one of the best services you could do for your tree long-term. If you ever walk through the woods, you'll find a lot of trees with hollows and cavities and things like that, and that's just because nobody's taking care of those. the dead branch stays there for many years and then all of a sudden gets into the heart of the tree and then it starts falling apart in storms.

Doug: Marcus, before I let you go, if somebody is going to make their own New Year's resolutions about their trees, how often would you suggest that they have a certified arborist come out and take a look at their property?

Marcus: I like annually, because things can change after every storm potentially. If you're talking pruning, I generally recommend pruning every three to five years depending on the health, age, and type of tree, location of structures. We're always willing to stop by and visit. That's part of the fun part of my job, too, is talking to our customers, building those relationships, where, "Oh, Mr. Johnson, I know everything about his property because I've been there so many times."

Doug: Again, that's what I like about my team from Davey. I get the same guys come in, they know exactly what they did. Like I said, I referenced that flowering crab because I had a pine tree fall on that flowering crab. I love my flowering crab and they were able to trim it in such a way that now, five years later, you wouldn't even know that a pine tree had fallen on it. Marcus, I want to thank you very much for coming on and giving us all that great information. Boy, did I learn a lot about fertilizing, too, that I should know that as the host of the Talking Trees podcast and I'm sure-- [crosstalk]

Marcus: Yes, it's my favorite subject, so it's hard for me to be short-winded on that.

Doug: No, that's good stuff. I'm sure we'll talk again. Thanks very much for your time.

Marcus: Yes, you're very welcome.

Doug: Wasn't that a great explanation of the differences in those fertilizers? I finally understand it. Tune in every Thursday to the Talking Trees podcast from the Davey Tree Expert Company. I'm your host, Doug Oster. Do me a favor, subscribe to the podcast so you'll never miss an episode. Have an idea for the show or some feedback? Send us an email at That's podcast plural, P-O-D-C-A-S-T-S at D-A-V-E-Y dot com. As always, we'd like to remind you on the Talking Trees podcast, trees are the answer.

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