Eric Countryman from Davey's East Pittsburgh office shares some trees that can act as a windbreak for your properties and houses, and why they are beneficial.
In this episode we cover:
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To learn more about the best trees for blocking wind, read our blog, The Best Trees for Blocking Wind and Windbreak (By Zone).
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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. This week I'm joined by a very special guest. It's Eric Countryman. He is the district manager in the East Pittsburgh office for the Davey Tree Expert Company, and he was the very first guest on The Talking Trees Podcast way back in 2021. Welcome to the show, Eric.
Eric Countryman: Hi, Doug. Good to talk to you again.
Doug: Well, I don't know if you can hear, but I'm getting over a cold, so you do most of the talking, okay?
Eric: No, problem. I do think I've had to do go through a cold with you doing one of these before in the past too.
Doug: It made me think, everybody I interview just about everybody for Talking Trees Podcast says, I love my job because I get to work outside. I was wondering, being the self-absorbed podcast host that I am, what is it like for you working outdoors with a cold? Is it better or worse?
Eric: I think that it's in a lot of ways better. When it's really cold and the air's really, really dry, I think that can actually affect your sinuses a lot more than people think, more even I feel like than a cold. I don't think you get maybe as sick as often if you're working outside because you're not in an office building surrounded by everybody else who's sick and spreading germs around. I think there's a lot to be said for the breeze helping you keep well outdoors. The old adage of, if you're wet you don't want to stay in your wet clothes, you want to get a hot shower, get dry but I think that's probably the case for everyone all the time.
Doug: Our topic today, we want to talk all about wind breaks and this is an interesting subject for me because I do have some windbreaks on my property. Talk about first the advantages of a wind break. Why are we even thinking about putting a wind break up?
Eric: I think that especially for winter wind breaks can be very helpful. You will get some protection from the incoming, particularly if they're very cold, very gusty. It'll help insulate in a way your yard and the landscape around your home. It's not like immediately as cold as if you were taking a sideline north wind right at the side of the house. It could maybe help keep your heating bills a little lower, just so your house isn't dropping between heat blasts so much. It could be also just, I think even in the summer, it can make your property sometimes a little bit better if you live in a very windy spot.
If you can't ever get the umbrella up in the backyard to have some shade for a picnic because the wind is just roaring through. I think there's benefits to it particularly in the winter, but also in the other seasons as well.
Doug: In my research for today's show, I became very confused. There's a lot of things out there listed that are choices for building a wind break, planting a wind break, but I have no idea where to turn. What should I do if I'm thinking about this?
Eric: I would say it is a good idea to consult a local arborist. Not only would they be familiar with species that are common and do well in your area but also the biggest thing to consider is what zone you are in. Then I'm sure you've talked about temperate zones, but the difference between what you can plant up in the north and what you can plant in the south is very different, particularly when you're dealing with cold winds. While it might all grow just fine and nice weather, imagine that horrible storm that just came through the Ohio, Pennsylvania, well actually quite a bit more than that.
My experience here over Christmas, that was Arctic blast cold wind, and if you have plants that are really built for Georgia they'll get burned. You'll end up with brown plants instead of healthy green looking plants.
Doug: Well, if you don't mind, let's talk a little bit about that. In the east and mid-Atlantic here, we had this incredible cold spell and storm. Have you seen any results of that already or is this something we'll see in the spring? Where I'm at, we had a wind chill, I think below minus 20.
Eric: Yes, I think, we'll, since it did warm, it was relatively short and it did warm up pretty quick. I'm hoping that the damage isn't sustained, but it will be in the springtime. We'll see when things are supposed to be greening up, starting to flush some new growth, if it really got toasted, we're going to see those windy sides be browner, less growth and just not as healthy. In past seasons when we've had, usually it's more than just two days of snowy wind, a lot of times really the deep cold is brought on with sunshine, which can actually then really confuse the plants.
I swear we see a lot more winter burn but it's definitely something to keep an eye out. If it does happen, the best thing to do is have them good healthy watering in the spring, good fertilization, and then just keep maybe a light shear on those brown sides just to knock that brown off, see if you can't stimulate some new growth.
Doug: Well, back to wind breaks, certainly plant selection should be something I'm doing with my arborist. First thing that comes to mind for me in the north and the northeast is the green giant. Is that something we use as a wind break?
Eric: It is, yes. Green giant arborvitae or red cedar though they're interchangeable and yes, that's a very, very common one, primarily because they grow very quickly, they keep a pretty normal shape. They're easy to hedge, they're easy to control, and they're also deer-resistant, I would say. Depends on how aggressive your deer are.
Doug: Yes, let's talk about that because it always does get mentioned as deer resistant but arborvitaes in general, at least where I'm at in Deer Central, that's deer candy, but is that variety just a little not as tasty for the most part?
Eric: Correct. Yes. The other varieties of arborvitae or emerald greens that have a tighter looking shape are more of a white variety and they are dear food, but the red variety, the green giants they hold up better. I can't say that they won't try to munch at the bottoms a little bit, but they're not going to generally destroy the plant like they would with if it was a Taxus or a yew or an emerald green arborvitae.
Doug: Well, I'll tell you, they'll eat just about anything, trust me. They'll eat things that are poisonous to them, believe it or not.
Eric: Oh, yes.
Doug: Now I've had different answers when I've talked to people across the country about the Green Giant as far as its availability. I did get some people telling me they were having trouble getting big ones just due to COVID because everyone was buying them. They wanted their privacy but then the last couple of times I've talked to arborists, they're like, "No, we can find them. They're coming back. How have you seen this progress?
Eric: Through last year, yes, they did seem to be coming more available. I think the stock got controlled a little better from nurseries. I'll say this is a personal preference, and my recommendation is that, I don't think you need to put in 14-foot arborvitae. I think it's a giant waste of money, if I'm just being honest. This is my recommendation to customers is that why don't we put in good 6-foot tall ones with a healthy root structure and a neat decent-sized root ball or even a potted one variety, and let them really take quick and grow because they will put on 2 feet of growth a year.
We don't need to rush it. They'll get there pretty darn fast, and blowing a whole bunch of money in maintenance and care and expense of sourcing and planting gigantic trees can sometimes just make it a totally lose proposition.
Doug: I'm playing devil's advocate. I'm the customer and I'm saying to you, I'm like, "I want instant gratification with 10, 14-foot tall trees.” Talk me out of it.
Eric: Well, how much room do you got to put them in? I don't ever recommend, well, we start with a solid wall of any kind of species, right? If you don't give these things room to grow, they'll end up choking themselves out, and then you have a very sparse, spindly little wall of privacy and not the healthy big curtain that you're looking for. Things just take time. You're not painting decorating a house. It's not like you're going to do it and it's done. You've got to let things really mature and grow. Sometimes you run the numbers too, this
is what it is, this is what it is and how much is it worth to you? Sometimes the customer their checkbook is right but make sure you put together a really good maintenance plan for them because they may need it.
Doug: Well, Eric and I also work together here in Pittsburgh on a local radio station and he knows how cheap I am. I'm starting off with 3-foot trees, Eric.
Eric: There you go. That's what I would do.
Doug: How do I know where to put these trees?
Eric: Again, this might be something that is really best to talk to your arborist about at your specific site. You don't want them in swampy water. Evergreen trees do not like it, so you don't want it at the bottom of the hill or in an area that just gets a lot of runoff or a lot of water. Then your spacing, like I said before, is going to be the most important for the outcome of the whole project in a couple of years. Depending upon how big you are starting and how big of a space you're covering, 5 to 10 foot between trees is probably what you want. If not even maybe a little more.
Depending upon if you're going with giant spruce trees, you might want to give it even more and that'd be a left to right spacing, and it depends on how much total room you have to put in your wind break and how deep you can make it, but sometimes staggering in a second row behind will get you that curtain privacy left to right without having to put the trees so darn close together in one solid row.
Doug: That was my next question. How often do you use that stagger system?
Eric: As often as I can when that's the goal and you have the room. If you're dealing with a really small area, maybe you don't even technically really need a wind break is more just a privacy screen, but I think same thing applies. If you got a room and it's like a field, I would definitely put in a row of at least two staggered on a zigzag pattern and keeping them between 10 to 15 feet apart on all axes there.
Doug: Let's first start with this. A cold weather climate, maybe zone three, four, five, six, something like that. What are some of your suggestions? I know again, we repeat this over and over again, right tree, right place, but thinking in generalities of species, what else are you thinking about?
Eric: We talked about the green giant or the red cedars. Another one to consider are the eastern white pines. The other ones I'm a fan of are white furs or Norway spruces. The reason I more go toward those, are general maintenance of them and known insect and disease problems. Typically they're a little bit easier to maintain and don't have a ton of known constant annoyances. One that was more popular, seems to definitely be going away, the Colorado blue spruces, particularly in our area. I think areas with high humidity in the summer, they just get so much disease problems and they never really look good and the fungicides needed to keep them looking nice. It's just a lot of work.
Doug: How about some warmer climate trees? Is there anything else that comes to mind for you when you're, we're thinking wind break?
Eric: I'll be totally upfront. I've mostly done this kind of work up here in Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania area. I guess a little bit of research I saw was a Chinese juniper that's supposed to be quite deer-resistant. Another one that's more native to Oregon was a Port Orford cedar. Again, you're in, and then the red cedar also. These are ones that can handle the much hotter drier climates, I think. Again, well, you don't want to move them too far north.
Doug: I'm telling you what, those junipers, I put some in my son's place down in Richmond, Virginia. Man, they're quick growing. I’d never used this term, but almost deer proof and they're beautiful.
Eric: I'll say this is from memories and they're here in in the Pittsburgh area but Crompton area I like the look of them. I think that that's softer touch. I'm not totally familiar with the care and maintenance of them, but I do know that Pittsburgh people had started to plant them. A few years ago we had a polar vortex and the ones that weren't really, really well protected did get totally scorched. I think that Mid-Atlantic area on the East Coast is about as high as you should really be going with those.
Doug: We're in the middle of a January thaw here in the east, but you guys, I'm assuming are done planting trees. You couldn't plant trees now or could you?
Eric: Oh sure, yes. If you got them and you can dig a hole and get them in, sure. There'd be really no problem with it.
Doug: Well, I got them. I can dig a hole.
Eric: There you go. There's no reason why you can't. Some ways right now, the trees itself is pretty dormant. They're not really too active, so the shock of planting shock probably won't be all that bad. They'll be in, they'll be adjusted. As the ground starts to warm up in the spring, they'll be ready to grow.
Doug: I've got a Kousa dogwood that's been sitting there for a couple of years in a 5-gallon pot. It's time to go in the ground. If I can sneak it in, that would be great.
Eric: I think it's supposed to snow again this weekend, so you better feel better today and get out there.
Doug: I also have about 400 bulbs to plant yet. How was your season this year? How would you characterize your season this year?
Eric: Very good. Weather-wise, yes, actually, we've done pretty well here toward the end of the year. Starting to get a little bit more wet. The wet seems to be coming in big storms, not just constant dreariness but we're not getting a lot of sun. It's been very, very gray. We keep working. Other than the Christmas storm we've been able to keep busy and keep working.
Doug: It's been very, very gray. Welcome to Pittsburgh.
Eric: Yes, exactly. I'm from the northeast Ohio, Cleveland area we said the same thing growing up too. Just don't expect to see the sun till May, maybe.
Doug: I grew up in the same area and, boy I'll tell you, people don't know what snow's like unless you live next to the lake. Before I let you go. I talk to arborists about this all the time, about how they build these relationships with their customers. From another Davey office here in Pittsburgh, I have, who I call my arborist, even though he is an arborist for so many people, he just saves the day for me in so many ways. Talk a little bit about that feeling of being able to go to a property, assess what's happening, and hopefully tell them, "Hey, it's going to be okay."
Eric: That's, for me, has always been the greatest part of doing sales arborists here as the district manager. That part of being able to go out and diagnose the problem, provide solutions, and then actually seeing it work over a little bit of time, for me has always been the most rewarding. This just must be very personal to me. I did want to be a doctor for most of my high school and college career and then realized, "Woah, you'll never see the sun again." I became a “tree doctor” instead. That part is fulfilling for me. I think in terms of relationship with your customers or even being, like you said, you yourself as a Davey customer, I think this is the great time of the year to be talking, getting up, seeing people, knocking on doors, saying hello, checking things over.
I think we have an expert enough eye that right now we can go out and do good look arounds of people's property in the dormancy period, and really get people prepared and set up for a successful beginning of the year. It's a lot easier to have a plan to tackle issues now and then do them on time than to get the call in June and July going, "Oh, no, everything looks terrible” and now we're resurrecting the dead. We've talked in the past to proper mulching and proper bed maintenance goes a long way to keeping your trees healthy and looking good. Now's a great time to get all that planned because when you get busy in April and May and June, it's very easy to miss on that good maintenance for people.
I think we as arborists can provide a lot of help to our homeowners, and even I handle at this point now a lot more commercial customers, so universities, city governments, that sort of thing. This is when budgets are getting re-put together. They want plans and knowing what they're looking at so you can help them get those numbers put together can also just really make a big difference in people's budgets and you'll get a lot more for your buck.
Doug: Well, great advice except now I got to go plant a tree, but I guess that's a good thing though, right?
Eric: Yes, sure. It'll get you outside. You get some blood flowing.
Doug: Thanks again, Eric. Always great to talk to you and I'm sure we'll talk again soon.
Eric: All right, you too, Doug. Thanks.
Doug: Well, I think Eric's right. I should get out there, get some fresh air, get that tree in the ground before the ground freezes solid again. Tune in every Thursday to the Talking Trees Podcast from the Davey Tree Expert Company. I'm your host, Doug Oster. Do me a big favor, subscribe to the podcast so you'll never miss an episode. If you've got an idea for the show or some feedback, send us an email at podcasts, that's plural @davy.com. That's P-O-D-C-A-S-T-S@D-A-V-E-Y.com. As always, we'd like to remind you on The Talking Trees Podcast, trees are the answer even for a cold.
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