Talking Trees with Davey Tree

How to Get Your Trees Ready for the Growing Season

February 09, 2023 The Davey Tree Expert Company Season 3 Episode 6
Talking Trees with Davey Tree
How to Get Your Trees Ready for the Growing Season
Show Notes Transcript

Rob Kraker from Davey's Southeast Nashville office shares tips on how to get your landscape ready for spring to set your trees up for a healthy growing season! 

In this episode we cover:  

  • Tips to get trees ready for the growing season (0:31) (2:09) (9:10)
  • Magnolias in Nashville (1:02)
  • When does fertilization start? (2:50) 
  • What happens when a tree blooms too early? (3:55)
  • Deep root fertilization (4:49)
  • Where is the tree's dripline? (6:43)
  • Why fertilization is important (7:29)
  • Pruning and tree growth (9:58)
  • Japanese maples and tree growth (12:12)
  • How Nick got into tree care and why he enjoys it (14:22)

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

To learn more about when you should start preparing your trees for spring, read our blog, Spring Tree Care Start... NOW?

To learn more about fertilizer, read our blog, Spring Tree Care: Tree Fertilizer to Replenish Nutrients or watch our video, Why Should I Fertilize My Tree?

To learn more about pruning, read our Trimming and Pruning section on our blog,

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 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.

I'm joined this week by Rob Kraker. He's a district manager at the South East Nashville office for the Davey Tree Expert Company. Today we're talking all about how to get those trees ready for the growing season. Rob, when I do say that, what's the first thing that comes to your mind about getting those trees ready?

Rob Kraker: Basically, we're trying to get those buds ready to be popped. We're wanting the nutrients from the roots that have been stored through the dormancy season, and we want that up in the upper canopy and see how that tree is responding in the spring.

Doug Oster: In South Nashville, how do magnolias do? Are they a reliable bloomer?

Rob Kraker: Oh, yes. Well, it depends. You got your deciduous magnolias, and then you have your evergreen magnolias. The deciduous magnolias are a little bit more fragile, but the southern magnolia brackens brown magnolias, they actually tend to be a little bit more resilient. Because one is an evergreen and one's deciduous, they react differently.

Doug Oster: Well, the reason I say that is because up here in Pittsburgh, deciduous magnolias bloom about once every other year because the buds swell. Then it gets cold, and then they turn to mush. [chuckles]

Rob Kraker: Yes. A southern magnolia or a little gem magnolia and evergreen one, they bloom throughout the entire summer. They'll bloom, drop those blooms, and then another bubble come out. They're very good trees here in the south.

Doug Oster: When we're looking at the landscape, what else should we be thinking about when we're coming towards spring, as far as looking at our trees?

Rob Kraker: Basically, when the trees are coming out of their dormancy, they're going to be putting on the new shoot growth, the new growth of the tree, and then they're also putting on leaves, and flowers with all the pollen and all that excess energy. If the plant doesn't have or the tree doesn't have what it needs, it struggles. A lot of times that's why deep root fertilization is great to do in the spring.

Doug Oster: Yes. For you guys, when does that start for you? When does the fertilization start for you?

Rob Kraker: That's the hard part. Here in Tennessee, we're in a bowl. We have a very hard frost around Christmas. That hasn't happened in over 25 years. Then at the same time in April, we have a lot of hard frost. We normally have one hard frost in April. Normally it's at the end. Just today, I saw multiple cherry trees actually in bloom. There is no way that those trees are ready for that. It's just we're in the mid-60s right now. Then Saturday, they're calling for blow freezing. It's in that time of year where the trees really need to be in dormancy still, but then March and April is when we start really fertilizing and things like that.

Doug Oster: What do we tell our clients when their tree is starting to bloom so early? We know what's going to happen. It's the same thing that's happening up here with the magnolias. You'll get a flower or some flowers, but then, hey, the cold weather comes. There's nothing an arborist can do about the weather. [laughs]

Rob Kraker: No. Any new growth that a tree puts on, it's using energy or stored energy in those roots. Anytime that it does that, I'm always telling people that it is using energy, and it's really not getting a ton from it because well, there's no bees out. There's no pollinators out and anything like that. On cherry trees and things like that, it will stress it out.

Doug Oster: Let's go back to the fertilization. Tell me about that process. We've talked about it a little bit here on the podcast. When the weather's right, when things calm down, and it's time to start this depending on where you are in the country, tell me about the process of this deep-root fertilization. How do you go about doing that?

Rob Kraker: Really the way I look at fertilization is like a vitamin. For us as humans, you don't necessarily have to have vitamins, but because we don't always eat what we need, we have to supplement those with vitamins, vitamins, and minerals. It's exactly the same with trees. Trees in urban environments are lacking a lot of their natural nutrients that they get from a forested area. Then we have to incorporate that in a fertilization program.

Doug Oster: How is that applied? How do you put that fertilizer to the tree?

Rob Kraker: The best way to do it. You'll get people that do trunk injections, that do the granular, that do sprays, that do all kinds of different things. Really the best way that I feel is when you inject it into the root system. You basically go underneath the drip line of that tree.

The reason why you need to get past that soil surface, past the grassroots, past all those is because you want the tree to get it, you don't want your grass to get it. That's why a fertilizer probe is what's needed. Then you need some type of water-pressurized system to be able to get it into that soil profile. If you don't do that, some of those nutrients actually don't leach into the soil naturally. That just sits on top and runs off with water.

Doug Oster: If you don't mind, and I know for you and I, we know what a drip line is.

Rob Kraker: Yes.

Doug Oster: I've had questions in the past where I just I throw that word out when people say, "What do you mean the drip line?" Explain what that means where you're fertilizing that tree.

Rob Kraker: Basically, anywhere underneath the umbrella of the canopy. You definitely don't want a bunch of fertilizer around the base of the tree, because the roots will grow where the fertilizer is. You don't want a bunch of roots right at the base of the tree, but you want the fertilizer or the good stuff to be underneath that umbrella. Wherever water would drop from the upper canopy.

Doug Oster: I think that fertilization is one thing, and we talk about this a lot on the podcast that homeowners don't think about. They'll think about maybe looking up, maybe looking down, they might see a problem, a branch falling off. Just to speak again, to the fact that these trees, they need fertilization, and it's going to help them stay healthy. It's going to help them bloom all the time. I talked about this a couple of weeks ago. I got a pink dogwood that was barely throwing one or two blossoms, but once they put that probe in and started a yearly fertilization, that thing is blooming like a champ.

Rob Kraker: Yes. It relates exactly to humans. If we as humans, if all we eat is junk food and fill dirt, and rock, and bad nutrients, we are not going to do well. We're not going to feel good, we're going to get sick, our immune systems are going to go down. We're not going to be able to fight colds and flus as easily. By incorporating vitamins or nutrients into a tree's soil structure, it has what it needs to be able to grow to the way that it needs to. A human body knows exactly what it needs to do to be able to grow so does a tree. We're not doing anything magical to it. We're just giving it what it needs to be able to feed off of. That's it.

Doug Oster: Why were you looking at me when you said junk food?

Rob Kraker: [laughs]

Doug Oster: Are there other things that you're thinking about? We're moving into the season up here a little slower than you are, but is there anything else you're thinking about when you're thinking about trees and spring and what we should be doing?

Rob Kraker: Yes. You want to look at the certain types of dormant trees. For instance, what comes to mind is ash trees. You got to look at-- we have the emerald ash borer going around. When pruning right now in the dormancy, there are no ash. The emerald ash borer is not out right now. It's not active. You want to think about your dormant pruning, pruning your oaks, your elms. Trees that would be susceptible to insects would be a good time of year to do it so that there's less stress on them.

Doug Oster: Whenever we talk about pruning, at least I always explain it this way. I say it's a balance between science and art. The science part, we talk a lot about oaks and elms, how they can only be touched when they're in this dormancy. Pruning is so confusing for homeowners. That's why I always tell them, at least have an expert come once and twice and show you. Somebody like you, Rob, you've worked around trees for a long, long time, and you know where to make these cuts. It's important that the cuts are done right because if they're not done right, it could have long-term negatives for the tree.

Rob Kraker: Yes. The biggest way that I tell people about pruning is you're pruning for the future growth of the tree. You're structure pruning. The way an arborist helps you with the pruning side of things is because we see so many trees on our day-to-day. I could tell you what that tulip-poplar is going to look like in 20 years, so I can tell you what limbs would be really the best and most beneficial to prune off. I'm going to tell you that tulip-poplar is going to be 150 feet tall.

If you're trying to never let a tree grow over your house, you're never going to stop that from happening. Providing house clearance and providing roof clearance instead of actually not letting the tree grow for the house is actually a more sustainable way of pruning that tree or that Japanese maple that actually the less is more. I see landscapers all the time. They're like shearing Japanese maples. The Japanese maple is never going to get over 15 feet tall. Why are you worrying about height? Just consulting an arborist, to have one of us come out, is free of charge. I actually appreciate to come out there. I'll tell you all about them. Then I can tell you what that tree is going to look like in 3-5, 5-10, 10-20.

Doug Oster: Tell me what happens when you drive by that Japanese maple that's been sheared. What am I going to hear in the car when you're looking at it?

Rob Kraker: [laughs] The unfortunate thing is trees are time, right? We're all trying to make a living. We're all living this life. A lot of times when you prune that-- like I have a Japanese maple. I've been married for 14 years, and I bought it when I first got married, and the thing is still only 4 foot tall. If it was improperly pruned, I can't take that 14 years back. That Japanese maple driving down the road, it's like, man, those people have no idea what they just did to that tree. You can't get those years back.

Doug Oster: That's a great point. When you do talk about people doing that to trees, we know that trees are always going to try and reach their genetic width and height. That's just what they do. In many cases, I don't care what you do, you're never going to stop that. That's a good lesson to teach people.

Rob Kraker: The best way that I describe it is a tree is exactly like a human. It's a gear, and that gear is always moving forward. It can never stop. I have a one-and-a-half-year-old son that every day he grows a little bit more, and there is nothing I can do to stop that. Same with a tree. Now I can prune that tree to live in that environment. I can buy my son clothes that he can wear, but he's eventually going to grow out of that. Then I have to buy him some more clothes. Same with pruning. I'm constantly trying to have that tree grow to where the environment that it's in, but you're never going to stop a tree from growing. If it is not growing, it is in decline. That's very difficult to turn around.

Doug Oster: Then when your son turns 15, you can buy lots and lots of clothes.

Rob Kraker: [laughs] Exactly. [crosstalk] It keeps stepping up. [laughs]

Doug Oster: Tell me a little bit about how you got into this. How did you find your way to Davey and to doing this job?

Rob Kraker: The crazy thing is I went to school for marketing, and I worked in an office for six months as an internship. There is no way that I could sit in an office every single day for the rest of my life. I had always worked at an Arboretum. It's called Moran Arboretum in Lisle, Illinois. I learned how to climb. They taught me hands-down, pretty much the basics of arboriculture.

Then my dad actually was like, "Hey, if my son's going to go after this career, I need to figure this out." West Chicago, Davey Tree. I walked in there and started climbing, and from there, I've been with Davey for-- I've been in the industry for 14 years now, and I've been with Davey for over 10. Davey got my certified arborist from them. I got most of my training from them.

Doug Oster: Tell me a little bit about what you get out of your job. Now you're out there with clients. Also, you're managing people. Tell me the good parts about the job.

Rob Kraker: I started as a climber. I was a climber for eight years. I literally went from learning to do limb walks to foreman on a crew to a sales rep then to a manager. Trees are my passion. This is what I was here for. This is what I love to do. I really wouldn't know what else I would do other than tree work. As a manager there, though-- as a manager, there's no difference between being a manager and being a foreman. It's just the crew is getting larger.

My biggest thing is just trying to get a younger generation and people working around you to instill that same idea of the green industry. We are taking care of the trees' life for just a small window. Most trees are living 100, 200 years, so I'm the arborist that gets to handle it for that small window.

Doug Oster: One thing you mentioned, you talked about getting a frost during the holidays, right? Is that when you came?

Rob Kraker: Yes.

Doug Oster: Up here, we went, wind chill minus 21. When I am looking at my trees when they're coming out of dormancy, what should I be looking for? Or what should your clients be looking for as far as the effects of the cold weather? Or are trees generally used to this weather, and they'll bounce right back?

Rob Kraker: Most deciduous trees are going to bounce back from this perfectly fine. There are some susceptible trees that are going to have an issue, but that's natural. There are a lot of shrubs around here that are definitely affected by it. A lot of times they're not really meant for our planting zone, which that's why they struggle. We have  that really-- we are a little too cold for them, but they grow very well here. They just don't get as big as they would in, for instance, Atlanta or something like that. When we do get to really cold temps, they struggle.

One thing to just watch for is just making sure that when the bugs are breaking and things like that, if they are, if the leaves are smaller, if they're deformed, have us out, have us take a look at them.

Doug Oster: Great advice, Rob. I sure appreciate your time and great information. I'm sure we'll talk again soon. Thanks so much.

Rob Kraker: Thank you.


Doug Oster: Tune in every Thursday to The Talking Trees podcast from the Davey Tree Expert Company. I am your host, Doug Oster. Do me a favor. Subscribe to the podcast so you'll never miss one of our fun episodes. If you have some ideas for the show or some feedback, I'd love to hear from you. Send me an email at podcasts, that's plural, It's As always, we like to remind you on the Talking Trees podcast, trees are the answer.


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