Talking Trees with Davey Tree

Arborist's Favorite Trees for Planting Season - Western U.S.

August 26, 2021 The Davey Tree Expert Company Season 1 Episode 33
Talking Trees with Davey Tree
Arborist's Favorite Trees for Planting Season - Western U.S.
Show Notes Transcript

Michael Sundberg from Davey's South Denver office shares his top favorite trees for Western U.S. climates just in time to help you prepare for planting season this fall!

In this episode we cover:

  • Planting season in Western U.S. (0:54)
  • How Michael started working in arboriculture (1:25)
  • What has this summer been link in Denver? (2:07)
  • #1 Favorite tree - Bristlecone pine (2:43)
  • #2 Favorite tree - Sugar maple (3:52)
  • Fall planting (5:32)
  • Biggest mistakes when planting a tree (6:32)
  • #3 Favorite tree - Tulip poplar (7:31)
  • Blue spruce problems? (9:22)
  • #4 Favorite tree - Aspen (10:04) 
  • Most enjoyable part of being an arborist (11:07)

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

To learn about the right time to plant trees in your area, read our blog, When is the Best Time of Year to Plant Trees? (Evergreens, Maples and Fruit Trees).
To learn more about planting a tree in the fall, read our blog, When is it too Late to Plant a Tree in the Fall?
To learn about some more trees that are best suited for drought climates, read our blog, Best Trees for Drought Areas (Drought Tolerant Trees by Zone).
To learn more about the best way to plant a tree, read our blog, Plant Any Tree Step by Step (Burlap Wrapped, Potted and Seedlings).

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

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

Doug Doug: Welcome to The Davey Tree Expert Company's podcast Talking Trees. I'm your host, Doug Oster. Each episode showcases one of Davey's certified arborists sharing advice with everyone about caring for your trees and landscapes. We'll talk about everything from introduced pests, seasonal tree care, deer damage, how to make your trees thrive, and much more. Tune in every Thursday to learn more because here at the Talking Trees Podcast, we know trees are the answer.

Doug: This week as planting season nears, we're asking our arborists about their favorite all-time trees. In this two-part episode, we'll head east next week to get some ideas for out there. Today in part one, we talked to Michael Sundberg, who's an assistant district manager for the Davey Tree Expert Company in the Denver area. How are you today Michael?

Michael Sundberg: I'm doing well. How are you?

Doug: Welcome to the show. When is primetime planting for you guys?

Michael: For us out here, we're usually in the spring or the fall for prime time planting just to avoid the summer heat and let trees get established before all that drought can kick in. The spring is great for nursery availability as well because we get a lot of trees in. The fall is another good time to plant still, but a lot of times the nurseries are pretty picked over and don't get replenished enough to make fall as easy to plant but trees are still happy to go on the ground in the fall. That's for sure.

Doug: Well, before we get to your favorites, talk a little bit about how you got to this job and why it's right for you?

Michael: I went to Colorado State University and got a degree in environmental horticulture, just from having a passion for the outdoors. I've always loved the science side of things in school and it was a natural fit to mesh the two together and have trees and shrubs and grass as topics of study. That's what brought me into the industry, started out as a technician in the field doing applications and have worked up from there. The science side has always fascinated me to look at different trees every day and diagnose problems and make recommendations to keep them healthy.

Doug: What has the summer been like out west?

Michael: This year was challenging. We actually had a really good start to the year with the spring with well above average for the amount of moisture that we got. Then after that, it just went to full dryness and smoke. We've had 30-something days of ozone alerts and air quality issues. Lots of smoke from the fires out west. In general, the temps have been tracking above average in the 90s every day for the past few months here, so we're looking forward to falling.

Doug: That's no fun for plant people. Hot and dry. When you were thinking about some of your favorites, what was the first thing that came to mind?

Michael: I'd say my favorite tree would be Bristlecone Pine. It's the same species that the oldest tree on earth is so they're long goers for sure. They've got really cool needles that line the branches. Sometimes they're called foxtail pine because they've got that appearance of the needles lining down. They have little resin dots on the needles, which are cool as well. It adds this little-- looks like it got dusted with snow even in the summertime. They're just a tough hardy tree for our condition.

Doug: How big does it get?

Michael: They get about 20 to 25 feet usually down here in the front range, but they're really slow growers. In the first 20 years, you own one, it might get up to 10 or 15 and that would be a success.

Doug: That must be a good feeling when you go out to see a property and you find the right spot for that tree and you can tell them, "Hey, look at this"?

Michael: Yes, a good spot for a bristlecone here. It'ss especially if you have a long-term relationship with that person, you get to see that tree again in 20 years and say, "Wow, we planted that, and look how well it's done over those 20 years."

Doug: All right, what's next on the list?

Michael: I would say the sugar maple, which aren't going to be one that's native for Colorado. They've been one that has been tracking as a very popular tree with a really good fall color. Autumn blaze maple were planted like crazy in Denver as that was the popular tree and still is one of the most popular trees that people plant. The sugar maple just seemed to be a little bit better with dealing with iron chlorosis issues. You get a little bit of a mix of fall colors instead of red on red. You can get some oranges and yellows mixed in with the reds. They've just done really well here for plantings in my own yard too.

Doug: Well, Michael, I got a feeling that when we start talking in the Eastern United States, they're going to come up with a sugar maple too, because since I've been doing this podcast, I'm always asking arborist what your favorite tree is. Sugar maple comes up a lot where you think it's going to be something you've never heard of or something that's rarely planted, but sugar maple comes up a lot.

Michael: They're just beautiful trees and they don't have much of a mess for folks that need a nice tree without dropping and fruits and big pods and stuff, you just get those little helicopter things that spin as they fall. The fall color is just wonderful and we don't have a lot of good fall color choices in Colorado. We've got the beautiful aspens up in the foothills that's real nice, yellow, and golden, but it's like when you get down into Denver, it's mostly just stuff turns yellow in the fall. There's not that same artistry you get if you're out in like the Eastern mountains and the Appalachians with all those trees. It's cool to get a little bit of taste of that with sugar maple in a yard out here.

Doug: Out there for fall planting, when do things kick in full force?

Michael: I'd say like late September and then through October into the first part of November would be a good fall planting time. You're not going to have any issues digging the hole in the ground because it's not like the ground gets frozen, but you're out of the heat at that point, which is what the tree really wants. It doesn't want to try to get those roots established when it's 90 degrees still every day. Then they'll spend the whole winter growing roots and then next spring leaf right out and they've got more access to water from all the time they spent laying roots and then they usually are very successful.

Doug: I love planting in the fall for all those reasons that you said right there. When we do plant in the spring and we have a season like this in the East, we had the same season you did. No problem early on, you put a new tree in, you got all that rain. Then when it comes to the hot and dry, you got to keep water on that spring-planted tree. What is some of the biggest mistakes that homeowners make when they're planting a tree?

Michael: I'd say like the first, a most common big mistake they make is they always plant them too deep. People think that the tree should look like a telephone pole, where it's just a stick in the ground. In reality, they're burying the root ball, and the root flare too low. Those roots don't have access to water and oxygen like they should out here, especially with our clay soils, you'd be better off having your tree two to four inches high where the root ball is basically sitting out of the ground than an inch too low.

Because with water not draining out of the clay soil, you push all the oxygen out of that and the tree just basically gets suffocated from that. It's definitely the planting heights the big one that folks do. Obviously, if they try to plant in August because they see all the new trees around the neighborhood and want to pop one in without thinking about it. They throw it in and it gets just scorched.

Doug: What else is on your list for favorites?

Michael: I'd say, one that I'm dabbling without you here that's not a very Colorado favorite I'd say is tulip trees or like the tulip poplars that folks have a lot more out east. They can grow out here in Colorado just fine. If you can find them a nice spot that gets good moisture. I've got one in my yard and I've been just watching it grow and I'm really excited about it because they have a really cool flower structure. It looks like a tulip that the tree puts out. It's super off the radar and it's definitely not probably a very Colorado normal choice, but it's one that's got me excited for just more options to plant out here.

Doug: Very common out east. Why is it not common in the west? Is it just a cultural thing or a forest thing?

Michael: I'd say yes, it's probably almost like a cultural thing where they've just never been considered for out here. They do great on their own. They're almost weeds out east as far as how fast they grow and how big they get. They really just haven't been dabbled without here very much. There's a few old ones around town, so it's not like never been tried. It's just so far off the radar and people have been so focused on planting autumn blaze maples and aspens and spruces instead that the diversity's really poor, but the climate's tough. It's like we need to find any options that can grow out here and plant them more for sure.

Doug: When I'm thinking Colorado, I'm thinking aspens and spruces.

Michael: Definitely, then most people have those. Every yard has blue spruce usually near the house or next to the house. Then they've got some aspens scattered around, which only live about 15 to 25 years at our elevation. In town, aspens are a very temporary proposition versus up in the mountains where they live a lot longer.

Doug: Have you had any trouble with the blue spruce? We've got some fungal issues going on in the east here with them? Are you guys seeing that in the west?

Michael: Thankfully, not as much. With our really dry climate, we have a lot less of the fungal issues. They can still get cytospora canker tanker that can still be a problem with them out here, but mainly it's usually watering that bothers them. It's folks under watering generally, they've put a tree out in a mulch bed and it gets a drip emitter. The tree is successful to get planted, but then they've never expanded the irrigation since then and the tree is now 20 years old and getting the same drink it used to get when it was a kid. So it's like the dryness is definitely their biggest problem.

Doug: Well, anything else on your list of favorites?

Michael: I'd say-- Let's see. I still love aspens. That's definitely a favorite with how they move in the wind. They've got a flat patio that goes from the stem to the leaf, which catches wind and makes some dance. Despite their short life out here, it's super nice to go open to the mountains and enjoy the fall color. They're just a cool tree with how they grow as a colony. They send out new aspens and pop them up all over the place. They're still on my list. They're just maybe not a great Denver choice.

Doug: Are they straight species or are there lots of different cultivars of aspens?

Michael: They're mostly just a straight species, but they've made a few different ones. They've made more of an upright variety that people are trying to use for screening, but they're still in town. It's hard to suggest aspen as a planting in town. If folks have them, I'm always like, "That's great." Let the new shoots that pop up, give you freebies. Up in the mountains is pretty much just the same Aspen, just everywhere.

Doug: Well, Michael, that's good stuff. Tell me a little bit about what the most enjoyable part of your job is.

Michael: I think the most enjoyable part about my job aside from getting to work outside every day is that I get to go to people's yards everyday, educate them on how to take care of trees, because a lot of people don't have a background in it. I get to use my knowledge as the teacher and educate people on their trees, give them good tips on how to make their yards successful, and let their trees grow big and healthy.

Generally, people are all ears about it because they have a yard, they want it to look nice, but they don't know how to like where to even start. You get to go out there and make that point of contact, teaching them about each of their tree species and what their needs are. It's very rewarding because you get to see the finished product year over year as stuff grows in and, I don't know. It's nice to use my education as a tool like that for sure.

Doug: All right, Michael. Thanks very much. I'll be interested to see what crossover trees we have when we start talking about the east. Thanks again.

Michael: Most definitely. I'll be interested as well. Thanks for having me.

Doug: Don't forget to tune in every Thursday to the Talking Trees Podcast from the Davey Tree Expert Company. I'm your host, Doug Oster. I'd appreciate it if you would subscribe to the podcast too. Next week, we head to Tennessee and talk about favorite trees for the Eastern half of the country. As always, we like to remind you on the Talking Trees Podcast, trees are the answer.


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