Talking Trees with Davey Tree

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

September 02, 2021 The Davey Tree Expert Company Season 1 Episode 34
Talking Trees with Davey Tree
Arborist's Favorite Trees for Planting Season - Eastern U.S.
Show Notes Transcript

Nick St. Sauveur from Cortese Tree Specialists in Knoxville, Tennessee, shares his top favorite trees for Eastern U.S. climates just in time to help you prepare for planting season this fall!

In this episode we cover:

  • #1 Favorite tree - Katsura (0:54)
  •  #2 Favorite tree - Sourwood (4:12)
  • Natives (6:16)
  • #3 Favorite tree - American smoke tree (7:39)
  • Right tree, right place (8:48)
  • Trees for full sun (10:18)
  • #4 Favorite tree - Black tupelo (10:51)
  • Nick's advice on planting (13:52)

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 more about the benefits of planting native trees, read our blog, Benefits of Planting Trees Native to Your Region.
To learn more about growing trees in full sun, read our blog, What is Considered "Full Sun?"
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 Oster: 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 image, how to make your trees thrive, 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, it's part two of our arborist's favorite trees. Last week, we looked to the west and now we're headed to Tennessee to talk with Nick St. Sauveur, district manager for the Davey Tree Expert Company in Knoxville. Nick and I talked before earlier in the season, but today it's favorite trees.

I've already talked to somebody from out west, Nick, and I'm not going to tell you what he said his favorite trees are. I know that you can't just say, plant this tree, you have to know sun, shade, big or small, but in general, in species or certain things that maybe you just know are going to do well. Let's start talking about some of your favorites.

Nick St. Sauveur: You're spot on. A lot of it has to do with site conditions when it comes to determining trees. I personally like a lot of your unique trees that you don't see a whole lot and a lot of people just either aren't aware of or have just never seen. I've done a lot of tree planting at the house especially this past year. One of my favorite trees that I've only recently discovered is something called a Katsura tree.

It's actually a non-native and actually native to parts of Asia, but it's really interesting in that it has just absolutely gorgeous fall color. That's typically what I'm planting for, especially here in Knoxville where we don't necessarily have as prominent fall colors like what you would up in parts of New England and whatnot. I'm always looking for those trees that will provide that really nice fall color. Another unique thing about the Katsura tree is that it actually, the leaves when they drop them smell like brown sugar.

Doug: Wow.

Nick: They're really interesting. They've got that gorgeous pink and yellow fall color but they smell like brown sugar and there's this, in my opinion, nothing more you would want.

Doug: How big does it get and where does it like to grow?

Nick: It's a full sun tree, fibrous root system so you're definitely going to want to make sure it's mulched fairly well especially when you're trying to establish it, but once it does mature, it should be pretty drought tolerant. Size-wise, if you go online, you're looking at sizes anywhere from 20-30 feet. It's typically what they say, but if you look at what Michael Dirr says, which is the godfather for agriculture and trees, there's specimens that get up to 60, 70, 80 feet tall that he's seen. It can be a fairly large tree long-term but short-term. What most people grow them for is that 30-foot, like a medium-size tree range.

Doug: How did you discover it?

Nick: I've actually got a client that has one. We were walking around just doing a property assessment one day and she's like, "Do you have any idea what kind of tree this is?" I'm like, "I've never seen that before in my life," because it kind of looks like a redbud, the leaves on it, they're heart-shaped. I got with some of my buddies over at the UT Extension agency and did a little research and that's what we found it to be so I picked one up myself.


Doug: What else were you thinking about talking about?

Nick: Some other trees that I really like if you're into natives, and I'm not necessarily a native purist, but probably my favorite native tree is the sourwood which a lot of people aren't that familiar with but it has a lot of environmental benefits in regards to especially bee populations. It's one of the few trees that actually blooms later in the season. Most trees bloom in spring and summer. This one actually blooms late summer, early fall.

A lot of people are familiar with sourwood honey, and that's a tree that it comes from, but again, it's just gorgeous fall color, very unique blooms, full sun, partial shade just really nice bark, especially as they mature and not a whole lot of maintenance, but they are a little more susceptible to drought than most trees. You do want to make sure it's mulched well and you are providing supplemental irrigation in periods of drought.

Doug: I have a friend up here that works for Davey and he comes on in my radio show. I know that he has a sourwood. Anytime he can get it in there, he wants to tell us about this sourwood. Explain to people what those blossoms look like because they are so cool.

Nick: They're pendulous racemes is the technical name for them, but they hang down and at the very bottom where they hang down, they scoot back up. They look like a bunch of little bells hanging off this probably six to eight inch long racemes. They're just absolutely gorgeous. Especially that, when they start turning for the fall, you have the blooms plus the gorgeous red fall color. There's just nothing like it.

Doug: Could we talk a little bit about natives in general? Because I'm like you, I'm not a native purist, but I keep hearing more and more about the positives of natives. How do we balance that? How do you balance it? Here you're talking about sourwood and Katsuras. I'm doing the same thing. I have a sourwood as a native, but I'm certainly going to grow something that might have been originated in Asia just because I love the way it looks, but I know there's positives to grow natives.

Nick: Yes, for sure. You've got to strike a balance between your natives and your non-natives. My biggest thing is as long as you're not planting anything that's invasive, that's going to take over your yard, your neighbors' yards, and the entire city, generally, I'm okay with somebody wanting to plant that, and the Katsura tree definitely falls into that category. In regards to most natives, and the reason why you want to steer towards them is just the ecological benefits that they provide for native species, butterflies, bees, and all the animals and wildlife that you have wherever you're at.

Doug: All right. What's next on your list?

Nick: Another tree I really like is, and a lot of people know this or the Asian variety of it, but the American smoke tree. Scientific name is Cotinus obovatus, not the Cotinus coggygria. They are very unique, especially mid-summer in that, when they're in full bloom, they just look like a puff of smoke. They're really, really good for sites that have poor especially aquiline soil where you really can't get anything else to grow, you're not getting any water there. Just plant it and forget it worst-case scenario.

They're great for that and they do really well in those conditions. Have amazing fall color. They're considered to be one of the most outstanding fall color trees that we've got, and like I said, it's native and just beautiful blooms.

Doug: Well, you said something really interesting there, and it's about looking at the site. We've talked about a lot of favorite trees from the west and the east, but the right tree for the right place, if you put your favorite in the wrong place, it's not going to be your favorite for long.

Nick: Yes, exactly. Everybody does that with dogwoods and it's so frustrating. I understand dogwoods are beautiful trees. They provide four-season interest, but everybody wants to plant them out in the middle of their front yard and they do not belong in your front yard. They're understory tree. If you've got larger Oaks or just larger trees, in general, come in and plant some dogwoods, but don't plant it out in the middle of your front yard because it's going to struggle, it's going to be stressed, maintenance-wise is going to be through the roof and it's just not going to be worth it. It's going to be an ugly tree long-term because it's just not going to be able to support itself.

Doug: It's so funny that you say that because, in my 30 years of writing about gardening and talking about gardening, I've had to give that speech [crosstalk] not as many times as you have, but I've had to give [inaudible 00:10:02] I just sent an email to somebody the other day who wanted to do that and I said, "Yes, you can make it survive, but it would thrive as an understory plant and be so much happier there because that's its nature."

Nick: Yes. Exactly. There's so many other species that you can plant in lieu of dogwood that would do fine in full sun. A couple of examples are like your redbuds, most of your cherry like your ornamental cherries would do fine, crab apples, hawthornes, serviceberries. We've got all these excellent varieties. Smoke tree would be another one that would do good in those conditions and we just, for some reason, all want to plant dogwoods everywhere.

Doug: Are there some other trees you want to talk about?

Nick: Again, another native one that I really like that's really underplanted, and I understand this too, because they're hard to get from a nursery, and when you do get them from a nursery, they don't transplant very well. You have to start with a seedling or something really small. And that's your black tupelo. A lot of people call them black gums. They're not, I try to say black tupelo as much as I can because anytime you mention a gum tree, they think of the sweet gums with the little spikey seed pods which nobody likes.

Doug: Let me stop you there so that we do make that layer. A sweetgum has these, how do you explain what they are because they make a mess. They're an amazing tree but you don't want them in your driveway.

Nick: Yes. It's like a gumdrop filled with needles or something. It's just maybe the best way I can explain it but they're pretty awful to step on.

Doug: Yes. It's a mess, but believe it or not, I know people that love that tree, but they're growing it somewhere where they don't have to sweep or rake those things off. I've talked to lots of people over the years that love that black tupelo and that's what they always call it so that it's not confused.

Nick: Exactly. Your black tupelo, they're actually and part of the reason why they are one of my favorite trees is they're actually longest-lived native tree here on the east coast. They're able to live for hundreds and hundreds of years, several hundred years compared to white oak, which is 200, 300 years. You could almost get three times that much with black tupelo. Again, gorgeous fall color that's really reliable. They have little berries on them so they're good for wildlife. Have a really interesting bark that almost looks like alligator hide. They do pretty good but of course, cultural controls like mulching and that sort of thing is going to help any tree out.

Doug: My understanding is that tree is just like you said renowned for its spectacular fall color. That's what people just love.

Nick: Yes. It's reliable too. Its fall color is more reliable than sugar maples, especially here in East Tennessee. It's definitely a go-to. There are different cultivars of it as well that are less susceptible to-- There's a leaf spot that does sometimes get on them especially if you have a really wet late summer, early fall. If you could find one I think it's called green gables black tupelo is resistant to that leaf spot so you can enjoy the fall color longer and not have all those black spots up there.

Doug: When you guys get them for planting, do you get them as big balled and burlapped trees because you have the sources or how would we find them usually?

Nick: Excellent question, actually. Anytime I'm talking to a client about planting trees, I always recommend starting smaller, the smaller, the better. The reason why I recommend that is because for every inch in caliber that your tree is that you're planting, let's say you're planting a two-inch caliber tree, it takes that many years for it to overcome transplant shock as a general rule of thumb.

If you've got two-inch caliber tree, you're looking at two years of it just sitting there before it does anything. If you start with a smaller tree planted next to a bigger tree, five years down the road, you probably won't even be able to tell the difference. The tree that was planted while it was smaller is long-term going to be a lot better, healthier, and much more well adapted to that site.

To get back to your question, I personally like to go with a lot of local nurseries. There's a great one that specializes in native trees and plants not too far from us that we get a lot from. There's some larger nurseries that provide a lot of our plants as well. You just have to shop around, look around and see who has what because not every nursery is going to have everything you want.

Doug: People should remember that many good nurseries can bring in something like that. In our situation here in Pittsburgh, all the nurseries are up along Lake Erie. That's a great climate for them and that's where our local nurseries get their stock from. Many times you can just say, "Hey, I want to try this black tupelo," they'll get you one.

Nick, I want to say that that is a great lesson that you taught me. That's a very important lesson that people should know about planting trees is to start small. I never knew that and I love it because first off I'm really cheap so I can buy a smaller tree for less and then we'll be good to go. Plus it's going to be a healthier and better tree.

Nick: Exactly. If you start with a smaller tree too, you can make sure it's planted right. It's pretty difficult to take a huge tree and make sure it's planted that great. It's less time in the nursery and less time that is dealing with poor cultural practices that a lot of nurseries tend to do.

Doug: Nick, as always thanks for schooling us. Thanks for giving us some cool trees. You said the magic word though, you said sugar maple. You did cross over with the west by mentioning a sugar maple. [chuckles]

Nick: I didn't recommend it though. [laughs]

Doug: All right. Nick, Thanks again.

Nick: Good to talk to you, Doug.

Doug: Next week, we've got a very special show detailing Saluting Branches, volunteer tree work at veteran cemeteries. I think you'll find this to be a moving episode. As always, we like to remind you on the Talking Trees podcast, trees are the answer.


[00:17:48] [END OF AUDIO]