Travis Vickerson from Chippers, Inc., a Davey company, talks about his favorite trees with beautiful fall colors, why your trees might not be losing their leaves and much more to help you learn something new about fall and the trees on your property.
In this episode we cover:
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To learn more about trees with colorful fall foliage, read our blog, "Fall Foliage: Best Trees and Shrubs for Red Fall Color."
To learn about trees that lose their leaves in the spring, read our blog, "Why are My Trees Shedding or Losing Leaves in Spring?"
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Doug Oster: Welcome to the Davey Tree Expert Company's podcast Talking Trees. I'm your host, Doug Oster. Each episode showcases one of Davies'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, 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 today by Travis Vickerson. He's an assistant district manager for the Davey Tree Expert Company in New Hampshire and Vermont where the trees are just starting to change and that's what we're going to talk about today. How are you today, Travis?
Travis Vickerson: Hey, Doug. I'm doing great, and like you said, we're just on the precipice of fall, look out the window and you can start to see them change right before your eyes.
Doug: Well, we're all looking forward to fall foliage, that's for sure. Not winter, but fall foliage. Why do those trees change color?
Travis: Well, it's a unique thing, Doug, a lot of these trees actually, now when we say change color. They're really not changing color, the color is always there. These pigments that we're seeing come out in the fall, the yellows, the orange, and the browns are actually there all the time, but they're hidden behind the green that's produced from the chlorophyll. The green pigment of the leaves comes from the chlorophyll. As the tree starts to shut down its processes going into winter starting to hibernate itself, it starts pulling the chlorophyll production, and that green starts to recess from the leaves.
As that green recesses, it exposes these yellows, these oranges, and these browns, and then those pinks and the purples and the red pigments actually are manufactured in the fall. As the tree begins to shut down for winter, it starts to create other pigments through other types of enzymes and other processes of the tree very similar to chlorophyll that produces these very vibrant colors. A lot of this is dictated very much by the weather. Everybody thinks that oh, it just has to do with it getting cold. Well, yes, cold weather does play those factors, but also has to do with what kind of spring did you have?
What kind of summer did you have? Was it a wet summer? Was it a dry summer? Was it a wet fall or a wet spring? Then you start looking at the fall. Was it a rapid cooldown or was it a slow cooldown? All these things will play into the tree and really determine what kind of fall colors you're going to have. Also where you live in the United States is going to change that. Up here in New England as you said, our trees are changing right before our eyes. I've got a gorgeous sugar maple out my window here in my office and you can watch the green start pulling from the leaves.
Some leaves are actually half green half red right now, as it starts to pull in every single day getting more and more red and less and less green. Yet down in the southeast, they're still going strong in summer right now. I'm actually from North Carolina relocated to New England a few years back. Down there, they're still having the 90 to 100 degree days and they're really enjoying that summer weather they get ready to go into cool fall weather. It really depends on where you're at Doug but yes, it's definitely an exciting time of year.
Doug: Just about every arborist I've talked to on the podcast brings up sugar maples, is that one of your favorite fall trees?
Travis: It absolutely is, one because I love pancakes so, therefore, fall leads to winter which leads to syrup production. Here at Chippers, the Davey Company we actually boil our own syrup, make about 3,000 gallons of syrup a year out of our sugar maple crops, but they are just amazing for color. That sweet glycol that's in the tree that SAP just does such amazing things for the colors. New England is actually really unique, a lot of people travel to New England just for the leaves, Doug, and that has to do with because our temperatures are so perfect going into fall where we are a wet climate, we have very cool nights with rather warm sunny days, and that just leaves very vibrant colors.
This year especially is looking like it's going to be a prime year for color change. Last year, it actually happened a little weird. Last year was staggered and really slow and drawn out the year before that it all happened really quickly. That quick changeover is really it produces those hillside quilt work, if you will, of colors.
Doug: What is it about this season that makes you think it's going to be a great one for fall foliage?
Travis: Well for us up here we had a very wet summer. We've got a lot of moisture in the ground. Last year we had a very dry summer so we were in a drought situation, the trees were already stressed. It caused them to start changing earlier in the year and prolong that change. Instead of all the trees changing at one time, it was more staggered where this year we've had a really good wet season.
We've had some warm weather but not overly warm weather throughout summer. We haven't seen a lot of stress from drought and high heat. The trees are really primed for that really good color change and we entered into a really cold nighttime spell in the last week or so that's really going to produce those changes pretty quickly.
Doug: That's great information about the difference in the season and how our fall foliage looks. Are there some other trees you'd like to talk about when it comes to fall color?
Travis: I love oak trees. I love the browns in the oaks and ironically enough, Doug, I'm actually colorblind, a red-green colorblind, so I had a very hard time seeing the different shades of reds and greens. When I look out across the hillside landscape, the reds and the pinks and the oranges somewhat blend together for me along with all those deciduous trees, and then the conifers being green all create a solid backdrop but the oaks, the browns, I can see the browns really well, Doug, being colorblind, so I love oak trees and all the tannins that come out in those brown colors.
Doug: If I was to ask you, what other trees you might suggest that have great fall color, considering, of course, the I've got the space for it and the right cultural requirements, what would you think?
Travis: Absolutely. As an arborist we always know the right tree right place, we want to make sure they have the right soil, the right conditions, and the right ability for that tree to grow into the large majestic structure it's going to be. Obviously maple hands down, can't lose on maples but you start to look at some of the oaks as well from the dogwoods, you start getting some of the more flowering trees.
I love the flowering because you get great leaf production in the fall and then you get great flower production in the spring. It's a double hit. I'm a huge fan coming out of North Carolina of the dogwood down south and I love seeing those color changes as those greens are turning into purples and the stark reds and whatnot through fall.
Doug: I want to change gears yes, we get all that color, and then the leaves drop but there's still plenty of interest in trees that are in our forests and our landscape. Right?
Travis: I'm a climber, Doug, I started my career over 20 years ago, climbing trees. What I look for in trees, especially outside of the forest environment with our urban forests, or residential commercial properties is that great tree structure reminds me of the live oaks in the south or in Texas, or you look at some of the Spanish moss hanging down in Savannah off the trees and just that wonderful, big branch structure that just craves to be climbed by young kids and an arborist alike.
For me, it's about structure. Also, look at some of the pines that are out there, you start getting some of these really interesting white pine trees, and start seeing some amazing growth structure habits that come with them and really provides a very diverse climate for us in the forest, as well as just in our garden spaces alike.
Doug: As far as winter interest is concerned, some oak trees will actually hang on to their leaves. I know that because I have to rake them later in the year,
Travis: They will, some trees actually will hold on the leaves almost the entire way through winter and they actually won't drop their leaves until spring when the new leaf production begins to form and the petiole is cut free from the stem of the tree from the new growth and actually pushed out of the way so it holds on to them in the last second. It'll drop them in the spring. One thing that reminds me Doug is we need to make sure that when people start seeing leaves drop that they're dropping for the right reasons.
Going into fall, we know hey, our leaves should be turning they should be dropping. If your leaves are dropping in maybe late spring and early summer, late summer, that might be conditions of drought, also could be insects, disease and you definitely should contact your local arborist to get your tree looked at the changing and dropping leaves in a time of year that normally it doesn't do that.
Doug: How about trees that have winter interest as far as the bark is concerned, is there anything to think of there?
Travis: Oh, yes, there's all kinds of trees out there they've got amazing bark structure, one that comes to my mind actually is the monkey puzzle tree. The monkey puzzle tree is a very unique tree, it's got these leaves that grow actually on the bark area of the tree and they're triangles, and they're all pointing in different directions and it makes it where predators and pests can't actually climb the tree. It prevents that from happening. They're extremely sharp. It's just a very unique, gorgeous tree. You start getting some of the color-changing barks, you start looking at some other species of trees that have shedding bark. It really gets interesting when we start geeking out on the trees.
Doug: Tell me a little bit about why this job is right for you. You said you came in as a climber?
Travis: I joined the industry 20 years ago as a 17-year-old kid right in high school who didn't know what he really wanted to do with his life and started doing tree work with a storm chaser actually. It just led one thing led to another and I realized that I really had a joy and a passion for doing tree work, my father had an entrepreneurial mind as well.
We went into business together, created my first company, Vertical Landscapes of Raleigh, in North Carolina, and had that company for a number of years and sold that company off and then got a chance to travel all over the country, teaching other climbers how to country safely how to countries efficiently, and then I've branched down into leadership and safety culture training for companies and consulting on the business side of companies before coming to work for Davey now as an assistant district manager in Davey.
Doug: Well, I'm telling you, I have a fear of heights and whenever I see the guys from Davey up in those trees, it gives me the willies but talk a little bit about the progression of starting out learning those safety tips and then teaching them also making sure everyone else is safe.
Travis: Absolutely. That's one of the beautiful and crazy things about our industry, Doug, is it's unregulated. Anybody can go to Home Depot, anybody can buy a chainsaw, and start a tree care company up in their backyard. There's no regulation really on them, outside of a few key states. It allows a lot of people to get in this industry and not always learn the safest-- I wouldn't call it dangerous and I wouldn't call it hazardous, but it does have some risks if you don't know how to do it correctly.
When I learned 20 years ago, I actually learned the complete wrong way to climb a tree. I was taught to bear hug the tree and spike it the whole way up and then put my lanyard on and no ropes and just cut my way all the way down to the base of the tree and through a lot of training, and a lot of self-discipline I've progressed through my abilities to now the point of teaching others how to progress their abilities through climbing on spikes to climbing on rope based systems and progressing through those things.
Doug: Are you nervous up in that tree like I would be? I would just be scared when I look out there. I've got guys from Davey coming here all the time. When I see those guys the guy down below with a rope, the guy up above in a rope in the tree cutting, I guess I assume that you have to feel differently than certainly, I would in that tree.
Travis: I'm going to say something that's probably going to get me in trouble with other climbers out there, Doug, but I still get nervous when I climb trees. It's still there. I actually caution climbers that if they don't get nervous sometimes, they probably need to assess that this is really what they need to continue doing. There is something unnatural about being up in a tree and that tree moving in the wind. It's also a very freeing thing. It's my sanctuary, I call it. It's where I go to clear my headspace.
I get up in a tree and just feel the tree move, be a part of that organism for a few minutes or a few hours, but no, there's definitely a sense, especially if you're doing removal work. I don't know, a single climber out there who doesn't take the top of a tree off with using a chainsaw. There's always a little bit of that fear and that fear is actually healthy. That's a good fear. I get scared on ladders. How you feel about heights, that's how I feel about ladders. Give me a rope and a tree any day of the week over a ladder.
Doug: I got heights and I got ladders too, so I don't know. [chuckles]
Travis: Gardening is good for you then.
Doug: Yes. I leave that to the pros, and that's my point here. I say this all the time in the podcast, I have good friends that they just want to do it themselves, and I've seen them come very close to some tragic situations. Get a pro to do this, you've got to know what you're doing.
Travis: It's a little bit art, a little bit science in everything we do. I try to explain to new climbers coming in the industry, as a climber in a tree when you're starting to work a tree down, especially in removal work or heavy pruning reduction work, you've got to be able to think three or four steps ahead of every action you do, because like everything, there's an equal and opposite reaction to every action. In the tree care industry, when you're working aloft and there's a reaction to an action you take, you can't just drop your saw and run away like you could on the ground, you're tied to that tree.
You need to make sure that whatever action you're going to create is going to create the correct reaction for that action that's going to provide a safe environment. It's one of those things I tell customers all the time. A lot of people don't know this, if you hire a tree care company and they come on your property and they do not have workers' comp insurance and they may have general liability and that's great to protect your house, but they don't have workers' comp insurance. One of those workers gets hurt on your property, working for you technically as a subcontractor, your homeowner's insurance, and your personal liability is on a line there.
It really pays to hire a company that has the right insurance, has the right safety and training initiatives in their company.
Doug: Every day I'm getting calls from people about their trees. I always tell them, call Davey, get their certified arborist to come out, they come out for free, they can tell you if you should do it, if they should do it, if anything needs to be done at all. Then I wanted to talk, especially this time of the year, about the importance of having safety checks of having an arborist come out and take a look.
Travis: This time of year, depending on where you're out in the country, you're probably dealing with different things. Coming out of the south, you're looking at hurricane season. Up here in the north, you're getting ready for winter and winter storm season. What you need to be looking at different as a professional arborist, when you go onto a property, you're assessing those things. You're looking at the tree structure, looking at the root plate to make sure the root plate's solid, or make sure growth habits are going to be strong unions. You're not going to worry about weak include bark unions failing in storm weather.
After hurricanes come through a lot of people think that's when you need to not worry about it if you didn't have any damage under your house or from your property, but you also should have a consulting arborist come out or a professional arborist in your area come out and assess your property after a storm comes through, because they may be able to identify some areas that have weakened or some potential hazards that are there, that you may not see and not be aware of.
Definitely prepping aqua storms, going winter, we want to be making sure we're doing in weight reduction on branches that are over houses or over power lines. Start getting those weight back to the core of the tree, so when those heavy snow loads come, hopefully, they don't come before the leaves fall, because then you're going to have a wet snow situation on a leaf structure, which are going to prevent just huge weight loads in our trees and cause a lot of catastrophic errors that end up causing us a lot of issues with our homes and our power going out.
Definitely that time of year, you want to be preparing for that depending on what season you're dealing with and what you're dealing with in your own climate.
Doug: Travis, talk a little bit about the joy of going to a property, talking to a customer, and saving a tree because people oftentimes have a special connection with the trees on their property.
Travis: Absolutely. For me, there's something really special about not only taking care of trees because believe it or not, we need trees, they don't need us. It's a funny thing. I've seen a few bumper stickers out there about if trees gave away Wi-Fi, they'd be planted everywhere, but they give away oxygen and we don't care for them like we should. I love taking care of a customer's property so they really can enjoy their outdoor space. A lot of times we think of our house as the inside confines of the walls, but your house is also the property surrounding it.
To be able to enjoy that property and have people get the best use of that property is really what's important, I think. Going into a customer's house, talking to them about what they're looking for and what we can do to help them achieve that. Then sometimes you actually find a customer calls you out for a removal, and you say, looks like it may be doing some pruning, instead you might end up with a better product than if you had just removed it because you're frustrated with the leaves and branches dropping all the time. We could go ahead and do some pruning and take care of it better that way.
Also, you've got plant healthcare where we come in, talked about earlier that these trees are starting to drop their leaves early, you got discolored leaves earlier than it should be. Maybe you have a disease or a damaged root system there and we can do root [unintelligible 00:16:03] we can do PHC applications, plant healthcare applications of those trees to help restore them to that vigor so next fall, they've got that beautiful color that you're going to miss out on this year because they might have a few issues going on that you may not be able to take care of.
Doug: Travis, that sounds like the perfect place to leave it at. Thanks for all that information especially for us in the east, knowing that we're going to have this great fall foliage to enjoy. Thanks again for your time.
Travis: Thank you very much, Doug. It was a pleasure and I really look forward to helping others and helping everybody learn to outlive our trees, one tree at a time, that's the goal of education.
Doug: Oh, good stuff for sure. Now 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. We're having so much fun talking about trees next week for Canada's National Forest Week, the value of forests. We all love the trees, right? As always, we'd like to remind you on the Talking Trees podcast. Trees are the answer.
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