Talking Trees with Davey Tree

Correctly Hang Outdoor Lights on Trees + Gifts for Tree Lovers!

December 02, 2021 The Davey Tree Expert Company Season 1 Episode 47
Talking Trees with Davey Tree
Correctly Hang Outdoor Lights on Trees + Gifts for Tree Lovers!
Show Notes Transcript

Lou Meyer, business developer for Davey's mid-Atlantic region, shares all of his advice on how to correctly and safely hang outdoor lights on your trees this holiday season, as well as some gift ideas for a special tree lover in your life. 

In this episode we cover:

  • Putting lights on trees safely (0:50)
  • Outdoor safe lights (1:35)
  • Extension cord and electric tape (3:15)
  • Can you keep lights on all year? 4:33)
  • How to correctly put lights on the tree (6:04)
  • Staple gun? (7:35)
  • Formula for how many lights on a tree (8:22)
  • Putting lights on a young tree (9:51)
  • Gifts for tree lovers (10:43)
  • Pruning saws (13:07)
  • Pruning (16:18)
  • Maryland's season this year (18:23)
  • Which is worse - too much water or a drought? (19:01)
  • Lou's favorite part about his job (19:57)

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

To learn more about safely hanging outdoor lights on your trees, read our blog, How to Safely Hang Outdoor Lights: The Dos and Don'ts.
To learn more about hanging outdoor lights on tall trees, read our blog, How to Put Christmas Lights on Tall Outdoor Trees.
To learn more about keeping lights on your tree year round, read our blog, Is it OK to Keep Outdoor Lights on Year Round?
To learn more about trimming your own trees, read our blog, DIY - How to Trim Tree Branches Yourself.

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 pest, 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 this week by Lou Meyer. He was one of my very first guests before I even knew how to do this job [laughs]. Lou is a Regional Business Developer for Maryland and the DC area for the Davey Tree Expert Company. Welcome to the show again, Lou.

Lou Meyer: Hey, thanks so much, Doug. It's great to be with you.

Doug: We're talking all about holiday and Christmas lights and putting them on trees. I can't wait to hear about this because I see them all over the place. I wonder what do I have to do to do this safely? I worry about electricity and being out there wrapped around a tree.

Lou: Sure, there's a lot of factors to think about. It's one of our favorite traditions is the outdoor lighting. It just makes everything much more festive. There are right ways to do it, and wrong ways to do it. There's probably a lot of gray area in between but we like to focus on the trees themselves, and how lights affect those trees. Some different things to keep in mind while you're doing that.

Doug: I guess I'll start off with the old-fashioned lights, like I use indoor on my tree here aren't the lights I want to be using out there, right?

Lou: No, sir. The indoor lights are rated for indoor use only. They can cause fire damage. They can short out easily a lot of things. You want to make sure that you're using lights that are rated for outdoor use only. The new LED lights that have been coming out in the past six years are your absolute best bet. They last far longer, they use far less energy, and they have low heat. They're really not affecting the issues of the trees. One downside I have found with them is that they use soy a lot in the plastic coating of those, and squirrels and other varmint love chewing on them.

If you can get them without the soy additives, my neighborhood email feed last year had a lot of people complaining about the critters too on their Christmas lights and that came out as, "Oh, that's something to think about."

Doug: Do you think they were complaining, about the squirrel?

Lou: [laughs] It was an enlightening moment. Make sure you're using the correct rated lights for these outdoor uses. One of the other benefits of this LED since they use so little energy is that you can string more of them together. Of course, follow the packaging, follow the recommended usage, but you're going to see you can get a lot more distance than those old-fashioned incandescents.

Doug: I'm running an extension cord out from the garage or wherever it might be where I have a connection I'm going to put some electrical tape on that. Is that so far so good?

Lou: Yes. You want to make sure that it's sealed up as much as possible.

Doug: I'm not just running off the tree like I normally would as long as the tree is the right size. I'm not going to be climbing up a 25-foot Hemlock or oak or whatever it might be. I want to leave that for the experts. Right?

Lou: Right. Absolutely. Stay in your lane. Be safe. Especially when it's cold and slippery, you don't want to be up high. yes. If you have access to a bucket truck and the skills to run one, go for it. You know, there are different Davey offices around the country that do specific holiday trees. For instance, I was a part of the Chesapeake office for the past three years and one of our annual clients is the Navy Alumni House at the Naval Academy in Annapolis where we decorate, I don't know, a 50 foot tall [unintelligible 00:04:19] cedar, it's absolutely gorgeous but that has to be left to professionals. It's an intense affair. Anything that you can reach comfortably is good.

Doug: Do I have to put them on and then take them off again or can they stay on or is there something dependent on the tree or the wires?

Lou: Great question. You can leave them on year-round. Again, make sure that they're rated for that and that they're heavy-duty. What you don't want to do is wrap them around the tree and leave them on year after year after year without changing them. If you're just draping them over the branches of the tree, especially if it's a smaller tree that you can reach and replace them if they do fall off, then yes, where you can monitor it closely. If it's up in a 75-foot canopy, you're not going to be able to monitor it. The issue with leaving them on year after year sometimes comes in when people wrap the trunk of the tree, or wrap those branches tightly. What they don't think about is the girth growth that the tree puts on every year, that trunk is going to grow in diameter. As it does that, two things will happen. One, the health of the tree will diminish as those cords girdle the tree.

They cut into the cambium, which is the vascular system of the tree, and prohibit the flow of nutrients and liquids through the tree itself. The other thing is, is that you're going to eventually snap those lines. As the tree grows, it will probably break your line, hopefully not causing a short, which could result in a fire or electric discharge but at the very least destroying your lights in the process.

Doug: When we're putting them on, we're just weaving them. Is that a term you would-- Or how would you explain that?

Lou: Yes. Well, it depends. If you're doing an evergreen tree, say a pine tree or a fir, something that would be used as a Christmas tree as RJ Laverne so eloquently spoke on last week's Talking Trees, on earlier this year. With the evergreen trees, yes, you can drape it, you can weave it in between the branches and you want to get that multi-layered look to it.

Make sure that you're putting some space in between the layers, so that it's not top-heavy with light or bottom-heavy, if you're going for the full esthetic look. If it's a deciduous tree, one that loses its leaves, they don't have as much scaffolding as an evergreen would, so that you're going to be doing a little more winding to make sure that those lines are staying connected.

Now you can put things hanging from the branches that'll hold the lines. If you want to wrap a zip tie around a branch a little loosely and zip tie those lines to it, I'm a zip tie fanatic, my wife hates it. They're everywhere all over my house. I keep everything together with zip ties. You got to make sure again to remove those at the end of the season or every few seasons as the tree grows so that they don't begin to girdle the trees.

Doug: I've looked at some pictures online at some bigger oaks and stuff with the lights on there. I also saw somebody talking about using a staple gun to put them on. Is that something we do on a tree or is that something we don't want to do on a tree?

Lou: I wouldn't recommend it, no. We drive aluminum nails into trees when we do inventories all the time. Most staples are made of aluminum and that is less harmful to the tree. I'm not a metallurgist, so I don't know how it all works. I'm not great at chemistry, but I do know that we use aluminum in trees frequently. No, if you have your option, I would not be shooting staples into a tree.

Doug: Talking a little bit about science, I also, in doing my research, for today's podcast, I saw a formula for trying to figure out how many lights to put on a tree. I'm not smart enough to use a formula. I'm going to buy more lights than I use and I'm just going to run them around the tree. Talk a little bit about knowing how many lights to get for this job.

Lou: Sure. I've never used one of these formulas before. The Davey Tree Expert Company blog has a great article on it and I'm going to read this straight from there. You start by crunching the numbers. You measure the circumference and the height of the trunk and think about how far apart you'd like to space your lights. The go-to is usually two to three inches apart. Next, divide the height by the distance you'll put between the lights and multiply that by the circumference to find out how many feet of lights you need. There's also lots of online tree light calculators, so if you want to skip the math yourself,

Doug: Let me stop you right there. My brain hurts.

Lou: You and me both. There are calculators to use. You and I both just put lights on, if we need more lights we'll just grab some more lights and put more on.

Doug: That's right. "Where are you going?" "I'm headed to the store again for more lights for a tree." I'm not smart enough to use the calculator.

Lou: Exactly.

Doug: We talked about bigger trees but how big of a tree do we put the lights on? You got to be careful if you got a little sapling, right?

Lou: Absolutely, yes. The strength of the tree is really important and size does equal strength with trees, generally. Any new trees that you've recently planted, even bigger trees that you've recently planted, you probably want to avoid putting lights on, to allow them to establish theirself but yes, smaller trees that are a little more fragile, you want to avoid heavy loading with lights but I do think there's a place for it. If you have a smaller string of lights and you have a small tree, then go for it. Just be wary of the size of the tree versus the amount of weight you're putting onto it.

Doug: Well, that's a pretty comprehensive look at lights on trees but since I have you here, what are some good gifts for tree lovers, you and I are tree lovers and what would you want to get for the holidays this year?

Lou: Sure. Great question. One thing that I always love giving as gifts are books. There's a number of great tree books out there. One of the big ones for the past few years is Overstory, by Richard Powers, it's a great fiction, weaves in some tree science, some environmental justice, and some really interesting storytelling. The Secret Life of Trees is one that came out a few years ago, Peter Warbling, I believe was the guy's name who wrote it and it talks all about how trees sense the world around them. A fascinating book for any tree lover, and then one for the younger tree lovers. There's a, I Can Name 50 Trees Today.

It wasn't Dr. Seuss that wrote it, but it's in the same feel and so it's 50 tree IDs, they have pictures and it also talks about some of the tree biology, it's a wonderful book for kids, so I Can Name 50 Trees Today is great. Another great gift feature is tools. Any tree person loves talking tools and loves playing with them. A nice pruning saw, pair of hand pruners if you have someone special in your life. Corona makes, is a brand that makes great fold-out pruning saws, it's very simple. You can get expensive-professional hand pruning saws that we use in the industry, but because we're using them 10 hours a day, 8 to 10 hours a day, Coronas are great fold-out ones, affordable and pruners, can't go wrong with FELCO Number 2s.

I'm sure Chanel makes other numbers but Chanel Number 5 is the only perfume out there, Corona FELCO Number 2 is the line so, but a good pair of pruners is going to set you back a couple of bucks. Then finally, if stuff, things aren't your thing, there are some really wonderful foundations you could donate to. Make a donation to the Arbor Day Foundation or the National Forest Foundation. You probably have a local conservancy by you that does a lot of land conservancy and donating in someone's name is an environmental way to do things. I always love doing that as well.

Doug: Well, I want to go back to the tools because I have a few technical questions for you as somebody who has a Corona pruning saw, first off, explain, if you can, the importance of a pruning saw, how it is, it's different than-- You see people out there with like the old fashion saw at their tree. That's the wrong way to do it. Talk a little bit about what a pruning saw is, and then I have another question about it. As far as do I do I sharpen it or do I just replace the blade? Because I have no-- Do I take it somewhere to be sharpened or do I just replace the blade because I wouldn't even know how to sharpen it?

Lou: Sure, well, the pruning saws are much smaller for one so it's a lot easier on your body to use. They cut on the pole and what that means is when you've got the blade across the limb, when you are pulling it, that's when it's doing the cutting, and when you're pushing the blade, it's actually not cutting but it is clearing the groove that you've just cut. It's a much cleaner cut. It's much easier on you and it's better for the tree as well.

Doug: What about the sharpening? What about the blade?

Lou: Yes, you can sharpen it, any hardware store that my local Ace Hardware sharpens blades, they love doing that, you get their professional sharpening places around a lot of times, saw shops will do some sharpening for you. As for hand pruners, I sharpen my own. I have a part file that I use and I've got a Dremel that I like to use on it as well. Make sure that the hand pruners are up to snuff with a sharp blade also hit him with a little lubricant every once in a while, clean off that blade, especially if you're cutting evergreens with sap, so that they're not sticking together and of course, whenever you're pruning trees, cleaning the blade as well is a good idea.

Doug: I laughed when you said FELCO Number 2 because everywhere you go when you see a professional gardener, you're going to see the red handles of a FELCO Number 2 coming out of there. Like you said, there are other numbers. I like your Chanel Number 5 analogy but for people, like if you have trouble gripping, like they have a FELCO that kind of rotates for you and that thing but yes, the FELCO number 2, and like you said, it's not an inexpensive tool but in both these tools that you talked about, and in tools in general, for this kind of work, spend the most money that you can because these tools should last for generations.

Lou: Oh, absolutely. I've had my Felcos for 20 years in the industry. I've seen them last a lot longer than that too.

Doug: Within the case of the FELCO, all those parts, it's good Swiss steel, first off, and all those parts, if you can't sharpen it at a certain point, you can buy a little blade and screw it right in there. When you're talking about the pruning saws, since we've got the topic going here, talk a little bit about, I see this all the time where people go into pruning tree, first off, we're not going to get into the right time to do it because every tree is different but when you have a branch, I see people go right a quarter-inch from the trunk and when they make one cut, the branch starts to come off, and then it tears the bark off. That's not the right way to prune a branch. If you could, since we're talking-- We happen to get into pruning, if you could just talk a little bit about the way you guys do it.

Lou: Sure, we use what's called the three-part prune, and actually, actually, RJ Laverne is the one who taught me this one. If you've got a branch, especially if it's bigger than what you can control, if you're cutting a two-inch branch off of a Hawthorne, and you could put one hand on the cut end and clip it with the hand pruners and the other one single cut is fine but once you start getting into that three, four, even six-inch branches when you're using a handsaw, especially, you want to go about six to eight inches out from the trunk on the underside of that branch, and use that saw on the underside of the branch to cut about a third of the way through the branch.

Any more than that, you can start pinching your saw so you want to stop about a third of the way through, then go back to the top of the branch, go another one to two inches out from the trunk and begin to cut from the top of the branch through the limb and what's likely going to happen is about halfway through, that branch is going to start to break off and because of your undercut, the bark will not continue to peel.

It'll snap right there and you'll have a nice clean, it looks like a squared off cut, and then, so that's cut number one is underside cut, number two is on top outside of that, and then you go back to the main union at either the stem or the dominant branch and you make a clean cut at the branch bark color with a controllable weight that is left for you to control.

Doug: Yes, it's not going to tear the bark off. As we finish up here, what kind of season did you guys have, Maryland, DC this year?

Lou: It was somewhat typical. It was dry for, unfortunately, the last part of it. Our fall color was not very spectacular this year but it was wet spring, dry summer, fairly typical. We've had some wild ones the past few years. 2018 was the wettest on record, 2019 we had a long drought. 2020 and 2021 have been typical seasons, but our forests are really suffering from those two wild, wavy years in 18 and 19.

Doug: From your perspective, is a drought worse or too much water worse?

Lou: I think too much water. With a drought, you can feed your trees especially speaking from a residential standpoint, you can control the water and a drought year on your landscape. When it's too wet, you can't just stick a sump pump underneath every tree and hope that it works and these trees have-- Droughts are much more common than really wet years, and the trees have evolved to deal with that. Now, obviously, a long drought is going to be an issue for any tree that's not being maintained but too much water just suffocates them, it pushes all the oxygen out of the ground and it's hard to overcome that.

Doug: Before I let you go, last time we talked a little bit about how you got into the business, but if you don't mind, tell me a little bit about what you get out of this job, [crosstalk] doing this.

Lou: Sure. Yes, I love talking every day with people about how we can improve their outdoor environment, how we can improve their outdoor world. Discussing safety and esthetics and longevity. People love trees. It's unlike any other product out there. I have dogs, and I love dogs, and I go to the vet and I love talking about a dog, but trees are part of our everyday life. Everyone's exposed to them. Even if you live in a dense urban area, there's street trees that you see, and people love to talk about them, and they love to learn about them. To learn little facts about them. They want them to improve. They play such an important role in our survival and in our enjoyment, and in our everyday life that knowing a little bit about them is just a lot of fun.

Doug: Good stuff, Lou. Before I let you go, I'm coming to Baltimore next month for a trade show, and I'd really love it if you'd buy me dinner. [chuckles]

Lou: Oh, absolutely. You got it. We can do some crab cakes, some Maryland crab cakes, or here in Baltimore, the big thing is pit beef, which is smoked beef. It's like roast beef but really good, it's not roasted, it's smoked.

Doug: All right, you pick the place and I'm buying, all right?

Lou: You got it, Doug. This'll be great.

Doug: All right, Lou. Thanks again for your time, and we will see you in about a month.

Lou: Thank you so much. Have a wonderful holiday.

Doug: You, too, buddy. I can't wait to meet up with Lou. Can you imagine two tree nerds together for dinner? What would we possibly talk about? Tune in every Thursday to the Talking Trees podcast from the Davey Tree Expert Company. I'm your host, Doug Oster, and do me a favor, subscribe to the podcast. I hope you're having as much fun listening as I am hosting the show. Be sure to tune in next week because the topic is Plan Your Garden Now: The Benefits of Planning in the Winter. I love the anticipation of planning, it's one of the fun things about gardening, especially with trees.

As always, we like to remind you on the Talking Trees podcast, trees are the answer.

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