Jason Gaskill from Davey's Wilmington, Delaware, office talks about the benefits of planning your garden in the winter and what you should be doing now to help your trees be happy and healthy come spring.
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To learn more about the best time of year to prune, read our blogs, When is the Best Time to Prune Trees? and Importance of Pruning: 5 Reasons to Prune During the Winter Season.
To learn more about planting your tree properly, watch our three part video: Right Tree, Right Place, Right Way Part 1 and Right Way Part 2.
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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, much more. Tune in every Thursday to learn more because here at the Talking Trees podcast, we know trees are the answer. This week, I'm joined by Jason Gaskill. He's an assistant district manager for the Davey Tree Expert Company in Wilmington, Delaware. How are you, Jason?
Jason: I'm doing wonderful. Thanks, Doug.
Doug: We're talking all about planning. I love planning, but when I'm thinking about planning, I'm thinking about, "Okay, what kind of tree am I going to put in here? What kind of tree I'm going to put in there?" We're both in the east. Do I still have time to squeeze a tree into the soil at this point of the season?
Jason: You know what? I always say that you have time as long as the ground's not frozen. If you can dig, you can plant. Now, you might not be able to get the tree that you exactly want because depending on nurseries, you're kind of getting the end of the barrel there. Nurseries have dug their stuff and they got it out for sale and you might see some sales trying to get rid of inventory. That stuff could be planted, but of course, you're going to have your fall hazards where they can't dig a tree this time of year without actually causing injury to the tree. Yes, absolutely, you can plant trees, install sod, and do things like that as long as you're not jackhammering up frosted tundra.
Doug: Jason, I am one of gardening's biggest cheapskates, and trees that are already dug at my local nurseries, they're heeling them in now for the winter, but they seem to be willing to sell them at a discount just so they don't have to store it for the winter.
Jason: That's right, and that's okay, and sometimes you can get a decent deal. I'm always wary when you're-- I like gardening at a discount too, and I think the biggest thing to prepare and look at is are you getting good stock or are you getting something that's been abused in the nursery all summer long that's got a lot of roots coming out of the burlap, it's maybe been banged around, you might see broken limbs on it. It might not have a good root color. It could have the barks scraped off because it's been moved from one side of the nursery to another. Maybe it's been forgot about in the watering.
Sometimes there's a reason why they're your last. It's like when you're a kid and you're playing dodgeball and you're the last one picked, sometimes you're not always the best on the team. You could think about that with trees too when you're picking them out to make sure that you're not getting the-- the runt of the litter might be okay, it doesn't have to be the biggest specimen. Tell you the truth, sometimes when you plant smaller, it's a much better idea anyway, and the tree gets established and grows bigger than installing a bigger tree initially anyhow.
Doug: Well, that's a great point, and that's why I am always telling people, go to a good nursery to get your trees. One of the most important things that you see at a good nursery is somebody dragging that hose around. You got to make sure that tree has been cared for. I know that right tree, right place. I talk about that every podcast, but since we're in the kind of the same climate, you're Philadelphia area, I'm Pittsburgh area, if you had your druthers, is there a tree that you really love that it doesn't get planted that much? I ask this question to arborists a lot and I like to hear what they say.
Jason: Yes, I have a set of favorites that goes from what would be a nice shade tree to a nice medium size garden tree, lawn tree, or a small tree that might be nice planted near the house. I guess one of my classic favorites when they talk about trees that are good for waterlogged areas too, they're also good for drought because that means they have a root system that can take anaerobic conditions, which also means they could take conditions where they don't get a lot of rain too. They're efficient trees, so black gum, Nyssa is one of my favorites.
This time of year, the leaves might have fallen entirely in Pittsburgh there, but right now, my black gum in my front yard is turning a nice bright orange and red. I think it's a fantastic tree. It's not dirty. Some people get a little afraid when you hear gum trees, start thinking sweet gumballs and monkey balls, and all of those things, but they're not related and they're saying it's the monkey ball and they have small leaves which are easy to clean up and don't get stuck in tines of the rake. They got a nice glossy leaf and they come out with a little bit of red color too, and they have a nice form. That's one of my favorite medium-sized tree. I saw you smile, so that might be one of your likes. [crosstalk]
Doug: Jason, you're not alone in that. Yes, I love that tree too, but so do so many other arborists. It's funny how often it comes up, and yet for the basic consumer, I think it's off the beaten path tree even though we just love it. Let's get back to planning a little bit. When you think planning at this time of the season, as an arborist, what comes to mind for you?
Jason: Well, planning for me is what can we do in the wintertime that is going to be good for the tree's health. When we often talk about pruning, I see a lot of and you probably see a lot of this too, is that people have misconceptions of what are the best times of pruning and people are always-- a lot of this comes to maybe it's around holidays or around times that people are enjoying their landscapes, but spring and fall become the times where people think, "Oh, fall is the best time in pruning."
Well, fall is probably actually the worst time of pruning if you're considering tree health. There are reasons why. In fall, you can do things like take out dead wood and such, but doing alterations and live wood pruning of a tree in the fall can sometimes be a bad idea because this is when fungus is at its greatest and when fungus is starting to put out their fruiting bodies. When you make a pruning cut, you leave that tree open and it's going dormant, but that open wound, the tree is actively compartmentalizing the wound and it can get infected with a sapwood rotting fungus that could be bad, armillaria or something like that.
You want to start planning for-- winter is one of the best times to prune because the tree's going to be dormant, fungus is basically gone, it's going to be cold, the arborist can move around the tree really well. We love doing winter pruning, arborists like it too. We could call them industrial athletes because they're working in the tree, they're working, so they're not uncomfortable. They're more uncomfortable in the summertime than they are pruning a tree in dead of winter. They could really move around a lot when they don't have all the foliage and so forth, and they can really see the bones and skeleton of the tree, see cracks and see things that they can't normally see in the tree when they're climbing around during the regular parts of the year.
Doug: You're never going to run into a bald-faced hornet's nest in the winter, right?
Jason: That's true. [laughs] In fact, it's a good time you could cut them off and sell them on Etsy or something like that. I see people buy them.
Doug: Again, from an arborist's standpoint for planning, what else are you looking at this time of the season?
Jason: Well, this time of the season, I mentioned the conks and the fruiting bodies. When you see mushrooms and things like that, those are telltale signs that there could be decay and you need an arborist to help you identify what type of decay it is. When you start seeing the fruiting bodies, that's just part of the organism, most of it is actually living in the trees or under the ground. When you see a mushroom that's only, call it the head above the sand, the rest of it's-- its kind of like the iceberg, when you see that diagram of how huge an iceberg is when it's underwater and it's just the tip out, that's just a piece of it.
The fruiting body is how it's reproducing. Those are telltale signs that there could be some trouble with your tree, not just in a health way, but in a structural way because I often see trees that are really healthy with fruiting bodies, but that doesn't mean, and it could be functioning, the vascular system could be functioning in the tree, but it might mean that some of the cellulose and stuff is compromised to the point whether structurally the tree is a danger or its weekend and could be a liability to fail.
Doug: Another thing that I think about for planning is looking for a spot for a tree to plant in the spring. If you're not going to be planting this time of the year, I'm like you, I like to plant right until the ground freezes if I can find something I really like, but looking over the landscape now when you have the bones of the garden, there is a good time to pick and choose a place for a tree. Again, I'm always, always on this podcast, and this is what I've learned from the arborist is right tree, right place, and knowing how big it's going to get, knowing what conditions it likes. This is a good time to look around and figure that out, right?
Jason: Absolutely. Often, this time of year, once the perennials are gone, and you have a little bit of a slate that's a little bit cleaner looking. You take some I call it the little things out of the picture of the landscape, and you can have maybe a sense of where things that are established are. Sometimes you look at a landscape if you got a lot of perennials and things like that, and say, "Wow, a tree couldn't go in there." You could eliminate some of that stuff for a year-round purpose like a tree but having some of that out of there. You also have time to think about it.
Often, with landscaping, people start thinking about landscape designs in the spring, and then companies are overbooked. If you start thinking about in April, May, and you consult with a landscape architect and say, "Hey, I'd like to have a new garden or a new planting bed established and some new trees planted," they'll say, "All right, sure, it's going to take this many weeks to work up a design or do this or get the tree and you're going to find yourself waiting." Either you're going to get planted in summer where you're going to be doing a lot of watering, or you're going to wait till fall or next year, but if you can talk to your arborist or a landscape company now and start planting, you're going to get on that list.
The arborist or the landscape companies, the designers, architects are going to be able to find that stock, the material that you want, and maybe give you some things that are more unique because if you wait, you're going to tend to get what is available, what the nurseries have committed to thinking what they're going dig. They might have a lot of stuff in their yard, but they might say, "Hey, you know what, we only dug 10 Stewartias last year. Let's not dig any more this year and next year." No, it's an invoke thing and that plant is not available later in the year because an architect decided they liked it or it became popular.
Doug: Well, you brought it up, Stewartia. Oh, man, I'm telling you, I waited for a long time to put a Stewartia, and I am so happy that I planted one. Maybe three falls ago because I got to see it bloom this year for the first time. That first time when you have planned for all this time, you plan like, oh, you've seen a Stewartia here or there and you're like, "I got to get it," and then it happens you're at the nursery, you get one, you put it in the right place. Like I said, two or three years later, all of a sudden, I'm coming around the corner, and boom, it's filled with flowers. Talk a little bit about that tree from your standpoint.
Jason: Is there a better four-season garden, small garden, medium-sized garden tree than a Stewartia? There's not many trees that can really truly give you four seasons. Some trees you might say, yes, well, Hawthornes giving you berries. That's sure if the birds don't eat it or rust doesn't take over the berries and make them look terrible, but Stewartia, you're getting the flowers in the summertime. You're getting a brilliant orange or red fall color, which is just really beautiful.
Even in the summertime, the leaves are very soft and almost hairy, just have a nice texture to them, nice bright color. It can even brighten up some areas and that camouflage bark is so cool looking. When they get old and they just look-- it's just a magnificent look to it. That smooth camouflaged bark in the wintertime can just make the things look really, really neat. Architecture is nice too, and it's also got a-- I think it's a good shape tree too.
A lot of times, when we think about small trees, people are looking, "Well, what can I plant by the walkway?" Well, smaller trees could be redbuds and dogwoods and things like that, but they tend to grow outward. They don't really fit because next thing you know, planning for the tree in the right place there might seem like a good idea, but it takes over your walkway, you can't get by. Stewartia has got a nice upright and you can train it in a nice upright way where it's going to fit in some of those corners of the houses by the walkway, those types of spaces.
Doug: When talking about planning in general and planting, I know I'm at the end of my season here, but I wanted to ask you, when do you like to plant your trees? What time of the season is best from your point of view, spring, fall? When you said summer planting, all I could think about was me standing there with my hose every other day praying that I'm getting enough water to that tree because I want it to survive.
Jason: Sure. Is there a worse time to plant than summer? You can plant in the winter, again, if you can with the ground, and depending on the availability of plants, it's going to be about the same as fall. Fall is fantastic, especially if you get it in early fall and you can get roots established and get some things going at that time. Early spring is fantastic too. I like early spring and it depends on when stuff becomes available and what you can get your hands on. The earlier the better, the more spring is going to be wet, moist, trees are going to be pushing outgrowth, they're going to be extending roots.
If you got a good planting bed and you're taking care of business in the soil, that tree is going to get established where you don't have to kill yourself with watering. It's amazing how much people say that trees, sleep, creep, and they leap, so that first year they're sleeping, but they're not really sleeping, they're doing a lot of their work underground to compensate for the nurserymen cutting a lot of the root mass off. Those roots have to catch up to the crown for the crown to start growing. A lot of that magic's happening underground immediately as soon as it gets in the ground.
Doug: It is magic, isn't it? Just so nice when you-- it has to be for you, it is for me, get a tree in the ground in the right place and have the right weather for it early on and get it established and know that that tree is going to be there for a long, long time, many times longer than the gardener.
Jason: That's right.
Doug: Tell me a little bit about how you got into this.
Jason: Well, I got into this as a nature lover. When I was a kid, we used to go camping and we didn't do a lot of the type of family vacations where we're going to resorts and things like that. It was always camping and outdoor stuff and I always liked being outdoors and playing around and monkeying under trees and being in the woods. I just liked that.
My idea and thought was always to do something in biology and I had a dream of being a park ranger and do interpretation of natural resources and be a naturalist. I went to school for that at the University of Delaware. I became a park ranger. I was a park ranger in North Dakota in Interp and did naturalist programs, and then because that was seasonal in nature and speaking with a lot of older rangers, they talked about the time and what it would take to get into full-time employment and the circling around the globe or the continent you'd have to do that get to that point.
In the wintertime, I got a job as a manager of a garden center, a strange time to get hired in a garden center as a manager, but it worked out. The guy liked me and I ended up working there for a season and I started liking plants. Even though I had taken plant classes I had done in a naturalist type of aspect, but I thought it was really cool the idea of caring for plants and trees, installing them and watching them grow and started working with insects and disease and the management of them. That's how I discovered our arboriculture.
I've been doing this for about 20 years, and got into the plant health care side of tree care was what was really what got me going and turned on. I just thought it was so cool to be a doctor of trees, to diagnose problems, to find insects and disease. Why is this tree struggling? Is it just struggling because of its conditions of stress? How can you make it better and doctor it up? I really enjoyed watching it with clients but watching myself be able to fix a tree and turn his health around and to see it looking really sad, and then being able to turn things around within a couple of years.
Doug: Well, I'm going to leave it right there. I do have one more question for you. Now, I was the last one picked in dodgeball. What about you when you were a kid? I bet you were the guy who was picking the people?
Jason: [laughs] No, not really. I was not. We moved around a lot. I guess I was the runt, but that's a good point. Sometimes you pick the runt and it becomes a pretty good sturdy tree.
Doug: All right, it sounds good. Jason, thanks so much for your time. That was good stuff-
Jason: Thank you, Doug.
Doug: -and keep it up out there. Keep doing what you're doing.
Jason: We will. I love it.
Doug: Well, there's no doubt about that. Wasn't that fun? Anyone else out there the last person picked for the team? I might have been the last person picked, but I was also one of the last people out at dodgeball. All right, enough of that. 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. Next week, we'll cover some important information about protecting your trees from winter storms. As always, we'd like to remind you on the Talking Trees podcast, trees are the answer.
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