Board Certified Master Arborist with The Davey Tree Expert Company

What is the best time for pruning trees? The old saying is the best time to prune trees is when the saw is sharp. There are some limitations; oak and elm trees should only be pruned in winter due to disease problems transmitted by insects. Winter is a great time to see branch structure that is hard to see with leaves on and a good time to work around sensitive areas like perennial gardens and ponds. Frozen ground makes it easier to protect lawns and gardens.

What is your favorite flowering tree for this zone?  My favorite flowering woody plant is actually a large shrub, Witchhazel. Common Witchhazel is native and flowers late in the year, like October/November. Vernal Witchhazel flowers in February/March and has small, delicate yellow flowers. They frame the flowering woody plant season, being the first and last things to bloom. These can grow quite large, so they need plenty of space. I have cared for Witchhazels that are 15’ tall and 15’ across.

Which species offers the best fall color? Most people like the hybrid maples, such as Autumn Blaze, Autumn Fantasy and Armstrong. These have a leaf like a silver maple, upright branching structure and smooth gray bark. Many are being planted right now so please be careful. As a culture, we have not learned from losing American elms and ash trees, and now we are over planting with maples which could set us up for another problem in the future.

Which early blooming trees are your favorites to lead us out of winter and into spring? Redbuds and Cornelian cherry dogwoods both bloom early before their leaves come, so the flowers stand out even though they are small. Redbuds have pinky-purple flowers and are native to this area and grow well. Cornelian cherry dogwoods are a thickly branched small tree with peeling bark that looks great in winter. Yellow flowers in early spring and red fruits in the fall help round out year-long interest.

What are mulch volcanoes? When mulch gets piled up too high against the tree trunk, this can reduce tree vigor and health. This is usually the result of over- mulching, mulching too frequently or turning bed edgings up into the bed and then burying them in mulch. Trees should have roots that visibly flare out away from the trunk.

What signs should homeowners look for when inspecting trees on their property?  Easy things to look for right now are branches losing bark, limbs that rub on each other and any kind of holes/swelling in branches, the trunk or base. In summer, examine leaves to be sure they are full size, correct color, show no sign of chewing damage from insects and that they are not falling off the tree when they should not be.

Why do some maple trees have black spots on their leaves? Black spots on the leaves of Norway and silver maples have shown up the last few years starting in midsummer. This is a disease called tar spot; it does not cause leaves to fall from the tree and does not require treatment for the health of the tree. Other diseases, like apple scab and anthracnose, do cause leaves to fall, which inhibits the tree’s ability for photosynthesis, to make food for itself. These diseases should be treated.

Is the Emerald Ash Borer still a concern in our area? If you are a tree and plant person you are probably tired of hearing about Emerald Ash Borer (EAB.) In the Chicago area, it can be hard to find ash trees that are not already infested if they are not on a quality treatment program. I still find a couple each year, normally white ash, but it’s unusual. If you have trees in your yard and you’re not sure what species they are, it could be a good idea to have an arborist check them out. Occasionally, I find a black or blue ash that is still in good shape and worthy of treatment due to its rare nature in this area. Infested ash trees should be removed. EAB damage causes trees to quickly decay and become a hazard to people and property.

During winter, should we shake snowy and icy branches? If we have heavy snow, it can be useful to plants like arborvitaes and other evergreens to brush the snow off to prevent bent and broken branches. Watch out for getting snow down your collar!  If we have ice like we had last Thanksgiving, then it’s best to leave it alone and allow it to melt. Trying to knock the ice off can cause branch breakage or tear off buds/leaves.

Regarding power lines, is there a standard guideline for clearance? Lines that run from pole to pole are cleared to 10’. If any part of a tree is touching a pole to pole electric line, contact the power provider right away. If the line runs from the pole to your house, this is the responsibility of the homeowner and should be handled by a trained arborist. This may require the electric provider to disconnect the power line before the work can be done if the line is touching the tree. We all dislike those trees that have been cut into weird shapes to clear the lines, so remember to avoid planting tall trees near or under power lines.

What are the most common mistakes made by homeowners regarding tree care?  The most common mistake is simply not having the trees cared for. Many homes I visit have safety issues/tree health concerns that the homeowner is not aware of because they have never had a certified arborist out to check their property. Even if you have not had problems before, it’s wise to have your trees checked every five years or so. A certified arborist will let you know if any of your trees are dangerous or have poor structure. Disease or insect problems can also be identified for proactive, trouble-shooting. Schedule an appointment with a certified arborist, and then walk the yard together. You will learn a lot!

What can you tell us about the International Tree Climbing Competition? It’s amazing! It may not be what you think though. This is not timbersports where the fastest to the top wins. This competition revolves around safety and efficiency. Arborists’ abilities for setting a line, ascending the tree and working the canopy are broken into individual events including aerial rescue. Competitors do their best in each event, adhering to safe work practices.

What is Tree Hab? Tree Hab is a program just starting in the Fox River Valley. It’s a new initiative to help people with physical and developmental difficulties interact with trees through assisted climbing programs. It’s been shown that connecting with nature can have a calming, joyful and empowering effect… and seeing things from a new perspective can be beneficial in many ways. This link gives an overview:


In your opinion, what are the best benefits of trees? There are many benefits, such as blocking unwanted views, providing privacy and reducing light, particulate and sound pollution. Trees help to feed the ecosystem. Oak trees are particularly beneficial in feeding insects and mammals, in turn nourishing birds, other animals and even reptiles. Tree roots help stabilize soil to reduce erosion and help keep our streams and rivers cleaner. You can use a tool like the tree benefit calculator to look at the monetary contributions that trees provide by shading homes to minimize summer cooling bills, intercepting rain water from storm sewers and managing/sequestering carbon by taking it from the air and turning it into wood:

In addition, research has shown many health benefits derive from trees such as faster healing in hospital rooms with a view of green vegetation, lower stress, higher birth weights for babies, increased ability to focus and reduced blood pressure. Societal benefits include reduced violence and crime, homes that sell faster and for more money, and improved activity for retail stores in areas with maintained trees:

Do not underestimate what you enjoy every day from trees; the shade while sitting under a big leafy specimen on a hot summer day, the beauty of flowering trees in the spring and the rainbow of colors in the fall are all wonderful reasons to plant and maintain trees.

Visit with Steve Matravers and the experts from Davey Tree in Mega Center Booth #624. For more information, call 630-293-9336 or see