Podcast: Joe Oszust, a "tree doctor" talks about invasive species in New York

The Enterprise — H. Rose Schneider
Joe Oszust, an arborist, loves trees. His graceful 2-year-old daughter, who sometimes accompanies him to work, is named for one — Willow. He shares his knowledge of invasive pests — from the spotted lanternfly with its sticky honeydew to the emerald ash borer that leaves D-shaped holes in a tree.

00:00 Hello, this is Melissa, Hale-Spencer, the editor of The Altamont Enterprise, and we're really honored today to have with us an arborist. His name is Joe. Oh, zest. And I had to look up the word arborist dictionary. It means tree surgeon. So welcome Joe. Thank you for coming here today.

Thanks so much for having me.

I would just like to hear a little bit about how you got on this career path. What, what's your background? Where are you from? Originally?

00:35 I was, I was born down in Dutchess County and the, uh, I was really lucky to grow up with a, it was my parents and my uncle who was a huge influence in my life, uh, with, with regards to being outside and, and just looking at trees and animals and that I really have him thing he's, he's passed away, but that's one thing that he's left with me is a real love for nature and the outside. And so that's what got me started on this path. And

01:08 so since you were a boy, you were out in the yard or in the woods and you were acquainted with trees and

01:15 always great as far back as I can remember, I've always been involved with trees in one one way or another. And so that's, that's, that's what I do.

01:28 Yeah. So now what kind of training does it take? How do you learn what to do is an arborist?

01:35 Well, I mean officially I went to Suny Morrisville, a horticulture degree and that got my foot in the door to know several other tree companies and a couple of landscape companies. And then, um, and then I own my own business for awhile doing tree care. And then I started working for a fairly large tree company down in New Jersey. And, and then once our daughter willow was born,

02:10 I have to interrupt. Your daughter is named Mike the tree.

02:14 It was, it was the only name that, that my wife would concede to had some other, some other names. But what will, it was the one that we went to a two and a half. Oh my gosh. Is she graceful? Like a willow tree is perfect. Yep. That's funny you say that because that's like the. That's the exact meeting of, uh, of willow is graceful. Slender, willowy. Yeah. That's really awesome. She's a, she's the best. Neat. And she too, just like I was with my uncle. She's always out in the gardens with me and she goes, he even goes on some tree appointments. So she loves. Yeah.

03:01 I can see her future and what that's going to include. Isn't that neat? She'll do what? She'll do it.

03:07 She's meant to do, but I guess I did have some influence.

03:12 That's great. Well, what brought you out here that sparked our interest is we've been getting a lot of releases from the Department of environmental conservation about the spider spotted lantern and fly. The first one in Albany county was found in a parked car in crossgates mall that had come up from Pennsylvania and it got a search underway in the pine Bush area. No more were found, but the DEC is often sending out notices on various kinds of invasive species and we're going to go over a whole list of them with Joe and learn as much as we can and we're just starting out with this one because it's topical and in the news now, and Joe let me know beforehand. Of course he doesn't know a lot about this one because he hasn't dealt with it. It's brand new in this date. But what, what kind of things can you share with us about the lander and fly that?

04:12 Well, one of them is sort of interesting in that, uh, if, if this insect didn't potentially have the, uh, uh, the implication is that it does to attack the beneficial crops like hops and, and some of the other agricultural products we may be having, may have been having a very different conversation about using this for biologic, for biological control on, on the Atlanta this tree, which is also an invasive species and it's also the preferred host of fly. But unfortunately it, its host does. It's not confined to just the, just the, uh, the tree of heaven or Atlantis, which is the genus. It does go out to two plants that we, that are, that are valuable. So the life cycle of the, of the insect, pretty simple. It lays its eggs on a lot of actually different things more than just trees. It lays, lays egg masses on things that are near trees and it really looks like a sort of like a, like a patch of mud on wherever the legs are.

05:40 Eggs are laid. It's a waxy coating that, that the female adult puts over them. And that's what we see. One of the concerns with that is that the, with, with any invasive, like with any invasive species, is that we want to limit the movement of the insect or the insects, eggs. And so one of the concerns is that if we say Parker car underneath the Atlanta, this tree or a tree that is effective, that we may actually move that car somewhere else and then, and then move the eggs with it. So one of the, one of the recommendations from the Dec and Cornell is to, you know, if you have stuff like Atlanta streets that are over your driveway, that ca cars are commonly parked, you know, what, you may want to just get rid of those right away, another method of control because, because it does prefer the, uh, the Atlanta is tree. They're recommending that, uh, that we remove about 90 percent of the Atlanta is trees on your property once it's found, once again, sect is found and then leave a small amount for, for the lantern flight to feed on. And then we go ahead and inject those trees with an insecticide where we're sort of beating them in and then using that

07:10 cluster tightly into one area that you can then Zach, yet

07:14 the trees will be, it'll be a, it's an, an effective, uh, a, a systemic insecticide that tree takes up. And then once the, once they feed on that, because there they're a piercing sucking insect where they feed on the juices of the plant are also feeding on the insecticide which kills them. Uh, so that's, that's really the plan right now as far as I know, like you said earlier, I don't know a whole lot about the insect, but

07:44 well the DEC is advising people if they see them to take pictures and send them in because they're trying to track them. And from what I understand in Pennsylvania where they're prevalent, they produced like a honeydew kind of sticky texture where people, if they even walk outside and some of the areas that are heavily infested. Yeah, like coated with this.

08:07 Yeah. The, the stuff. See the honeydew is actually, it's a, it's a byproduct is a pathogen. It's a, it's a, uh, it's called sooty mold. Um, and it's, it's a, it's a result of the waste product of the insect because they're feeding on the juices of the plant which are, which are high in sugar, the glucose. And then they, because their excrement is trigger that turns into that black sooty mold, a pathogen. And then what happens is the, for photosynthesis is really compromised because, uh, because the sooty mold gets on the leaves and the plant can't make food and then it ends up losing vigor and eventually

08:57 it sounds like a horror film. So it kinds of paths that you dealt with. It hadn't been in New York, in this area for awhile. Does one stand out? I just know as a kid, I grew up in Buffalo, New York in the 19 fifties and they used to be all the main thoroughfares, had these beautiful elm trees just arching over the roads. It was, it was just like a cathedral. And then Dutch Allen came through and they're all gone. That just, it just, they just disappeared. They're no longer there. So, I mean, have you dealt with, in your experience any kind of, uh, and as I understand that was a fungus that was carried by a series of beetles that came. I'm from Asia, I think,

09:46 same, same scenario. It's the, that was, uh, that was the elm bark beetle and it's still a, we still have that John Disease to deal with here. So, uh, so, uh, with, with Dutch elm disease was an older tree, you definitely want to treat it ahead of time, but more importantly going forward for the future of the industry has developed a, uh, several um, resistant varieties of elm tree, um, that two of them that are, that are really popular, valley forge and Princeton both are resistant to Dutch elm disease and trees that you'll be able to plant and, and not have to inoculate them with the, with the fungicide.

10:40 Interesting. So it developed strains that can actually resist this fungus and dry. That's great. Well, so I'm just going to start walking through this list that I have from the Dec and you can tell me what you know or any other things that you think people should know. The first one on my list is the emerald ash borer and it, it says that it's an Asian beetle and what do you look for in a tree if you've got one in your yard that you want to watch out and not if you've got an ash tree and not have it infested. What kinds of things should people know about right?

11:21 One is with this particular insect, we are rarely looking for the beetle there really, really small insect. And because of the nature of tree and having a really furrowed bark, uh, it's really hard to see a, like their exit holes there. There is a very small d, d shaped exit hole and we rarely see them. What about, what was the letter d interesting. Well, the reason that that is like that, they're a, they're in a group of Boris called a flat headed and one the bottom side of their head is actually flat and the top side is rounded. So like when they exit they become.

12:04 So the, uh, so you were saying you can't really see the beetle there just so it's not the beetle that we, that we look for. It's actually the damage from the woodpeckers that we look for a, they cause a, a, it's a symptom called blonding. Uh, and it's where the woodpeckers actually pull off pieces of the bark. And then, uh, and then the bark turns the blondish color. And usually at that point, when we start seeing blonding, we're also seeing, uh, their, uh, EPA Cormac water sprouts, which are a lot of people refer to them as suckers. Uh, and that's a direct result from the feeding habit of the immature a larvae which are underneath the bark and they make a, they make sort of shaped galleries that, uh, when, when they, when they move through the, uh, uh, the vascular tissue, they cut off, they cut off the flow of water nutrients, but they also, it also causes the tree to, uh, uh, to put out some different compounds, Djibril and oxygen, which causes shoots to pop out.

13:25 And so we end up seeing trees that have sort of blonde color on the bark and a bunch of shoots that don't look right. And, uh, and then of course the tree starts to decline and you know, once it's in that, once it's at that point, there's usually nothing we can do. We can, we can treat trees that are infected. But it has to be. We have to catch it pretty early. And you know, less than a, less than one fourth of the crown of the tree. The whole tree, uh, needs to not be infected. Otherwise the tree dies, doesn't have the ability to take up water and nutrients and the leaves and branches. If more than a quarter that has affected, not going to change. What is it that you can do? We, uh, so depending on where you are in a, in the country and the level of infestation there, a couple of different options for us here.

14:34 Best option is to do a trunk injection at the base of the tree. There's a, it's called a root collar or root flare where the, you know, we've all seen it. It's where the tree has a, uh, where, where the tree it flares at the base. And that's where we could most effectively drill holes and inject an insecticide into the tree. And the last two years in the tree, you know, it gets, it gets stored away and in different cells inside the tree. And, and we can really effectively treat the, treat the tree. But if you're in an area where you know, you, you don't have a lot of pressure from the, from the insect, yet you can actually do a soil injection of a, of a, of a chemical called him a corporate, sort of gets corporate, gets a little bit of a bad rap for not being great for the bees and that kind of stuff. But it's a really effective method to control eab if, if the pressure's low.

15:49 Sure. The Emerald ash borer I see. And this is like a preventative thing you do in the soil. Wow. And it occurred to me as you're talking, you should write an alphabet book for Willow based on natural health because you got the DJ borehole, you've got the Ashland. Just watching for all these signs, it's just mind boggling. Okay. So I'm now going to turn the page and see the next thing that I have down is the Asian longhorned beetle, which I guess you would call the Alb. So what another thing from China and Korea and these things come into the country. How usually,

16:32 uh, but you know, most of the time it's on pallets, wood pallets that are on barges. And

16:41 so the board into that wood and then they come here and replicate. So what, what are the signs that, that's at least by this picture here that's bigger. It's like the size of half of a man's fingers is a very

16:55 large insect, uh, the exit holes or enormous about the size of a pencil. And they, the problem, the biggest problem with this insect is that, uh, that attacks the hardwoods, uh, in our area, the Maples, the oak. Uh, so it's here in our midst. We have not so much right here, uh, more and, and, and it's even mostly under control in New York City. There was a big population in Massachusetts and I think that there's still a little bit there about, uh, very, uh, working very hard to eradicate it. It's often, it's often confused with a native insect to here, which, uh, which attacks conifers, which is the spotted sawyer. But the Asian longhorned beetle is mostly, it's mostly black in color, a little bit bigger. Doesn't have really a defined dots that the spot is sawyer has their sort of like a, there's a little bit of white sometimes on the, on the Asian longhorn beetle, but

18:12 so it's a homeowner. If they had this in his or her yard, it wouldn't be like you'd have to wait as you did with the Emerald ash borer for the Woodpecker to, you know, expose it. You can actually see these and look for areas. Are there signs that you look for?

18:31 Well you would be looking for a declining tree first. That doesn't necessarily happen right away with like, like Emerald ash borer, but these, these insects are so big that

18:42 like what is this like for you? It's probably second nature. You look at a tree and that tree is declining, but like what does the average person look for? How, how do you know what tree is declining for an insect

18:53 like the, like a Asian longhorned beetle and really a lot of other trees to. But we're really looking at sort of towards the top of the tree. If you think about like, uh, like if you have a hose somewhere at your house and there's a uh, you know, you get a hole or kink somewhere early on, just like when the, when the insect is, is cutting off the vascular tissue, there's the top is declining as losing leaves. It's a, you get dead sections but the but the lower crown may be okay for, for a bit.

19:30 So it's obvious somebody who could obviously see this and they're not specific signs you have to look for, as you were saying with the Emerald ash borer, when these sprouts coming out in the blinding, it's just the tree looks like it's dying and it's got these big deals on it. Right. So then you call your, your friendly neighborhood arborist and you arrived on the scene. And what, what do you do? The treatment

19:57 options are not real great. Once they're infested, the majority of the time the tree is removed.

20:02 Oh, you just have to cut down the tree. Yup. So that's that. And do they, is there anything, like you were talking about the preventative thing that you can do to keep it from moving to other trees on your property or there's a in this generally that, a medical

20:21 for that. I was briefly talked about it, man. I go with injecting in the ground except with, with the, uh, Asian longhorned beetle is generally, it's a different form of the, of the material, but it's injected in the trunk and you know, it's the tree gets inoculated like that.

20:40 And then the tree system, it's you referred to. It is, it is like a circulatory system. I don't know enough about trees. I is, it draws up nutrients through channels that are kind of like veins. No. Okay.

20:53 Yes. The right underneath the bark. There's a tissue primarily that move stuff up. The tree that usually material that we're trying to move goes with is this island tissue. Uh, and uh, as the material goes up, we're also getting stored inside the tree and we've all seen sort of a cross section of a tree where like the, where there's like book sort of like a target where it's like splitting afterwards. Those are, uh, those are our race or race cells and that's where the, uh, that is where the material gets stored.

21:35 Well, I'm going way off the track here. I have my list of, you know, we'll probably will ask you this soon if she hasn't already. Every kid at this time of year as why leaves turn color. I never know what the answer is, but it's last week. Got You. Here. What, why, why do the leaves turn color in the fall?

21:58 What we're actually seeing when the leaves turn is the trees natural pigment. That is, that, that would have been the color of that leaf, had chlorophyll not been in the mix, which is which makes the leaves green. So they're revealing their true colors and they are exactly doing that. And it's actually pretty simple. You know, we get a certain amount of light, certain temperatures and right at the base of the leaf where it connects to the branch, the tree naturally forms a cork layer and sort of blocks and blocks off material from going in and out. And so the chlorophyll is no longer president in the leaf and then it just turns its natural pigment

22:52 and the leaf falls off, falls off. So do you know why some falls are better than others for color? I mean there's some years when it just pops in. There are other years, like this one looks a little. Honestly, I have no idea. Arbor is questions on our next invasive which is oak wilt. It seems to kind of describe itself, but do you know what causes that and what you do about it?

23:25 Oh, it's a pathogen and it's actually spread by A. They're mostly referred to you as like Picnic Beatles. Yeah. They were like go buy link with the cloth there. The beetles that are attracted to like, like smell and come and join your picnic.

23:45 I see.

23:46 And so they're, they're actually spreading the because it's a fungal disease. And they're spreading the spores up to where like, like we're pruning cuts are and this oak oak wilt disease. What it does is it actually, the fungus gets inside that xylem tissue and it plugs it up and it has a killing the tree because it can't get water, water, nutrients. So suffocating. It is. Yeah. It's cutting itches, cutting off the. Yeah, exactly. It's like. So the couple of important things with, with oak wilt disease, the one is pruning time on the oaks. We want to make sure that, that we're doing any pruning during the dormant season.

24:35 Maybe I'll just give you on another little hack here. I know that people prone shrubs, but I didn't know you're supposed to regularly prune your trees

24:47 depending on the tree.

24:49 Really. Like an oak tree is supposed to be proved

24:52 mostly sort of larger oaks or larger trees in general. The pruning that's done on that is a little bit different. It's more, it's more dead branches. It's protecting the tree from sort of snow load damage by reducing ends that are like really out past the, the contour of the crown. You know, it's a lot. It's, I guess I try to, I try to refer to how we treat trees, like sort of like we treat babies like early on. There's like a lot of little visits like the doctor, we make only a couple of pruning cuts of urine, a little treatment. When you get to be older, trees like that. They are, there are fewer, there are fewer visits, but they're more time consuming. They're more in depth. We're printing out bigger deadwood or reducing the tree, so

25:53 I've never known that you were supposed to prune trees into field. Treat guilt. Okay, so I got you off the track here. You were talking about. Oh well. And how you have to be careful when you prune it.

26:06 Timing the timing is the most important thing because we don't want to create a situation where where the picnic beetles have have moved the spores of the pathogen up to the co of the oak and then the pathogen, the fungal pathogen gets established in the tree.

26:32 Okay. Well one of the things the DEC says that they do for this oil and maybe you know something about this. I just can't imagine how you'd set it up that they set up a districts to kind of limit what can come in and out of that area. Did to keep it from spreading. Have you ever been part of a quarantine district? I have.

26:57 It is as effective as the sort of like the honesty and the uh, and the willingness of the people that are dealing with trees in an area, you know, if someone wants to sneak trees around and fire wood in that kind of stuff,

27:18 they're going to do. It was a kid, I had scarlet fever and I got quarantine in my house. They put a big thing on the front door and there I was, you know, but I mean with trees. So what they do is they put up kind of like a rough perimeter area and you're not supposed to take wood out of there. Is that the idea? Yeah, but it's not like,

27:37 uh, it's not like they're putting up a fence. It's a, it's usually a map that, that you're given or, or, or an area is given and they're saying know nothing in inside around here. But like I said, it's a

27:51 so can they be effective? I mean if people, it keeps it contained in that one area. Yup. So, but the solution isn't to, like you were saying with an earlier past to just like, I think it was the ash, I forget which one it was. It would it be, it just is too far. You have to take down the tree longhorned beetle. But. So in this case with the oak, will it, it's worth it not to take down the tree, but just in church, try to contain the area that it's in.

28:21 Yes. Because there's not really a good, uh, there's not a terribly good treatment for it once it's, once it's established to the point where the tree is declining and dying and the best thing, take it down and trip it. And

28:43 so. Okay. So then I'm on to something that I hadn't listened on my computer. That's it. So tell me if I have it wrong. The hemlock woolly Alvin cheated. Adelgid intelligent. Okay. So can you tell us about that? I'm assuming it's a hemlocks, but how do you know and what do you do? So

29:08 the hemlock woolly adelgid another, another invasive pest. It is usually, well always found on the, on the bottom side of the needle, a sort of way up close to where the needle Misa stem and it's really in, in late winter, early spring that, that you can see those egg masses the easiest. They're really, what do they look like? Like, like little balls of wool. Yup. They're, they're really, I would say they're about the size of say like a bb from, from like a bb gun or uh, our shotgun that kind of like small and uh, and so that, that insect is, it does this damage in numbers because it, it attaches to the, uh, to the vascular system of the tree and it actually extracts out the, the, uh, the chlorophyll and, and after, you know, seven or 10 years, it could, it could actually just kill the tree right out. So, but there are really great preventative and the really great preventative treatments. And there's also a fairly good treatments for trees that are already infected. The as long as the tree is in a to the point where it can't take up the material anymore.

30:51 So what is the treatments and other injection that you do into the system? That is one option,

30:58 but the most, the most common is actually a, it's a course sort of spray that is actually applied to the trunk of the tree with a, with a surfactant which is just a surfactant is just so it's a chemical that's added to another chemical that makes it work better. So this, this particular surfactant, it, it makes the incentive side get absorbed through the bark and into the vascular system and it actually moves very quickly and kills off the woolly Adelgid.

31:38 I think we have time for one more. So I'm going to ask you about and might be pronouncing this one around to the crx. Would was, do you know anything about that? No, I finally. Alright. Well I don't know anything about it either. A common name on it. It says it is a Eurasian native. It was first uncovered in New York in 2004 in Fulton, Oswego county, and it is any exotic. What does that mean? I don't know any of all the insects that we've talked about or exotic. It's one of the top 10 most serious forest in sec past. So maybe it's less neighborhood trees like you deal with and more has to do with forests, but do you have in all your vast experience, any advice for people on what trees are safety plant or what trees are less likely to be affected some

32:40 of these past? Well, the truly, the biggest problem that we have is that, uh, so the, the exotic plants that we plant here, like a lot of the, you know, the crab apples are the plants that are, a lot of times they're from Asia.

33:00 So we are ourselves opening ourselves up to this. You're saying native plants. So what's a native tree?

33:08 Tons of native trees. There's a lot of the oaks here are native. Uh, the, the sugar maples are red maples and silver maples. Uh, those unlikely bet was maples or the oaks for

33:23 not having a lot of problems with this or there some trees that see the thing here. Here's the

33:28 thing, like the, uh, like we bring those plants in, right? And they're not able to deal with our native pests here. And then we've been the, the, the, uh, the exotic pests that come here are the tree. The native trees are not able to deal with them. So it's a, it's a conundrum a little bit, but there are, you know, where there are trees that are less likely to be infected with a different insects or pathogens. Uh, you know, um, there's nothing I like more than helping someone find the right tree. Uh, and what do you do? How do you help someone find the right tree? Like what kinds of things do you look at or think about? Well, we want to look at the site of what the site conditions are, what the soil conditions are, how much room for the tree and, and when we say how much room, not like how much room now, how much room in 20 years when, when the tree is a lot bigger.

34:35 What kind of trees do you have in your yard? Let's see. A yellow wood, which is one of my favorite. Why, why is that a favorite? It's just a great tree with a tremendous full color. Has a really awesome flower show in the spring. It's not native to this area, but it is native a little bit south into the, uh, the mountains of Tennessee and West Virginia. But the tree does very well here. Great Tree for like if you want to treat that doesn't get like massively huge, but you want like a nice tree. That's a good, that's a good bet. As they'll cova another great tree. Zelkova. It's not a native, but still one of my favorite trees. Why? Why is that? It's got a, it's really multi-season interest. It's really a bark is sort of exfoliating and the leaves are, they're sort of looking. In fact, that tree was, was really introduced here to replace the elm because it was fantastic.

35:47 So it does, it does have that very. Our team crown. And then my, my favorite tree of, of all time is the Ketzer is another one. I don't know. Cats. Zahra cat. Sara. Yet, Sara introduce here after, after World War II, uh, sort of, uh, uh, from Japan after the war, uh, w with the peace treaty and that's how we got it here. And it's a, it's just a really, really tremendous. So look like, I don't know, they have like small heart shaped leaves and uh, my favorite two favorite parts about it are in the fall when the leaves are getting ready to fall. It gives off an odor of like Bert sugar, like sort of like a, like cotton candy really awesome. And the, and the full color is really cool. No flour, but um, yeah, really great dri. Thank you. I've learned so much. I really appreciate it. Thanks for, thanks for, uh, for, for inviting me. I appreciate it a lot.



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