Cactus and Succulent Blooming at Balboa Park

A blooming hidden garden at Balboa Park

Blooming agave in a less visited area of the park

Blooming agave in a less visited area of the park

Such a gorgeous spring day, had to go for a walk through Morley Field and Balboa Park. I knew it would be a busy day with lots of people seeking the beauty and sunshine at the park, so I decided to walk through some of the less visited areas of the park in search of plants.

When your a horticulturist, arborist, landscape contractor and avid gardener, it is kind of a curse and a blessing. I cannot help but be drawn to looking at trees, shrubs, landscape design and contrasting plant foliage and flower colors.

I took a bunch of pictures, some might seem more obscure or leave you wondering what the heck that plant is! Take a moment and enjoy!
Cactus, succulents and natives at Balboa Park

Trees Damaging Los Angeles Infrastructure, Who Is Responsible for Liability and Repairs?

In May and June of 2015, The Los Angeles Times published articles addressing the problem of crumbling sidewalk infrastructure within the City of Los Angeles. The articles focused on the challenges pedestrians face in this car-dominated city. After years of mounting complaints and lawsuits caused by defective, dangerous sidewalks, city officials are finally beginning to address the problems caused by trees that were planted within city parkways, medians and right of ways.

Roots have damaged the sidewalk creating a trip and fall hazard

Roots have damaged the sidewalk creating a trip and fall hazard

After decades of deferred maintenance, the City Council, the Mayor, and public work officials are finally turning their attention toward addressing the problem, and trying to figure out how to juggle spending requirements resulting from legal settlements and sort out who is responsible for future sidewalk maintenance, as well as liability for future injuries caused by damaged sidewalks.

The first question, who is responsible for sidewalk repair and replacement caused by trees growing within city parkways and right of ways? California state law placed the burden of sidewalk repairs on adjacent property owners. A majority of California cities adhere to the state policy, however not the City of Los Angeles, which forty years ago opted for a policy that made the City responsible for repairing sidewalks damaged by tree roots in city parkways. Back in the 1970’s, when federal funding was available for the work, Los Angeles opted to pay for tree-damaged sidewalks. When the federal funding was depleted, voters declined to support tax increases for the repair work, leading to the current massive backlog of damaged sidewalks.

Instead of removing invasive, surface rooting tree species and replacing damaged sidewalks, the city embarked on a less expensive program of temporary asphalt patches in an attempt to smooth over displaced, uneven sidewalks. The problems continue to mount, with over 19,000 sidewalk complaints within the past five years alone. Over 40% of the complaints have been ignored, with no repairs having been made, mainly due to inspections never being made or the sidewalks so severely damaged they require complete rebuilding.

The City is now proposing a policy to address the situation. Under the proposed policy, neighborhood sidewalks damaged by city parkway trees would be replaced at the city’s expense. However, after repairs are completed, responsibility for repair, maintenance and liability would be shifted upon the adjacent property owner.

The proposal has received mixed comments from residential and commercial property owners. Businesses already pay taxes they assume local government should be using for infrastructure repairs. Additionally, requiring businesses to pay for repairs would harm retailers, especially in districts lined with problematics trees. Many commercial property owners would be forced to pass on the expense to the small business owners that rent the property.

Ficus roots creating a sidewalk hazard

Ficus roots creating a sidewalk hazard

Under the “fix and release” program, repairs would be made by the city, and then future responsibility for the sidewalks transferred to the homeowner. Some homeowners feel this would be an equitable solution to the current problem, other disagree, stating they would be saddled with big bills down the road, particularly if the city does not fix the “root” cause of the problem, that being tree roots or leaking utilities.

The city must grapple with both sides of a delicate issue, trying to preserve the benefits of large, picturesque trees providing neighborhood character while having to remove the same trees whose invasive roots have damaged infrastructure and would continue to do so if left in place. To begin the process, the city acknowledged they do not really know how extensive the problem is. The city has no existing tree inventory of the tree and sidewalk condition. Without this information, it would be difficult for the city to measure progress as they attempt to implement any new sidewalk management policy.

Certified and registered consulting arborists consult with Southern California municipalities and private property owners involved in trip and fall litigation caused by tree root lifted and damaged sidewalks. Typically lifted and damaged sidewalks caused by tree roots are due to inappropriate tree selection. Species such as Sycamore, Ficus, Eucalyptus and Ash trees planted decades ago in restricted parkway planters were most often associated with damaged infrastructure.

Sidewalk repair or replacement without addressing the existing tree species ignores the problem. Passing on responsibility for future repairs and liability to adjacent property owners would be an unjust situation for taxpayers. Large, surface rooting, invasive species should be closely examined for mitigation in conjunction with infrastructure replacement. Perhaps root pruning and root barriers might be an appropriate remediation that would protect future infrastructure while retaining large pre-existing species.

However, many species planted decades ago were and will always be inappropriate for confined parkways. Root pruning a large Ficus or Sycamore could easily de-stabilize the tree, resulting in a catastrophic failure. Who would be liable for a tree failure and resultant property damage, or worse, personal injury or death? Citizens might have to accept they cannot have the best of both worlds, where large, invasive trees are retained for neighborhood character, sidewalks are repaired and the city remains responsible.

Over the decades, many newer street tree species have been developed that provide desirable growth characteristics while minimizing damaging invasive root systems and towering canopies that conflict with traffic and overhead utilities. Reasonable compromises can and should be made toward replacing older, inappropriate tree species with newer species that will provide community benefits while minimizing maintenance costs and damaged infrastructure.

Hopefully, the City of Los Angeles and other municipalities facing this problem elect to use certified and registered consulting arborist and horticulturists as they consider how to address their urban forest and infrastructure issues.

To read the full Los Angeles Times Article, click the link:

L.A. Considers Shifting Responsibility to Property Owners

 

Removing Your Turf and Sprinklers Due to Drought, Remember the Trees!

As Californians scramble to find a way to reduce water consumption to meet a 25% water reduction mandate, turf removal has become the latest means to accomplish significant water savings. From Santa Barbara to San Diego, with Los Angeles and Orange county in between, turf is being ripped out at a frenzied pace.

Considering the rebates offered by the Metropolitan Water District in Los Angeles and other municipalities, homeowners and businesses are jumping at the opportunity to be reimbursed for turf and spray irrigation removal.  Succulent gardens, Mediterranean, and California natives and other drought tolerant plant materials are being used to replace water guzzling turf.

The decades long love affair with our green turf lawns is coming to an end.  Unless you can afford to pay extremely onerous penalties for excessive water use, the California drought, climate change and dwindling water resources will change the way we design, plant, irrigate and use our landscaped areas.

As turf and spray irrigation is removed, it is easy to forget about trees in the landscape. Trees planted in the landscape rarely receive irrigation dedicated to just the tree.  Typically, the tree is located in an irrigated turf or planter area.  Tree roots grow where there is moisture.  Trees adjacent to an irrigated turf area will certainly root into the turf zone because that is where the water and nutrients are.

A common misconception is trees develop deep tap roots that grow deeply into the soil to locate water.  In fact, almost all tree roots grow within the top three feet of the soil mass, almost 80% of the roots grow within 12-24 inches from the soil surface!  Initially, a tap root growing downward will encounter rocks, hard pan or other physical impediments causing the tap root to split into a fibrous system growing horizontally through the soil profile.

As roots grow outward from the trunk, the tree crown grows in conjunction with the spreading root system.  The outward edge of the tree crown is referred to as the drip line of the tree.  The structural tree roots grow outward toward the drip line, however they don’t stop there! Outside of the drip line, the structural roots become increasingly smaller in diameter and that is where the fine absorbing root hairs are located, often well outside of the tree drip line.  Many tree species grow roots up to twice the tree crown diameter!

Knowing how tree roots grow is vital to understanding how your trees will react to changes in irrigation caused by converting turf or high water use areas.  If the edge of a tree crown or drip line is near an irrigated turf area, it most certainly will have rooted into the turf soil zone.  When the turf is gone and water is turned off, the tree will have lost it’s primary source of water and nutrients and will begin to decline.  If it does not have or develop other water resources to tap into, the tree will eventually die.

If you notice the crown of your trees declining, not leafing out or new buds dying back, these are symptoms that may be caused by the affects of drought or lack of water. Think back and consider what changes have occurred in the past one to two years? Has there been construction or renovation work nearby?  What about changes in the landscape, was the turf removed and sprinklers turned off?  Was there trenching, rototilling or soil preparation in an area nearby existing trees?

You can still remove your water consuming turf and use drip irrigation, just remember to plan for irrigating the trees.  If using a drip system, consider using higher volume emitters, or other distribution systems that will provide an adequate water supply to the tree. Add a drip valve solely dedicated to tree irrigation separate from the other shrubs or ground covers.  Proper planning, installation and maintenance is required to convert water consuming landscapes into sustainable, water efficient landscapes while preserving existing tree health and aesthetics.

With proper planning, trees can be grown and will flourish using drip or low volume irrigation systems but you must provide enough water distribution to encourage the tree to root into the surrounding site soil.  Unlike spray irrigation, drip systems must be maintained and upgraded as trees grow larger root systems.  Additional drippers or emitters are required as the tree crown increases in diameter.  Drip and low volume distribution systems work great but are more labor intensive than spray systems and require a higher degree of maintenance.

So go ahead and get rid of that old ugly bermuda grass lawn, or grit your teeth and say goodbye to your green lush tall fescue or Kentucky bluegrass and say hello to water savings without sacrificing visual aesthetics.  You can keep your trees alive and flourishing while still achieve water savings and a unique, beautiful landscape.  Use a landscape and certified arborist tree professional to help you achieve your sustainable, affordable landscape!

 

 

Red Trees = Dead Trees in California National Forest Lands

I recently read an article in the Los Angeles Times Drought Trees 1 , Drought Trees that addressed the tremendous die-off of trees within California’s national forests.  The aerial pictures in the article depict vast areas of red colored trees dominating the forest land.  As the drought continues, the death toll on our national forest lands is approaching record numbers.

To date, scientists and U.S. Forest Service representatives estimate at least 12.5 million trees in California’s national forest have been killed due to drought. Unfortunately, scientists expect the die-off to continue as the state heads into the summer season, traditionally the driest months of the season and the months with the greatest fire threat. The last time researchers saw such a great die-off was during the drought period of 1975-1979, when an estimated 14 million trees died.

As a professional arborist, horticulturist and outdoor enthusiast, I find it incredibly sad and painful as we helplessly watch millions of trees die in our forest lands.  Since childhood, I have loved camping throughout California, whether in the local San Diego mountains, the Sierras, or coastal California, the common denominator was the presence of trees, sometimes big trees.  Oaks, pines, sycamores, redwoods, cedars, the list goes on, so many beautiful tree species whose survival is now being threatened by drought.

I first became aware of the effect of the drought on client trees two years ago and the problems have only increased in the urban forest and wild land trees.  Oaks, pines and peppers on non-irrigated lands that survived for decades are now finally succumbing to the drought.  The grinding, relentless drought has reached a point where water tables and soil moisture are too depleted for many trees to survive. Clients have called with questions why trees they have in the past ignored are now declining.  Non-irrigated trees located in slopes or non-viewed areas that survived and flourished for decades are now in decline or dead.  As turf irrigation is turned off trees decline and die.

Trees weakened by drought are being infested and killed by wood boring beetles.There has been an uptick in the beetle populations due to the dry drought conditions. A healthy tree exerts internal pressure and pushes sap out of the tree surface, in effect forcing intruders out of the tree.  But when a tree is dried up, it cannot develop the sap flow and other natural defenses to ward off the wood boring insects. Trees weakened by drought become susceptible to invasion and colonization by beetles, killing the host then spreading to other weakened or even healthy trees.

As trees die-off from drought or killed off by beetles, millions of dead trees increase the likelihood of devastating summer wildfires.  San Diego county has suffered some of largest wildfires in the state. Decades ago, I used to take my family to campgrounds in the Cuyumaca and Laguna mountains that were later destroyed in the Cedar and Witch fires back in 2003-2005.  Even now, the standing dead, blackened, trees are a reminder of the terrible results of wild land fires.

In the past, “normal” spring weather resulted in green hillsides and mountains, with wildflowers and snowcapped peaks.  That has not been reality for the past several years. Anyone can easily see the already brown, grey hillsides, it looks like the middle of the summer yet it is only May.  The small amount of rain this past weekend, while a wonderful event, two days later you would never know it rained at all.

I have no recollection of the drought in the late seventies.  I was a college student back then and drought was not something that registered on my horizon at the time.  Now, after decades working in the landscape, arboriculture, horticulture and land development industries, this drought is frighteningly real and showing no signs of relenting.  Mandatory water restrictions are affecting the lives of all Californians.

The real scary question for me, is this our new climate?  I don’t want to see a California devoid of redwoods, oaks, sycamores and so many species I have grown up with and grown to love.  Regardless of how much water we conserve, the trees in our forest lands are at the mercy of mother nature.  The drought of the seventies killed millions of trees but that drought ended and millions of trees recovered and flourished.  Lets hope for a similar scenario with the current drought and tree die back.

Read the full Los Angeles Times article at Drought Trees 1Drought Trees

Reducing Irrigation During the Drought? Don’t Forget Your Trees!

I have been getting an increased number of calls from people concerned about their tree(s) starting to dieback. They want a certified or registered consulting arborist to evaluate the tree health condition, determine the cause of the tree decline, and recommend treatment options or removal.

For the past two to three years, I have noticed the increasing number of declining trees throughout San Diego. Especially noticeable is the tree dieback in the backcountry as well as local canyons and open spaces. Even drought tolerant Eucalyptus, Oak and Pines trees are struggling to survive.

The cause of our tree decline and dieback is the ongoing California drought. With yet another year of little winter rain, soils throughout San Diego county have little moisture reserve remaining. The drought is affecting native as well as ornamental trees used in the landscape.

Indeed, certain trees in our area are struggling due to insect infestation. The gold spotted oak borer attacking Coast Live Oak, as well as a host of ornamentals including Olive and Liquidambar trees have been infected with fusarium vascular disease introduced from borer and insect infestations. Therefore, it is not uncommon for most people to assume their tree must be declining due to some kind of insect or disease.

I have observed people rarely consider the effect of the drought as being the primary cause for tree decline. The tree living in the back yard or slope area for the past several decades may be dying simply because there is no more water in the soil profile!  Even the deepest rooted trees cannot survive accumulated years of consecutive drought.

I recently received a call from a gentleman complaining his fifty year old Jacaranda tree was dying. The new foliage had germinated then died back, now small twigs and branches were dropping. The bark on the trunk was exhibiting uncharacteristic roughening. The tree was located at the bottom of a slope near a turf area. Months ago, the turf sprinklers had been turned off, now the tree was struggling to survive.

Tree roots seeking moisture grow well beyond the drip line of the tree crown. Under drought conditions, soil moisture is not being recharged from winter rains. Unless a tree is receiving supplemental irrigation, it is reliant upon finding soil moisture by growing into irrigated turf and planter areas.

With increased water restrictions and rates, people are reducing or eliminating irrigation to their lawns and shrub beds without considering the effect on nearby trees. Trees that adapted their root systems to getting water from nearby irrigated areas that no longer get watered will begin to decline as the remaining soil moisture is exhausted.

A tree weakened by drought becomes increasingly susceptible to secondary pest or disease infestations. Many beetles can detect stressed trees from miles away. However, attempts to eradicate secondary insect infestations will not resolve the underlying cause of the tree decline.

So, if you notice your tree starting to decline, here is a brief check list of considerations:

-Is the tree irrigated or non-irrigated?
-If non-irrigated, does the tree get water from a nearby irrigated source?
-Has there been recent re-programming or turning off the irrigation?
-Any recent construction or trenching nearby the tree?
-Any grade change such as fill soils placed over the tree roots or cuts?

A well maintained, mature street tree in the front yard of a property may add an additional 7% to the assessed value of a property, a dead or declining tree obviously reduces street appeal and real estate value.  Trees can be retained and successfully survive the ongoing drought, contact a certified or registered consulting arborist to provide a tree health evaluation and recommendations on how to protect your tree investment value.

What is an RCA?

When I tell people I’m a consulting arborist they often ask what is that? Everyone is familiar with tree care companies, but not so much what the role of a consulting arborist. The common conception is when there is a tree problem, call up a tree contractor and have them do the work.

Yet, there are many tree problems that require expertise beyond a tree care company. When a tree has a change in condition or conflicts with infrastructure, a consulting arborist is required to assess the situation and make recommendations.

Consulting arborists have one or more certifications.  The primary designation is a certified arborist.  This designation is administered through the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA).  The second and more difficult designation to obtain is that of Registered Consulting Arborist (RCA), administered through the American Society of Consulting Arborists (ASCA). Consulting arborists with the RCA designation are the preeminent authorities on tree related matters.

To receive the RCA designation, an individual must already be a certified arborist.  Once they meet the experience and education requirements, an applicant must enroll in the Consulting Academy.  This rigorous training focuses on technical and report writing. Applicants who receive their RCA designation are trained to produce the highest quality written reports and work product, a terrific benefit for attorneys, insurers and professional consultants.

To learn more about registered consulting arborists, please click on the link below.

What is an RCA

Landscape and Tree Contractors, Minimize Lawsuits, Understand Your Duty of Care!

If you are a landscape or tree care contractor, you should be aware of the potential liability you face by an unhappy client. This awareness begins when you understand your “duty of care” as a landscape or tree care professional.

What is “duty of care”? It is a very important legal concept that simply stated means a person or organization has the legal obligation to avoid acts or omissions that could harm others. The duty of care extends to your actions or lack of action that would cause harm to your client or their property, perhaps even extending to adjacent properties and utilities.

Licensed contractors should understand their client hired them for their expertise and professionalism. The client is reliant upon the contractor to provide a product and service that conforms to industry standards. It is incumbent upon the contractor to satisfy all contractual obligations and satisfy the industry standard of care, or face a possible lawsuit.

If you are a landscape, maintenance or tree contractor interested in learning how to minimize you legal exposure and reduce your liability, please read the full article at:

Reduce Liability by Understanding Your Duty of Care

A “Super” Way to Watch the Game!

Watching the game in a Eucalyptus Grove

Watching the game in a Eucalyptus Grove

Yesterday, while taking our usual walk through North Park heading toward Balboa park, my wife and I came across these two guys comfortably hanging out watching the Superbowl pregame show underneath towering Eucalyptus trees. They worked for a company that integrates new technologies and were promoting wireless, cable-less TV under the trees! It was really pretty nice to be able to sit under the trees on a beautiful San Diego day watching the game, best of all worlds!

PS, I did inspect the trees surrounding the site for any significant defects!

PSS, I don’t know anything about their company but they were nice guys, in case you are interested in reaching the company, Jonathan Hauck, Chief Gadget Guy at Consider it Done, 619-663-7316, jon@consideritdone.guru

A Better Way to Protect Trees and Pedestrians

Safe Path permeable product replaces cast iron tree grate

Safe Path permeable product replaces cast iron tree grate

Through a business acquaintance, I had the good fortune to meet with Mr. Christian Rodriguez, a company representative from Blue Drop, Inc.  We met at a downtown San Diego street intersection where Blue Drop, Inc. had a contract with the City of San Diego to replace old cast iron tree grates with their new product called Safe Path.

Tree planters within pedestrian sidewalks are typically small confined spaces surrounded by concrete with lots of pedestrian traffic.  Tree grates were installed around the planter pit primarily to protect people from tripping over tree roots.  The grate also allowed watering to occur beneath the grate and afforded the tree a degree of root protection from pedestrian traffic.

When first installed surrounding a young tree, there is plenty of room for the tree trunk and root collar to grow and expand.  Tree grate openings typically are up to 12″ in diameter.

Tree trunk lifts grate creating potential trip and fall hazard

Tree trunk lifts grate creating potential trip and fall hazard

A young tree with a two inch diameter trunk will add one inch of trunk diameter per year. The tree will outgrow the tree grate opening within a decade.  Just as the tree reaches maturity and is starting to provide the maximum intended benefits,  the trunk begins to lift the tree grate.  Either the tree or tree grate must be replaced.

When I met Mr. Rodriguez, he showed me a downtown site where Blue Drop had installed their new Safe Path product.  The product is a poured in place permeable rubberized material that levels the planter surface with the adjacent sidewalk.  Water quickly infiltrates the permeable product which allows for both water and gas exchange.  The tree trunk, root collar and any surface roots are safely protected by the product.  As the trunk and roots enlarge, the products cracks, allowing for easy product removal and mending.

Pedestrians safely travel over Safe Path tree system

Pedestrians safely travel over Safe Path tree system. Photo by Blue Drop

Because Safe Path is poured in place, it appears to be an ideal product to retrofit existing planter systems and especially for irregular shaped planter areas.  The product provides a smooth, yet permeable surface, creating a safe environment for pedestrians while protecting tree roots and enhancing street scene aesthetics

I have no financial of special interest in Blue Drop Inc or any of their products.  As a certified arborist who has provided expert witness testimony in trip and fall cases involving trees, I was interested in discovering new technologies that improve public safety around trees.

Click the link to read the full article reviewing the product. A Better Way to Protect Trees and Pedestrians

 

“Arborgeddon” – PTCA Hosts Another Great Seminar and Field Day

Ficus tree roots engulf a curb, seen during Field day at Balboa Park

Ficus tree roots engulf a curb, seen during Field day at Balboa Park

The Professional Tree Care Association (PTCA) of San Diego hosted their annual seminar and field day, a two day event on Friday, August 22 and Saturday August 23, 2014. This was the 25th annual event and like many of the previous seminars, this was another informative, educational experience bringing together a wide diversity of speakers and audience!

The seminar was on Friday and this years theme centered on the ongoing California drought and ramifications to trees. There were a number of great speakers, starting with Mr. Ron Matranga who provided an overview about trees in times of drought, current and future water restrictions . Dr. Roger Kjelgren, Professor from Utah State University, provided a simplified method for landscape irrigation demand estimation. Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott, the Urban Horticulture Extension Specialist from Washington State University discussed how to treat and avoid drought stress in landscape trees and Ms. JoEllen Jacoby, the Water Conservation Landscape Architect for the City of San Diego enlightened us about planning for current and future water restrictions (gulp, better get some rain this winter)!

Ms. Mary Matav, Agronomist from Agri-Serve presented information on how to combat pests and drought, followed by Dr. Tracy Ellis, Entomologist with the San Diego County Department of Agriculture, scaring all of us about tree insect interceptions and quarantines in San Diego County.

A great roster of speakers who delivered relevant information in a beautiful setting at Balboa Park in San Diego. On Saturday, the event transferred to the field, where information discussed at the seminar was applied and viewed in the field, an aspect of the field day I find very beneficial.

As usual, Dr. John Kabashima, the Environmental Horticulture Advisor with the UC Cooperative Extension, presented new, current information on the latest insect threat to our ornamental and agronomic trees in California, that being the Polyphagous Shot Hole Borer, (PSHB). As many of us already know, this destructive ambrosia beetle is now active throughout the Southern California.

The PSHB is an invasive ambrosia beetle that carries the fungus Fusarium euwallaceae.  The female tunnels through the bark and lays galleries of pre-fertilized eggs and grows the fungus, which becomes food the newly hatched beetles.  The fungi infects the tree with a disease called Fusarium Dieback (FD), which interrupts the transport of water and nutrients through the vascular system of the tree.  In essence, this is a vascular clogging disease resulting in dieback and death of a large host of trees.   Unfortunately, there is no cure at the present time and beware of PSHB/FD look-alikes.  Here is very informative attachment Dr. Kabashima provided that really provides current information about this insect.  Handout is published from the University of California and the UC division of Agriculture and Natural Resources.   PSHB Information

Many thanks to all of the hardworking voluntary staff of the PTCA.  What a great local association, I am very proud to be a member of.  The PTCA is an active association promoting the best in tree care and tree knowledge.  An association composted of tree care companies, certified and consulting arborists and tree care  professionals, the PTCA continues to provide current and relevant topics for it’s membership and community at large.  Thanks again PTCA, looking forward to next years Seminar and Field Day!