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.

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 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!

Let it Burn or Suppress It? US Park Service vs Cal Fire Policy

This past summer brought us the gigantic Rim fire that devastated Yosemite National Park and surrounding communities. Over 4,900 firefighters operated under a unified command, however when the fire crossed over into the boundary between state and national park land, the National Park Service took a very different approach than Cal Fires (California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection). Continue reading “Let it Burn or Suppress It? US Park Service vs Cal Fire Policy” »

What to do With Your Xmas Tree?

Fortunately, most municipalities now have recycling programs for green waste, making it easier for homeowners to recycle their used Xmas tree.  Recyclers grind or shred trees into a mulch which is then composted and eventually becomes available as a bulk or bagged mulch product.  This is certainly a preferable option than the “old days” when trees were commingled with regular trash and buried in landfill sites.

If you have a large tree, prune off some branches and reduce the overall size to ensure local curbside pickup.  If you have the room on your property, you can do your own recycling via a compost bin, pile or simply leaving the tree in an area where it will slowly decompose on its own.  Leaving a tree whole may also become home to birds and other animals for shelter or nesting site.  Make sure all tinsel and other decorations have been removed from the tree.

If you  have a live tree, it can be re-planted into the outdoor landscape.  Remember, depending on the variety of pine tree, these are typically large growing trees.  Despite the small size now, ten to twenty years down the road, you may have a forty to sixty foot tall tree.  I have seen this issue while consulting on residential sites where a neighbors Xmas tree planted near the property line grew to fifty-five feet, with limbs and roots encroaching into the clients property, damaging concrete improvements and posing an increased safety  risk.  If you are going to re-plant the tree, make sure you have the space for a large pine tree to grow, avoid planting near property lines, driveways, sidewalks and patios.

For more information about Xmas tree recycling, check out this article at:

Making the most of the Christmas Tree

At Yosemite, Infrastructure Out to Benefit Giant Sequoia’s!

Read an article in the Los Angeles Times concerning upcoming changes at Yosemite National Park. There is a proposal to remove public parking, a gift shop and tram operations in an effort to minimize impacts to the Mariposa Grove, a grove of approximately 500 Giant Sequoia trees (Sequoia giganteum).

The Park service recognizes paved surfaces and infrastructure are “compacting the soil, encroaching on sequoia roots and interfering with natural drainage patterns”. Tram service will be limited to the south entry of the park and shuttle buses would take people tot he entrance of the lower grove, where the largest and oldest trees are located. Access to the upper grove would be by foot only. Approximately four acres of paved surfaces would be removed from the grove. A final decision on the proposal will be made by end of the year.

Measured by mass, the giant sequoia is the worlds largest living organism. Californian’s are fortunate to have bragging rights to hosting these ageless giants living on the western slope of the Sierra Nevada. They exist in scattered groves typically on federal land.

My dad took me to Sequoia National Park when I was just a young kid, I still vividly remember the awe I felt looking at the General Sherman tree. If you haven’t seen a giant sequoia, you owe yourself and family a trip to Yosemite or Sequoia National Park to see these living legends. Their sheer mass and regal beauty is indescribable. I think this is great news for the future survival of the sequoia grove, which we almost lost due to the recent mammoth fire at Yosemite.

When trees conflicts with infrastructure, tree usually loose out.  It is an encouraging turn of events when trees are recognized more valuable than a parking lot and gift store, hopefully this trend will continue.

Read the article at Redwood Grove Saved

Can a Tree Capture Particulate Matter from the Air?

For years, certified arborists and urban foresters have learned the many benefits of trees. Energy savings are one of the foremost known benefits of trees as they shade building during the summer reducing the need for air conditioning and deciduous tress allow sunlight to reach structures during winter months, solar radiation decreasing the need for winter heating.

Another known benefit for trees are their ability to reduce storm water runoff and erosion, particularly during the winter months. Tree root systems bind soil particles and slow storm runoff from roofs and other impervious surfaces, trees act as bio filters, slowing storm and irrigation water runoff and allowing the water time to slowly percolate into the soil profile rather than run off into the street or storm drain system.  By forcing water to pass through the soil profile, rather than runoff into storm drain systems, the soil mass filters impurities before the water enters into streams, ponds and aquifers.

Birch Tree planting works as filter

A Birch street tree planting used for testing as a green filter to remove particulate matter from the air we breath

Continue reading “Can a Tree Capture Particulate Matter from the Air?” »

Trees and Solar Power – Environmental Conflict or Can the Two Co-Exist?

I attended a recent seminar in San Diego entitled Trees and Solar Power:  Natural Partners, sponsored by the California Urban Forest Council (CAUFC).  It was a very informative seminar, bringing together professionals from the solar and tree industries, as well as city planners, landscape architects, arborists and related professionals.

Even with decades experience as a landscape contractor, certified arborist, professional horticulturist and land development infrastructure project manager, I was not aware of the current solar and arboriculture laws.  For example, the State of California and many other states enacted solar legislation decades ago.  Due to the oil crisis in the 1970’s and 1980’s, there was increased interest in promoting alternative energy sources.  Many states adopted laws to encourage renewable energy technologies, solar being one of them.

In 1978, California enacted the Solar Shade Control Act, in part to protect consumer rights to install and operate solar energy systems on a home or business and to protect consumer rights to access sunlight.  In 2008, the law was amended due to a very public controversy between two Santa Clara County residents being criminally prosecuted and convicted under the Act for allowing their redwood trees to cast shade on a neighbors solar panels.

Based on the Solar Shade Act of 2008, a site plan reflecting the pre-existing conditions at the time a solar system is installed should be a mandatory permit and legal requirement.  As lawsuits increase due to conflicts between trees shading solar collectors, a site plan showing trees in place pre-existing a solar installation will become an important legal instrument.

We derive many benefits from large trees, from their beauty and aesthetics to the shade and passive cooling affect they have on our homes and businesses.  The same is true for deciduous trees in the winter when they drop their leaves, permitting solar radiation to warm our homes.  In a residential setting, large existing trees will invariably cast shading onto a structure.  It is incumbent upon a solar company to analyze shading from the Client and neighboring trees for correct solar panel design and installation.

If a solar company identifies trees as a potential shading  conflict with a rooftop solar installation, a certified arborist and or professional horticulturist should be added to the design team.  Depending on the tree species, growth form, and distance from the structure, there may be several alternatives available to mitigate tree shading without complete tree removal or butchering the tree through indiscriminate topping.

Have a certified arborist or professional horticulturist consult with the solar company to ensure retention of the desired landscape aesthetics combined with the energy savings benefits of rooftop solar.

Read the full article at Trees and Solar-Environmental Conflict or Can the Two Co-Exist?

Love the Beauty of Your City? Thank the Landscape Architects who Made it Happen

I recently read a great article by Delle Willett of the North Park News entitled Landscape Architects:  Artists with the Earth as a Canvas.  The article focused on three local women landscape architects who have made significant contributions to enhancing the aesthetics and functionality to the City of San Diego.

While reading about the history of female landscape architects, I couldn’t help be reflect on my own background and education within the fielof landscape architecture and landscape contracting.  As a college student, my path began at UC Santa Barbara and completed with a Bachelor of Science degree from California Polytechnic University, Pomona.

I wrote and article correlating my own academic history with the three landscape architects discussed in the newspaper article.  For men or women interested in the field of landscape architecture, design, planning, horticulture, arboriculture and landscape contracting, or anyone who struggled to find their own passion and career path in college, I think you’ll enjoy the read.

Landscape Architects Making Significant Contributions to City of San Diego

Landscape Architects: Artists with the Earth as a Canvas.