UCCE Master Gardeners of San Bernardino County
University of California
UCCE Master Gardeners of San Bernardino County

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Plant a Tree. Leave a Legacy!

Do you have Spring Fever? If you have adequate space, why not leave a legacy to your children's children by planting a tree? When the right species is planted in the right location with the right care, landscape trees can be enjoyed for 100 years or more. Landscape trees cool urban heat islands, absorb carbon dioxide, filter toxic chemicals from soil preventing them from polluting our waterways, reduce soil and water erosion, reduce internal energy needs and related costs, provide habitat, and beautify neighborhoods.

trees shade urban heat islands, absorb carbon dioxide and conserve energy

Spring is a much better times to plant a container landscape tree in California than is summer. Trees incur far less stress if they've been in the ground several weeks rather than having to immediately adapt to high summer temperatures. Cooler weather allows plants to establish roots in their new ‘home' before the harshness of summer sets in. (Deciduous bare-root fruit trees, on the other hand, should be planted during the winter when they are dormant.) Choose recommended species for your climate and micro-climate.

Choose trees based on your Sunset climate zone (more precise than USDA zones for California since they include impacts of high temperatures as well as low temperatures) and your microclimate (shade, soil conditions, space, etc.). Four of my favorite search engines that allow one to search by multiple criteria (size, water needs, flower color, ecosystem functions, pest susceptibility, etc.) are: Inland Valley Garden Planner: https://inlandvalleygardenplanner.org/; Cal Poly, Pomona: https://selectree.calpoly.edu;California Native Plant Society: http://www.cnps.org/cnps/grownative/lists.php; and WUCOLS IV (Water Use Classification of Landscape Species): http://ucanr.edu/sites/WUCOLS

Avoid circled, girdled roots. Remember to inspect the root system of container trees. Avoid purchasing specimens with severely circled and girdled roots. Root pruning will not solve the problem and the resulting tree is much more prone to failure later. This occurs because the upper portion of the tree continues to grow and expand while the root system lacks the breadth and architectural strength to support the tree. Many times a tree will look fine for several years and - seemingly - very suddenly topple in winds that otherwise it could sustain with a more adequate root system. Only when the tree falls does the owner actually notice firsthand that the root system is the same size it was when the tree was planted years before!

Check drainage before you plant. Dig a hole where you are planning on planting the tree, fill it with water, and make sure it completely drains within 24-hours. If it doesn't drain, don't plant a tree there. In some cases, trees are carefully selected based on species and location only to perish ten or more years later due to poor drainage and water-logged soil. Trees often die in these situations due to a lack of aeration setting them up for disease-causing fungal pathogens.

tree planting hole drainage test

Planting the tree. Dig a hole at least 2-1/2 times the width of the container (in clay or compacted soils make the hole at least 4-5 times wider) up to two inches shallower than the depth of the tree in the container to compensate for settling. Use a shovel or trowel to roughen the soil on the sides of the hole to encourage root growth into the native soil. Remove the tree from the container along with any loose soil that covers the lower part of the trunk. Carefully place the tree in the planting hole, keeping the trunk flare (the area where the trunk widens and connects with the roots) 1-2 inches above the existing grade. Gently fill the hole with the same soil that was removed. Do not add soil amendments or compost, another common cause of circled and kinked roots. Irrigate the tree immediately after planting through the entire root system and slightly deeper. Keep in mind that soils with appreciable clay content absorb water more slowly than sandier soils and need to be watered longer but less often. Water newly planted container trees often through their establishment period, even if they are drought tolerant species. Recently transplanted trees have a small volume of roots that dry out very quickly. Water newly planted trees regularly through the first season. Trees in sandy soils require more frequent watering than do trees in heavier soils. (After trees are fully established, irrigation frequency should be reduced but more water should be added during each irrigation.)

Avoid staking trees unless necessary. Stake trees only if they were staked at the nursery and/or if they are planted in a wind-prone area. Remember to loosen ties on nursery stock before they girdle the trunk. Gently secure any tree requiring staking with two opposing flexible ties on the lower half of the tree, allowing the tree to gently blow in the wind to encourage lower trunk strength. Avoids taking trees tightly, restricting flex. As the tree matures, remember to loosen ties and aim for removing stakes entirely if the tree is self-supporting.

proper tree staking and planting practices

Pruning. Avoid heavy pruning at the time of planting. Remove only broken branches, crossed branches and suckers at the base of the tree.

Fertilizing. Most trees have received adequate nutrition in the nursery and do not need fertilizer at the time of planting.

Mulching. Apply a 2-4 inch layer of mulch three or more inches away from the tree trunk. Organic mulches such as woodchips and compost should be applied and maintained at a depth of 3-4 inches to prevent weed seeds from sprouting. Inorganic mulches (gravel, pebbles, etc.) should be maintained at 2-3 inches. In fire-prone areas, organic mulches near the urban/forest interface should be avoided. Remember to irrigate below the mulch.

For more information on tree planting and care and all other home gardening and landscape topics, contact the UCCE San Bernardino County Master Gardener Helpline at mgsanbern@ucanr.edu

 

Posted on Tuesday, March 30, 2021 at 9:59 AM
Focus Area Tags: Yard & Garden

Be part of the solution: Plant drought, heat, and pest resistant trees to combat urban heat islands

Our population of urban trees is shrinking! You can help turn this around by protecting your own trees and by planting new ones recommended for your climate and the conditions around your home. For more on this topic, please revisit my February blog for specific selection and care recommendations: https://ucanr.edu/b/~ZuB.

Red Push Pistache is Drought and Heat Resistant

In addition, please encourage your city to plant a wide range of recommended species today for a healthier tomorrow. Why is this so important? Many of our current street trees are in the 11th hour of their lifespans. While some that were planted decades ago are simply aging naturally, in other cases, they are perishing prematurely due to poor selection and care. This leads to a downward spiral; trees not adapted to the climate they're planted in and not receiving proper care are much more susceptible to invasive pests (shot-hole borers, etc.) and diseases than are healthy, well- chosen and maintained trees. Even the loss of one front yard shade tree can significantly reduce shade, increase the surrounding temperature, and diminish energy savings.

Another reason we're losing our trees is due to the negative impacts of urban heat islands (UHIs) which shorten the lifespan of many species of trees dramatically. Some trees (even many natives!) just aren't able to withstand the higher temperatures (sometimes exceeding 20 degrees) they are subjected to due to UHIs.

What are urban heat islands and why should we care? Urban heat islands are caused by reradiated heat from paved concrete and (especially) asphalt surfaces.

Urban Heat Island Cooled by Tree
Hard surfaces of UHIs absorb large amounts of heat generated during the day and release it at night, slowly but steadily warming average nighttime (mostly) and daytime temperatures. Together, these negative impacts on our urban trees lead to a sad reality: the average lifespan of an urban tree is only about ¼ of its potential. While our stately shade-producing ficus, oak, maple, pine, rosewood and magnolia trees have potential lifespans of 80 -120 years or longer in unstressed environments, most perish much sooner.

And, our cities are growing and expanding. Very few Southern California residents reside in rural areas. Instead of living near pastures, field-filled crops, and forests that cool the surrounding area through evapotranspiration, the vast majority of us reside in warmer urban city centers. Conditions we expect our city trees to endure in 2021 are very different from even 20 to 30 years alone, let alone decades ago.

Urban Heat Island

The good news is that, through proper tree selection and care, we can be a part of the solution. In fact, trees offer many benefits that offset the impacts of UHIs. Cities with larger tree canopies are a testament to this fact and have fewer adverse impacts from UHIs than do cities with low tree canopies. Trees reduce the impact of UHIs by shading parking lots, buildings, and vehicles), deflecting the sun's radiation, and cooling the atmosphere through evapotranspiration. Trees also absorb and store carbon which lessens the impacts of pollution from fossil fuels. A well-tended mature landscape tree can absorb 40 tons of carbon over its lifespan.

Well Maintained Park Tree

The solution? Augment our current urban tree palettes with heat, drought, and pest-resistant native and adapted non-native species. A case in point of a native tree in trouble is our beautiful Joshua trees (Yucca brevifolia) which are dying off in their namesake National Park and seeding 500 or more feet higher elevation than parent plants. Planting trees that withstand UHIs today is crucial for tomorrow.

We are well on the way to identifying landscape tree species that can remain healthy under adverse urban conditions. In our study examining the performance of 12 species of underplanted but promising landscape trees, several candidates are standing out for their heat, drought, and pest resistance.

Posted on Thursday, March 4, 2021 at 9:20 PM
Focus Area Tags: Environment, Health, Natural Resources

'Trees for Tomorrow Start Today' Workshop (via Zoom) March 9, 2021 (8:15 AM - 3:00 PM)

Landscape trees provide shade, cool urban heat islands, reduce interior energy use and related costs, provide habitat for pollinators and wildlife, and beautify our communities. They also help clean our environment by absorbing carbon dioxide emitted by vehicles and other producers of fossil fuels.

Taking care of our urban trees is an important way to maximize these benefits. Unfortunately, their average lifespan in our cities is less than 1/4 of their potential due to poor selection and care. You can help enact change and increase the health, longevity and canopy coverage of our urban forests by encouraging your city leaders, local non-profit organizations interested in ‘green cities' arborists, landscape architects, nursery growers, HOAs, and concerned citizens to register for our free ‘Trees for Tomorrow Start Today' workshop (via Zoom) on Tuesday, March 9, 2021 (8:15am – 3pm).

Please reach out to your city leaders and local ‘green industry' professionals to encourage their attendance and participation. While the workshop is free, registration is required through this secure link: http://ucanr.edu/u.cfm?id=264

A bevy of speakers including certified arborists, horticulturists, planners, water district personnel and other non-profit and green industry representatives will discuss the benefits of urban trees; recommended practices for their selection and care; how to avoid hazardous trees that damage property and structures; and share success stories resulting from partnerships through cities, non-profit organizations, the green industry, HOAs, and street tree committees.

A highlight of the workshop will be the opportunity for attendees to participate in breakout sessions that cut across professions and interest groups (city planners, community service directors, arborists, landscape architects, landscapers, water district managers, HOA managers, golf course superintendents, nursery growers, UC master gardeners, concerned citizens, etc.) to enact positive change regarding tree selection and care.

Thank you for sharing this opportunity to help ensure a healthy future for our children's children with your city leaders and decision-makers.

In the meantime, here are some tree care tips to ‘start the conversation' between now and the workshop:

• Select trees that perform well in your climate. The Sunset Western Climate Zone maps are more precise than USDA zones for our warmer climates. Trees should also be selected based on their adaptation to the ‘micro-climate' in each particular landscape, as well (shade, proximity to buildings, space needs below as well as above ground, soil type, water source, etc.)

• Plant trees the same depth they were in their container in holes at least 2-1/2 times wider. Do not add compost or organic matter to the hole. This practice can result in circled roots that never grow laterally out of the confines of the dug hole.

• Remove any tree ties that are cutting into the trunk or branches of your trees. If trees must be staked due to windy conditions, make sure that the ties are loose enough to allow trees to gently flex in the wind. This helps trees develop the necessary lower trunk strength and stability to support the tree as it matures. Over time, you may be able to completely remove the ties and stakes once the lower trunk becomes stronger and self-supporting.

• Keep all plants and mulch several inches away from tree trunks.

• Keep tree trunks dry. They should not come into contact with water from sprinklers or hoses.

• Regularly water newly planted trees but water mature trees infrequently and deeply. Watering too often reduces the level of oxygen in the rootzone and can lead to waterlogged soils prone to crown and root rots. During fall, trees require only about 15% of the water they require in the summer.

• Prune trees only as needed and avoid topping them. Invest in the services of a credentialed and knowledgeable professional to correctly care for your valued trees. Find a list of International Society of Arboriculture Certified Arborists in your area here: https://www.treesaregood.org/findanarborist.

 

Posted on Monday, February 1, 2021 at 8:22 PM
Focus Area Tags: Environment

Thanksgiving or Christmas cactus? Are they the same species?

With only a few short weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas and two very similarly looking plants, you may be wondering whether the gift a loved one gave you for Christmas is a Thanksgiving cactus or a Christmas cactus. (Many sold in local nurseries and large box stores this past Christmas season were actually Thanksgiving cactus (S. truncata), pictured below). While both are native to tropical regions of Brazil, host a wide array of flowers ranging from the more traditional pink hues to newer hybrids showing off white, red, yellow, and purple, they have different bloom periods. The Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera bridgesii), blooms about a month after the Thanksgiving cactus.

 

 

The Christmas cactus also has slightly different projections on its leaves, which are more scalloped and less pointed that the projections on the Thanksgiving cactus. Is yours still not in flower and not in the holiday spirit? Both species require cool temperatures and longer nights for about a month in advance of their flowering period. Both plants bloom optimally when grown outdoors when cool night temperatures dip`into the 50s and shorter nights reduce daytime light to 10 -12 hours in a 24 hour cycle. They can also be grown indoors in pots if kept in a cool dark area with no light between 5 pm and 8 am. During daytime, they prefer bright, indirect light. Full sun can cause the leaf segments to turn dark red. Both species require good drainage but, even though they are in the cactus family don't let this fool you! They need adequate moisture - particularly during boom- and cannot make it through long, dry periods without supplemental water. Unlike most houseplants, they prefer to feel snug in their pots, almost to the point of enjoying being slightly pot-bound.

Happiest of holidays however you choose to safely celebrate them this year!

Janet

Posted on Tuesday, November 24, 2020 at 10:46 AM
Focus Area Tags: Yard & Garden

Tips for Enhancing the Fire-Resistance of Your Home Landscape

Welcome to another “New Normal!” Due to climate change resulting in hotter, drier conditions and reduced snowpack, the occurrence of a “fire season” which traditionally occurred from May through October is becoming a misnomer, with fire occurring throughout the year. The severity of what may lie ahead over the next several months was highlighted in a recent tweet posted by CAL FIRE: “Compared to last year, California has seen over 2,650 more fires and a nearly 2000% increase in the acres burned year-to-date (January 1 – September 7), across all jurisdictions.”

Indeed, Fall often hosts strong offshore winds that can quickly spread destructive fires, exacerbated by the impacts of climate change. What can you do to help ensure ‘defensible space' that increases the safety of your family, pets and property in fire-prone areas? First and foremost, select and properly maintain fire-resistant plants augmented with hardscapes and fire breaks extending from your home to at least one hundred feet outward. (This also helps ensure access to your home by firefighters and other first-line responders in the event of a fire or other life-threatening event.)

Vegetation chosen for your defensible space should have low flammability and can include trees and shrubs along with herbaceous plants. Allowing adequate space between woody plants is important to avoid a continuous fuel path (fuel ladder) where fire starting at ground level can climb to the top of a tree and spread from tree to tree.

1. Follow these ‘defensible space' guidelines to reduce the risk of fire spread and damage:

Zone 0 (first 5 feet from structures): avoid anything combustible including woody plants, mulch, woodpiles, trellises, and stacked items. Instead, add walkways and mulch and other hardscaping made from pebbles and rocks, pavers, rock mulch, or pea gravel. Include a 6-inch noncombustible area extending from the ground to the exterior siding of structures.

Zone 1 (5-30 feet from structures): Eliminate fire spread by ensuring adequate space between trees, removing lower branches. Consider adding irrigated groundcovers or mowed grass or hardscapes between these plant groupings, as well. Properly maintain plants and remove dead portions of plants.

Zone 2 (31-100+ feet from structure to the property line): Concentrate on reducing the density of plants to slow the spread of fire and to reduce the height of flames. Woody plants should be spaced (as illustrated below) to prevent fuel ladders.

 

                                   Defensible Zones (source: National Fire Protection Association, nfpa.org)

2. Remember that even a so called “fire-resistant” species that is under-watered or otherwise poorly cared for can be highly combustible. The conditions under which the plant is grown influences its fire-resistance more than the species itself. However, plant species high in wax, oil, and resins such as conifers tend to be highly flammable while manzanita and ceanothus (California lilac) are less so. 

3. Avoid planting or spreading invasive species. While invasive plants are never recommended in any landscape, they are especially problematic in natural areas prone to wildfire. Once established they can fuel fire as well as crowd out native vegetation and associated habitat. Refer to the California Invasive Plant Council website for more information and specific examples and plants to avoid (www.cal-ipc.org).

4. Follow recommended planting and pruning guidelines to prevent both horizontal and vertical spread from tree to tree. Horizontal spacing is directly related to the slope of the land and the height of the vegetation.

 

Photo above (courtesy of CAL FIRE) is a diagram to help you determine minimum horizontal clearance for tree and shrub placement to reduce fire risk.

 

Photo above (courtesy of CAL FIRE) shows a 5' shrub near a tree. In this example, 15' of clearance (3 x 5') is needed between the top of the shrub and the lowest tree branch to prevent a fire ladder.

 

5. While fire-resistant natives and adapted non-natives greatly reduce your chance of losing your home and property to wildfire, all plants will burn under favorable conditions. Ensure that plants receive adequate irrigation.

6. Rather than applying organic mulch near your home, use non-flammable materials such as stone and pebbles. Granite pathways are also suggested since they provide a fuel break. Firewood and propane tanks should also be kept away from your home.

References:

CAL FIRE “Ready for Wildfire”: https://www.readyforwildfire.org/prepare-for-wildfire/get-ready/defensible-space/

Drill, S. et al. (2009), S.A.F.E Landscapes: Southern California Guidebook, UC Cooperative Extension: https://ucanr.edu/sites/SAFELandscapes/files/93415.pdf

UC ANR “Preparing Home Landscaping for Fire”: https://ucanr.edu/sites/fire/Prepare/Landscaping/

 

Posted on Sunday, September 27, 2020 at 5:22 PM
Focus Area Tags: Natural Resources

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