Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
July, 2007
Regional Report

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Willow trees are happy near the water where their roots have easy access to moisture.

Care for the Trees

When I travel through this world, I see green. I'm not on the lookout for architecture or fashion, I don't notice new cars or fancy houses. I only see plants and how comfortably they are situated in their environment. A beautiful garden will stop me in my tracks.

When we were traveling in Alaska last month, most people were observing the grand vistas. I was seeing sphagnum moss covered in clouds of tiny, white blossoms (I didn't know it bloomed!) and tiny patches of brilliant purple heather growing out of solid rock. So when I see a tree on the street that is suffering from a broken stake, a hanging limb, a bad pruning job, or ivy climbing up the trunk, I wonder "Why doesn't anybody else see this problem? Am I the only advocate on the lookout for plant welfare?"

San Francisco's windy climate is problematic for trees. Last winter I rescued a newly planted street tree across from the train station that had broken free of its stake in a storm. The thin trunk was bent over and in danger of breaking from the weight of the heavy, wet canopy. I found a plastic bag on the street and retied the little tree to its stake. It stayed that way until just a few weeks ago when whomever is in charge of those things finally noticed and replaced the bag with a rubber tie.

There are so many trees in the Bay area that only have branches on one side because of the constant prevailing winds. There aren't enough arborists in the world to maintain all of the misshapen trees in San Francisco. A little selective pruning to open the canopy so that wind can blow through is all these misshapen trees need, but nobody seems to notice.

Luckily, there are trees ideally suited for windy conditions, and they even take on a particular charm and character because of the natural phenomenon that shapes them. Cypress and melalucca are two examples of trees that contort and conform to their environment. Then there are trees like the myoporoum that don't seem to notice the strong afternoon breezes. They just grow in their tidy, round form unimpeded by the forces of nature. And, of course, there are the bulletproof eucalyptus that will most likely survive Armageddon, along with the cockroaches.

Dust is another problem here in the Bay area. There seems to be a lot of construction going on around Brisbane and South San Francisco, consequently the trees are covered in a thick layer of dust, which is like a magnet to insect pests. I would like to convince homeowners how important it is to keep the foliage clean. Please, check to see if your trees are dusty, and if so, go out in the morning and wash them with a high-pressure nozzle and spray as high up in the canopy as possible. An accumulation of dust on the leaves weakens trees by inhibiting photosynthesis. Dust also provides insects like mites and scale with a foothold. Oh yes, a clean tree is a happy tree!

Call a Certified Arborist
If you have a tree on your property that just doesn't look right, that is dripping a sticky substance on the ground, or that seems weak and doesn't perform as expected, call a certified arborist to check it for you. Usually, they don't charge for consultation, and tree work isn't nearly as expensive as you might imagine. Trees are living things that add value to your home, provide shade in the summer and homes for the birds. They are beautiful to look at. Please, provide for them if they are in your care.

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