Post date: October 28, 2015

A drought-stressed tree is more prone to failure than a healthy tree. PG&E representatives have stated that they are removing 30% more dead trees and twice as many hazardous trees than in previous years. You might find yourself asking why are drought stressed trees more likely to fail, and how might this “Godzilla” El Niño event increase the potential for tree failure?
Water is a necessity for all plants (even cacti). Water acts as a solvent for nutrients, minerals, and sugars. These are the building blocks of all plant cells and are required for any plant to undergo photosynthesis.
Trees essentially siphon water upwards via capillary action and pressure. As leaves transpire, pressure pulls the water upward from the soil (like a large straw). As soil moisture decreases, the pressure required to pull moisture from the soil becomes greater. The soil eventually dries to the point that the forces that hold moisture in the soil become greater than the force that pulls moisture into the tree. At this point, salt content is increased in the soil (due to lack of moisture). The soil may begin pulling water from the tree back into the soil via osmosis. Trees respond by halting photosynthesis and respiration. If a tree is not photosynthesizing, it is not creating energy reserves. The tree then has to sustain itself by using its existing energy reserves; if this continues for an extended period of time, the tree can deplete all of its stored energy and cells begin to die (essentially starvation). The dieback can start at the growing tips and progress to entire branches or even complete trees.
We’ve established that a drought stressed tree is weakened, but why would fall and winter rains increase the possibility of plant failure? Fall and winter rains are often accompanied by strong wind, which can sever already weakened branches. Strong winds can also uproot drought stressed trees. A healthy tree will have a more expansive root system, which will help to anchor the tree to the soil.
Strong winds can even uproot healthy trees. Pruning the tree canopy to reduce the wind sail effect lessens the possibility of damages from strong winds.
Available moisture can stimulate growth onto already weakened branches. The increased growth adds extra “end-weight” to those branches, and can cause large limbs to fall.        
A certified arborist can evaluate the overall health of your trees and make recommendations to decrease the likelihood of storm damage. Proactive proper pruning reduces excessive “end-weight” and removes hazardous branches before they have the opportunity to cause structural or property damage. Conversely, improper pruning increases the likelihood of tree failure and accompanying damage.
Call us today to schedule an appointment for our certified arborist to inspect your trees. To learn about potential hazards and actions you can take to prepare your trees for winter, visit:
“Godzilla” El Niño
The latest forecasting models confirm that our current El Niño event remains comparable in magnitude to both the 1982-83 and 1997-98 events, which were the two strongest on record. The forecast predicts the heaviest rains won’t arrive until January – March and perhaps also December.
While we hope this season’s El Niño helps to alleviate our drought, we’ll believe it when we see it. However, based on probability and forecasted severity of this “Godzilla” El Niño, we strongly recommend taking a few pro-active measures to prepare for what may come.
Before rains come and throughout the rainy season, we recommend checking gutters and  drainage systems for debris. Clearing this debris will prevent water from backing up and damaging structures or landscapes. By taking a few pro-active measures, you can prevent thousands of dollars in potential damages. 

Post date: August 31, 2015

Saving water is important, especially during a drought. There are many steps you can take to reduce your household water use, both indoors and in the landscape. Installing water efficient appliances, low-flow faucet heads, and repairing leaks can save thousands of gallons a year. When it comes to reducing outdoor water use, many homeowners do not know where to start. 
The reality is that drought conditions are the new norm. Even in years with average rainfall, our summers are dry. Water districts have implemented mandatory restrictions, increased costs, and imposed fines. Growing non-climate appropriate plants wastes both water and money. Get ahead of the curve and create your plan to achieve a low-water landscape.
To ensure that your landscape water management and conservation plan is sound, consider the following:

  1. Start a dialogue with your arborist, landscape contractor or gardener. If your gardener isn’t knowledgeable about irrigation, consider consulting with an irrigation specialist.
  2. Trees are likely your most valuable landscape assets. Make sure you understand the water needs of your trees and how reducing landscape irrigation affects their health and survival. For more information on this topic please refer to the following:
  3. Learn where you use (and possibly waste) the most water: this is where you will be able to achieve the greatest reduction in water usage. Locating and fixing irrigation leaks is a important step to reduce water waste.
  4. Do you have a lawn? Do you actually use it? There are many lawn alternatives that use less water but still provide the appearance of a “green carpet.”
  5. Determine which microclimates exist on your property. A successful water conservation and irrigation plan takes into account factors such as shade, partial shade or full-sun exposure, proximity to structures, and wind.
  6. What is your budget? Explore low cost and “zero cost” improvements you can make right now, e.g., changing fixed spray nozzles to rotator nozzles or simply changing the irrigation schedule to provide deeper infrequent water.
  7. Add mulch to help insulate your soil and limit water loss due to evaporation.
  8. Look into new irrigation technology such as smart controllers, moisture meters and subsurface irrigation. Irrigation technology has vastly improved over the past decade. If your irrigation system is older; now is the time to install a new system.
  9. Call or schedule an appointment with your local water agency. Many agencies offer free irrigation audits and are happy to provide information about water-efficiency rebates.
  10. Consider alternative water options including: grey water systems, rainwater catchment, and recycled water. Installing a “Laundry to Landscape system” is an easy, low cost introduction into the world of grey water.
  11. Think about the design and functional elements you would include in your dream landscape renovation. How can you achieve this with an emphasis on water conservation?  Thoughtful planning is key to achieving long-term water conservation in the landscape.

Taking the first step towards creating a more water efficient landscape can be overwhelming. We are familiar with the challenges you face and the solutions available to you. We are able to apply the lessons we’ve learned in guiding our customers through this process to ensure that your unique landscape renovation project meets the highest standards of water conservation and achieves the functional and aesthetic outcome you desire.
Call us today to set up a free consultation to discuss how we can help you prioritize and implement a sound water conservation plan. 

Post date: July 30, 2015

It seems that we get questions nearly everyday about protecting trees from drought stress. Mature trees are the most valuable part of any landscape; and they aren’t easily replaced. In periods of drought, it is important to ensure that your trees are receiving adequate moisture. 
Depending on soil type, species and age, adequate moisture could mean irrigating twice a week, or even twice a month. While tree species differ in their water needs, they all require deep watering to ensure they receive adequate moisture. 
Landscape irrigation provides the main source of water for many trees. However, trees often don’t have their own dedicated irrigation. Therefore, as everyone dials back irrigation to comply with mandated water restrictions, it is critical that we carefully monitor drought stress so that we can take the appropriate action to preserve our oldest and most valuable landscape assets.
Watering deeply is more important than watering frequently. The easiest way to apply irrigation water deeply is with a subsurface drip system (such as Netafim or Rainbird XFS tubing). The inset photo shows a Netafim drip irrigation system we installed to provide dedicated deep water to a grove of 24 established Redwood trees.
Drip irrigation applies water slowly to soil.  By applying the irrigation water slowly, moisture is capable of saturating the soil to a depth of 1’ or deeper. As a comparison, running conventional spray irrigation for 25-30 minutes per week will only provide water to a depth of 1”. Very little of this water will be available to tree roots, even less when you factor in run off and overspray.
If you are looking to convert to a subsurface drip irrigation system, or if you would like to learn more about deep root watering; contact us today to schedule an appointment.

Post date: July 10, 2015

We are proud to announce that our landscape division, Terra Landscape, won three major awards from the California Landscape Contractors Association (CLCA). We earned first place at this year’s CLCA East Bay Chapter Annual Awards in the category for Small Commercial Maintenance.  We also earned two awards at this year’s CLCA San Francisco Bay Chapter Annual Awards. We won first place in the category of Large Multi-Residential Maintenance and we won the Achievement Award in the category of Multi-Residential Install. 
For the CLCA East Bay Chapter, we were recognized for our work at Independence Plaza which is a 186 unit senior housing complex in Alameda. Back in 2012, the Housing Authority of the City of Alameda undertook one of the largest Bay Friendly landscape renovation projects to date. All turf grass throughout the 5.5 acre site was removed and converted to low-water landscaping that features an abundance of California native species. We have partnered with the Housing Authority since 2002 and we perform maintenance activities in compliance with Bay Friendly landscape maintenance guidelines.
To learn more about the CLCA East Bay Chapter Awards please visit:
For the CLCA San Francisco Bay Chapter, we were recognized for our landscape maintenance and construction work at St. Francis Wood HOA in San Francisco. We earned the installation award for a lawn conversion, irrigation upgrade and drought tolerant planting project we performed throughout an 8-foot wide parkway that spans the length of 11 homes. We replaced old lawn strips and plants with drought tolerant shrubs and trees. We installed an in-line drip irrigation system for the shrubs and a separate line to accommodate the different water needs for the trees.
To learn more about the CLCA San Francisco Bay Chapter Awards please visit:

Post date: July 10, 2015

Trees are often the most valuable component of one’s landscape. Yet when it comes to providing care for your trees, many people cannot differentiate proper pruning from improper pruning. Pruning must be done with an understanding of tree biology. Each tree species requires a unique pruning technique. Improper pruning can create lasting damage or even shorten the tree’s life.
We take pride in educating our customers so they understand what constitutes quality tree care, why quality really matters, and how our professional service provides lasting value.
Proper cuts
Making a proper cut takes no longer than making an improper cut… it just takes knowledge, training and care. A proper cut leaves no “stub” nor does it result in a “flush cut” which damages the stem. A proper cut should always be made to the branch collar… preserving the bark ridge between the stem and branch. The branch collar should not be damaged as it contains trunk tissue with the DNA required for proper healing.
Proper pruning
Proper pruning of mature trees makes for a safer tree. It requires a skilled arborist climbing out into the clumps of foliage at the end of each branch to remove deadwood, diseased tissue, crossing branches and, if necessary, make selected thinning cuts to reduce end weight. Making more numerous smaller cuts is preferable to making a few large cuts to reduce an equal amount of weight. Climbing “out to the tip” and performing proper pruning in a manner that retains natural branch balance takes skill and time. 
Beware…running down the trunk
“Running down the trunk” refers to the ill-advised approach of simply removing the branches from the interior of the tree closest to the trunk. Corrective pruning and selective thinning are supposed to result in a healthier more stable tree. To the average innocent tree-owner, seeing a big pile of branches on the ground indicates a lot of pruning… and value for dollars invested.
Unfortunately, often that impressive volume of branches on the ground is the result of an arborist just “running down the trunk.” After all, they are the easiest branches to get to. The most common term for this type of improper pruning is called “Lion’s Tailing.” The unhappy result is that most interior branching has been removed… leaving untouched the heavy lever of foliage out at the end of the branch. With the interior growth gone, the only place for future energy to be directed is to this heavy clump of foliage left out at the tip of the branch. As the tree grows, the tips get heavier and become MORE susceptible to breakage due to wind damage or excessive end weight. Proper pruning techniques contribute to tree health and stability. Improper “running down the trunk” cutting often results in a GREATER hazard.
Improper pruning increases drought stress
Proper pruning to reduce excess foliage, weak branches, diseased plant material, and dead and dying limbs helps reduce demands for water and nutrients. Trees produce a dense crown of leaves to manufacture the sugar used as energy for growth and development. Excessive pruning can reduce stored energy reserves causing significant health stress for the tree.
Proper pruning is a value! Expert pruning techniques may cost slightly more in the short run but will result in stronger, healthier…and less costly trees in the long run.