Post date: November 20, 2014

Due to the prolonged drought, trees throughout our region are under extraordinary stress. As a result, many tree species are much more susceptible to breakage and failure… especially with the winds and rains associated with winter.  Knowing what signs to look for and performing proper preventive care will reduce potential hazards and help to preserve the health and beauty of your highly valued trees.
Identify potential hazards
It is important to monitor tree health to identify potential hazards before they become costly problems. Here are 6 things to look for when evaluating the health and safety of your trees.

  1. Deadwood is dry and brittle and can break with wind or rain.
  2. Cracked, broken and hanging branches may pose a danger to people or property.
  3. Poor structure exhibited by poor angles of branch attachment, dense or crossing branches, foliage imbalance or excessive tree lean.
  4. Dense canopy foliage causes a “windsail effect” where wind is trapped in the top of a tree.
  5. Excessive end weight occurs as lateral branches become too heavy at the tip. An outside force such as wind or rain only adds stress. Excessive end weight makes the branch or tree more susceptible to breakage.
  6. Root problems caused by pathogens, proximity to foundations or structures, recent hardscape repair or signs of decay, instability and leaning.

Take action to preserve your trees
Now that you know what to look out for, it’s important to know what actions can be taken to prepare your trees for winter. Here are 5 actions to take to address the problems listed above:

  1. Root crown Inspection - Confirm that the base of the tree is healthy and strongly anchored in the ground.
  2. Corrective pruning, thinning and end weight reduction - The selective removal of deadwood, hazardous or crossing branches, and diseased tissue will minimize storm damage (and reduce fire hazard). Proper pruning strengthens and invigorates stressed trees (and allows more light to filter through to your house or yard). Selective thinning of trees to reduce “windsail” and excessive end weight will minimize the risk of branch breakage or tree toppling. 
  3. Cable, brace or remove weak limbs - Help to preserve the structure, balance and aesthetic symmetry of your tree. If neither cabling nor bracing is feasible, removal of weak limbs may be your best option. 
  4. Aerate root zones of stressed trees - Soil aeration opens our compacted clay soils, provides essential oxygen for root growth and allows winter rains to percolate to the tree root zone.
  5. Removal of hazardous trees- While we love to preserve trees, sometimes the only option is removal. We specialize in difficult removals and do so without causing damage to surrounding structures or plantings.

Winter is also the time of year to prune Pines, fruit trees and many other deciduous tree species. Keep an eye out for our next post about why it is best to wait until winter to prune Pine trees. To learn more about preparing your trees for winter, please give us a call today!

Post date: October 31, 2014

Happy Halloween! Fall is here. Daylight hours are getting shorter and the nights are getting cooler.  The leaves of Sweetgum trees have changed to a vibrant red. Many other trees have begun to drop their leaves.  

Autumn is the best time of the year to plant new gardens. The weather is typically mild, and the soil is still warm enough to plant. There are few times when planting in the spring and summer is more successful. Generally, Planting in the fall is recommended because of its many advantages over spring and summer planting.
Fall planting allows for the longest period of establishment before the stress of summer arrives. By the time ninety-degree weather is here, roots have grown downward to the cooler soil. Many summer blooming plants will bloom more profusely if planted in the fall for this very reason.   
Daytime temperatures are typically optimal in the fall, which means less transplant stress. Less water is being lost to evaporation and plants are growing slower, so it is easier to ensure that the new plantings are receiving adequate hydration. 
Mediterranean climates receive most of their precipitation during the fall and winter months. The majority of this precipitation occurs November through March. Planting in the fall allows your landscape to take advantage of these “free” fall and winter rains. More rain means less money will be spent on irrigation water. The ability to take advantage of winter rains makes fall planting an economical decision. 
Spring and summer planting is great for cold-sensitive material like succulents and citrus. This allows a longer establishment period before the stress of low temperatures arrives. However, due to higher temperatures and less precipitation:  more supplemental irrigation water will be required. We highly recommend planting in the fall for these reasons. If you are interested or have questions about a fall planting or landscape renovation project, please feel free to give us a call today! 

Post date: February 24, 2014

If you ever heard the old saying “everyone’s talking about it, but no one’s doing anything about it” you could easily apply that saying to our current drought. So what are some things you could be doing to protect your landscape investment through this drought?

First, look at your landscape and consider, “What are the most valuable plant features?” If you are like most people your answer will be the trees, then accent shrubs and finally ground covers and lawn. This response contains a lot of common sense as woody plants take years to mature in the landscape while perennials and annuals take a few months. 

Thus, if faced with severe water shortages one could easily save a significant amount of water by strategically cutting water to turf areas, letting turf go dormant or die in some cases. Replacing or renovating turf after the drought can easily take just a few days if sod is used or as little as 12 weeks if seeding is chosen. However, suspending water to trees and/or woody shrubs can have serious consequences, as these plants may take several years to a lifetime to replace.

Effects of Drought on Plants

The first response to drought stress in plants is closure of the leaf stomata. This reduces transpiration water loss and acts as a defense mechanism for the plant. This curtails photosynthesis, which in turn limits plant growth and increases susceptibility to insect and disease pests. Water stress also inhibits plant food production, which contributes to reduced plant growth and development.

Factors Affecting Plant Survival During Drought

The ability of landscape plants to survive drought depends upon many factors including:

  • Severity and timing of drought
  • Species of plant
  • Soil conditions
  • Additional stresses
  • Secondary insect and disease pests

At this point we can do little to influence drought timing and plant selection, so let’s look at five actions we can take to better manage the remaining three factors.

Treatments to Protect Your Landscape From Drought

Irrigation- Most large landscape plants require one inch of water per week during the growing season. Drip irrigation or soaker hose applications are usually the most efficient since they irrigate only the root zone and minimize water runoff.

Mulch- helps conserve soil moisture, reduces competition for water from weeds, and reduces soil compaction. Mulch returns organic matter to the soil, which promotes root development and improves the moisture holding capacity of soil. Applying a 2-4 inch layer of organic mulch, including wood chips, shredded bark, or bark nuggets is best.

Fertilization- Maintaining adequate soil fertility will help prevent nutrient stress and minimize the effects of drought. The best time to apply fertilizer is before or after a drought or when soils are recharged by rainfall. Avoid agriculture grade fertilizers, which can sometimes have a high salt content that can intensify drought stress. Slow release fertilizers are generally best for woody plants.

Pruning- Dead and dying limbs on landscape plants should be removed. These limbs may harbor insect borers or canker disease fungi that can contribute to further dieback and decline. If tree crowns are very dense, light thinning will help reduce demands for water and nutrients. But avoid significant over pruning of live branches, as it will add additional stress from defoliation and wounding.

Pest Management- Drought stressed plants are particularly prone to pest infestations (these include bores, bark beetles, spider mites, aphids and root disease fungi). Plants should be continually monitored to ensure that pests are maintained below levels that impact plant health.

To learn more about helping your trees and landscape survive the drought, give us a call today.

Post date: January 9, 2014

It’s the middle of winter and so far we have received about 20% of our normal winter rainfall. When the current dry year is viewed in conjunction with the past two years’ lower than normal rainfall, we feel it’s not too early to start thinking about the possibility of a drought this summer. Here is a useful link to EBMUD's latest water supply update
In similar past situations, EBMUD has waited until May to determine if they will implement a drought management plan to stimulate water conservation. Here are a few points to consider if a drought is declared:

  • The first step of such a plan would likely include a request to water users to implement voluntary water rationing.
  • If drought conditions continue and water storage levels go below a determined level, EBMUD could announce mandatory rationing.
  • EBMUD now has access to a supplemental water supply out of Freeport. If EBMUD needs to utilize that water, there will be a general rate increase of 14% to all EBMUD customers.
  • A drought related rate increase would be in addition to the already approved rate increase of 9.5% scheduled to take effect July 1, 2014.

As your landscape partner, we encourage you to take time now to examine ways to reduce your landscape water use. Please note the following:

  • Lawns are the biggest user of landscape water. Reducing their size or eliminating them all together are options to reduce irrigation water use.
  • Improving your irrigation systems efficiency by upgrading to low flow sprinkler nozzles or changing out spray sprinkler systems to bubbler, drip, or Netafim will help reduce water use.
  • Improving or upgrading irrigation controllers to ET units can sometimes save significant amounts of water depending upon your current controller’s age and ability.
  • Should a severe drought be declared, we can also work with you to identify areas of your landscape that may be candidates for the temporary elimination of all irrigation water.
  • In light of the recent weather conditions, EBMUD has extended their 2013 rebate program for lawn conversions and irrigation upgrades to June 30, 2014. To learn more, visit: EBMUD Rebate Program

Based on this year’s rainfall, Sierra snow pack, and current weather conditions we wish to encourage all our landscape partners to begin consideration of possible drought management options for their sites. 
As always, we are available to discuss or assist you in developing a reduced water use plan. Should you feel that we could be of service, please do not hesitate to contact us

Post date: October 30, 2013

It’s no secret, water rates continue to climb and customers everywhere are looking for ways to save. This year East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD) increased their rates by 9.75% and they will increase rates another 9.5% next year. In a proactive effort, we partnered with Normandy Homeowners’ Association in Alameda to participate in the EBMUD Lawn Conversion and Irrigation Upgrade Rebate Program.
The two pillars of our approach to lawn conversion are:

  • Reduce the water needs of the landscape by replacing high water need lawn with low water need plants, and
  • Reduce the total water applied to the landscape by improving the overall irrigation efficiency of the system.

Our goal was to reduce the Association’s water use and enhance their landscape. We identified highly visible yet non-functional areas of lawn to target for renovation. We removed nearly 2,300 square feet of lawn and replaced the old, inefficient fixed overhead spray irrigation with a highly efficient Netafim inline drip irrigation system. We installed new valves and pressure regulators. Lastly, we planted low water need plants approved by EBMUD and finished up by spreading mulch throughout.
In Alameda, a cool season turf grass requires approximately 32 inches of water per year. In contrast, the low water need plantings we installed require approximately 5.5 inches of water per year. So, for the 2,300 square foot area we replanted and upgraded, we reduced the total annual water requirement from approximately 80,000 gallons per year to approximately 9,000 gallons per year for the new low water use plantings. This amounts to a savings of about 71,000 gallons per year.
While the Association earned a rebate from EBMUD (as a credit to their water bill) in an amount that covered 12.5% of the cost of the landscape enhancement project, the Association will continue to realize savings indefinitely in the form of lower water bills.
To learn more about this project, the EBMUD Rebate Program or how we can help you save water and money while enhancing your landscape, give us a call today!
Formulas and factors used to calculate the figures provide above are based on Alameda’s climate as well as the specific plant material and irrigation components used for this project. Calculations were also based on the Landscape Evapotranspiration Formula and the Total Water Applied Formula found in chapters 1 though 6 of “A Guide to Estimating Irrigation Water Needs of Landscape Plantings in California.”