They stopped watering paradise, and forgot about the trees: Larry Wilson
|November 14, 2014 - Emily Green laments the effects of the drought and of poor irrigation of trees particularly during this drought. - -|
The sun is filtered through an oak tree as woman walks her dog shortly after sunrise along Cochran Street in Simi Valley on Tuesday morning, April 17, 2013. (Dean Musgrove/Los Angeles Daily News)
Horticulturalist Emily Green is really, really worried about an unintended consequence of Southern California’s new yard-watering restrictions in our long drought, one that could put our outdoor lifestyles, our sense of place and even our relatively temperate microclimates at peril.
It’s not that Green is some profligate water-waster. She was an early promoter of drip-irrigation, of xeriscaping, of exorcising that crazy Connecticut-lawn fetish in our arid Mediterranean basin.
Her longtime Los Angeles Times column was even called The Dry Garden.
But tearing out the turf and setting that fancy irrigation system to trickle could play a part in destroying our region’s fabulous canopy of trees. That high greenery keeps us cool, produces vast amounts of oxygen, shades our homes and our cars, dampens the crash-bang sounds of the city and fills the air with bird song, not to mention providing nesting spots for said birds.
Green is far more aware than me and thee that the way most of us water our trees is not optimal. Mostly, they get irrigated only because we typically drench everything else and the residue flows over to the big guys from the lawn. We should be deep-watering them instead. But they’ll take what they can get.
“We set up our yards and irrigation systems for the lawn, and the overwatering we did was enough to get to the trees,” Green said last week while sitting in her own garden high in the Altadena foothills. “But the way we water now, we just penetrate the very top, the crust — less than an inch — you are watering the weeds while killing the high-value parts of our yards: the trees.”
Green says that as far as saving those trees, our current watering habits put them on a “treadmill to nowhere.”
“We are facing serious losses of trees,” she says. “We’re making it easier for the pests to move in. We stress the trees and make them very vulnerable in so many ways. If we had a windstorm now like we had in November of 2011,” when the San Gabriel Valley lost thousands of trees and consequently much of its electricity for days, “it would be much worse. And that was bad enough.”
Unlike most of us, Green even makes part of her living from her backyard trees. She takes me on a tour of her Valencia oranges, which will go into famous cakes at the Little Flower Candy Company, her Meyer lemons, her pomegranates. Over the last year she’s had eight tons of mulch trucked into her yard to protect it from the drought. She designed her house’s gutter system to direct water flow down rain chains into wine-barrel cisterns and to spout out directly at her trees. But when there is no rain, and we are entering into our fourth non-rainy season in a row, if you don’t water the trees, they will die. And most Southern Californians, Green says, as they re-landscape their yards to cut their water use, are neglecting the tree-water issue entirely. “It’s going to have a devastating effect on the urban canopy,” she says. “I don’t know anyone in the horticulture community who is sanguine about this.” Even The Dry Gardener says she has begun to water her trees in the winter, because she has to, which she has never done.
“You want the water to go down no less than two feet,” Green emphasizes. A hose at the tree’s drip line once a month, at a trickle — overnight. “And that’s even on my property,” she notes, “and I capture everything we get. I don’t give anything back to the street. Green lives near Altadena’s famed Christmas Tree Lane, and she worries that its Himalayan deodars will come down. “They’re used to 30 inches of rain” in their native habitat, “and this year they got a Mojave ration.” We may even have to rewrite our native tree list if the dry years continue. But we need the trees, and now they need us.
Larry Wilson is a member of the Los Angeles News Group editorial board. firstname.lastname@example.org
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