When I was considering buying the house we now live in on Wildwood Road, I mentioned the address to Fred Lang, my boss at the time. Fred, of course, had to immediately know all about it and dashed over to take a look. It wasn’t 20 minutes before he telephoned. “I think it’s a good house.” His reason? “It has a lot of good trees.” I hadn’t looked at it that way, but he was right.
A true wildwood, there was an ancient toyon, tall Eugenias, an avocado and two queen palms in the back yard, and a mature olive and a cedar embracing the front and side facades of the house. Across the street on Second Avenue was a gigantic Torrey pine. All this on or surrounding a 45’ x 70’ property is a lot of trees. Yet it didn’t look crowded, it just looked lovely.
I took them for granted. To me they would always be there, and all I had to do was plan the landscaping around them. I proceeded to make mistake after mistake and one by one many of those trees died. My addition of irrigation to the scenario, I believe now, activated the oak root fungus that killed the toyon. After four or five years of struggling the avocado died. It wasn’t until workers were removing the dead stump that I saw that an excavation near the avocado had raised the soil around the trunk, smothering the root system. I kept the old toyon trunk to grow vines on it, another mistake that allowed the oak root fungus to continue to spread underground. The olive was the latest to succumb to the fungus. I am hoping that this is the last of the deaths, but the cedar is not looking good.
Across the street, the Torrey pine has become infested with the pine bark beetle. City crews were here two weeks ago removing one of the main leader branches, completely dead. The arborist easily peeled the bark from one piece of trunk revealing the insidious network of tunnels the beetles and their larvae had created, destroying the circulation system of the tree. The remainder of the tree still has green needles, but for how long?
The bad news is, “you too, could experience the effect of these two common tree killers.” Oak root fungus and pine bark beetles are active all over town. But there are plenty of other ways for your favorite tree to die. There is the mystery disease that has already caused the loss of hundreds of Victorian box (Pittosporum). The shothole borer introduces fungus into the trunks of common trees like sycamore, oaks, olives and corals, causing damage that can be fatal. Licensed pest control advisor Liza Stewart says that a new pest or disease harmful to plants is introduced into southern California from other areas of the world every two to three weeks. The drought has stressed the trees too, limiting their resistance to insects and disease.
We are reaching the point where a healthy tree is rare, and something to be treasured.
We can’t afford to take trees for granted or make mistakes in caring for them.
But diseases and insects are not the only threats.
There are the physical settings where we expect our trees to grow. Many of our trees bravely grow from small openings in expanses of pavement. This can compromise their root support system. Street trees that are widely spaced aren’t protected from wind as they would be in a natural grove. We have lost several such trees this season due to wind throw.
Severe pruning practices weaken trees. Topping, removal of too many branches, or too much foliage makes trees vulnerable to infestations. Trees need leaves to produce food for the plant. Imagine being forced to go on a diet. Maybe if you reduced your food by 20 percent it wouldn’t be too onerous, but 50 percent or more would impair your ability to function. It’s the same for trees, yet we often see nearly complete stripping of leaves from a tree. Removing too much causes the tree to over-react, producing volumes of new leaves on weak branches in the tree’s hurried attempt to restore its food source. This can produce impenetrable bushiness with an unwanted blockage of views and weak branch structure.
Electrical utility pruners seem to be severe pruning specialists. While clearing space for their wires, they often damage trees structurally and aesthetically.
There are political pressures to remove and over-prune trees, enforced through city reviews addressing views and criteria related to fire prevention. As a result we see requirements to remove existing trees as conditions of approval for a permit. The size of new trees to be planted is often restricted, so the next generation of urban trees will not provide the grandeur of the heritage trees of today.
The council recently has recognized the value of our urban trees and has voted to protect rather than remove several city-maintained trees. They examined the city’s policy on maintaining city trees, and found that “we are being good neighbors.” They declined to expand a complaint system that could have jeopardized city trees.
As Greg McGillivray testified, “trees are an integral part of our town heritage, shape our enjoyment of Laguna’s aesthetic environment, and are good for our clean air and health.
Please join me in protecting the natural beauty of our Laguna, which has, for 100 years, included plenty of trees.”
Landscape architect Ann Christoph is a former council member.