by Charlene Burgi
No matter where I turn, the buzz words seem to be “water shortages.” Weather reports on TV are flooding in from Nevada as well as California. A phone call with a friend was spent chatting about how parched they are in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. Email from a former neighbor that moved to a ranch above Willets relayed the same story. And the topic didn’t stop there.
My son, Randy, called last week to say he had just returned from the Country Natural Beef winter co-op meeting in Boise, Idaho. Instead of the intended focus on beef, water shortages stole the show. Concerned attendees spent their time discussing how the weather conditions will affect agriculture from Hawaii throughout the western states if we don’t get some of that precious commodity falling from the skies soon.
On a local level, just how does this affect all of us and our gardens? And what can we do to protect our landscape during this time when the MMWD board is asking for 25 percent voluntary conservation? This is January. As a certified arborist, and die-hard gardener, I know this is the time to be pruning our trees—but is it? I couldn’t help questioning myself given the ongoing dry forecasts and present weather conditions reported from afar.
A call to International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) confirmed my suspicions, as did surfing the web for any information I could find. Believe me, there isn’t a whole lot written about this topic, so let me share my findings:
Do not prune live branches from your trees right now. Stick with the three D’s—dead, diseased, and damaged/broken limbs should be removed. That is it! Pruning the apical or living branch tip, otherwise known as the leafy tip of the stem, will stimulate new growth, which means it will take more to keep the new growth of the tree alive during a time when trees are under stress. It will also cause the tree to expend more energy into the new growth as a result of the pruning.
- Do not fertilize trees as this action requires the tree to use more energy to process the fertilizer from the roots throughout the tree.
- Do not dig, cultivate, or rototill anywhere close to the dripline of trees during a water shortage. The tiny hair-like roots are like straws that draw up what water is available. Cutting off these “straws” by cultivating will add more stress to the tree by diminishing its ability to utilize available water.
- Mulch, mulch, mulch. Three to four inches is not too much! Carry the mulch out beyond the dripline. To avoid rot, keep the mulch away from the trunk of the tree and feather it up to reach the potential depth of the mulch.
Newly planted trees will require about one gallon of water a week. This water can be saved by showering with a bucket or large dish pan that will collect runoff. Use a biodegradable, phosphate-free soap. If your trees are within 200 feet of a stream, create berms around the dripline of the tree and water within the berm to allow the soil to “clean” any soap residue so it won’t enter the waterways.
Remember that trees are the bones of your landscaping. They are a huge investment considering the years it takes for them to grow. Protect them the best that you can during this water-stressed time by holding off on any scheduled pruning.