Summer in Colusa County is hot, and trees can’t tell you when they are thirsty. Instead, they leave subtle clues like dying limbs and wilting leaves, letting you know that if they die, you die.
“We couldn’t live on this planet without plants, and trees are the most important,” said Gerry Hernandez, coordinator of the Colusa County Master Gardeners Program. “They provide shade, they clean the air, they make oxygen for us to breath, they provide habitat for wildlife, they are beautiful, and they increase your property value.”
So when it comes to watering, Colusa County residents are urged to make trees their number one priority.
“Trees need to be the first plant we consider saving during a drought,” Hernandez said. “They are our most important garden assets.”
California, Colusa County, and the city of Colusa, in particular, are well known for a beautiful canopy of trees. Trees improve neighborhood appeal, create jobs, and add millions of dollars to the state’s bottom line.
“Trees not only provide an immense range of health, energy, and environmental benefits, they have measurable economic benefits as well,” Hernandez said. “Trees are a long-term investment, and they are worth it. If you have trees at your home, you house is worth 20 percent more. If your business has trees around it, there is a 20 percent hike is sales.”
As Californians gear up for permanent water restrictions in 2022, which were signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown in May, Hernandez said Colusa County residents should be particularly mindful of the water needs of trees before they shut off the spigot in the name of conservation.
“Trees take a long time to grow,” she said. “Not watering can harm or kill them, and it will take 10, 20, or even 50 years to grow new trees in order to get back the benefits.”
The new laws set an initial limit for indoor water use of 55 gallons per-person per-day in 2022, which gradually drops to 50 gallons per person by 2030. The California Department of Water Resources and State Water Resources Control Board will conduct studies and recommend standards for outdoor use by October 2021.
Since the height of the drought in 2015, which resulted in a state-imposed mandatory cutback in water usage, Hernandez said she has noticed that many people have continued to make water conservation a way of life, often sacrificing their lawns and trees for the effort.
“Many of our trees are in lawns, and many people have reduced or eliminated watering their lawns,” she said. “This means many trees will slowly decline and die. Mature trees need deep watering during the dry months in order to stay healthy.”
Hernandez said if you notice your tree has dry or brittle limbs, or yellow, wilting or dropping leaves in the summer, then it could be telling you it needs more water. Younger trees, she said, have even greater need for water, at least for the first decade.
Hernandez said that by watering a tree properly, it is possible to be water conscious, while still protecting a valuable asset.
“The University of California has developed a new way to water your trees, and that is with a soaker hose,” she said. “You should be able to find everything you need at your local hardware store.”
Hernandez said watering your lawn with a sprinkler will not help your trees, because the amount of time and water sufficient for grass is not sufficient to soak deeply enough for tree roots to access water, and will also discourage new trees from putting down deep roots necessary for long-term survival.
Hernandez said the University of California also discourages using a hose to water the trunk of the tree. Instead, the proper way to water a tree is to circle a soaker hose or drip line, starting about one foot from the trunk, keeping the distance between each circle about 12 inches apart, until the circle reaches all the way out to the edge of the canopy.
“Watering should be deep and slow to ensure that the entire root zone of the tree has been saturated,” she said. “To get the deep watering needed for trees, you will need to run the water through the hose for several hours every few days to start. After that, you can irrigate every two to four weeks, but the water needs to penetrate the soil about two to three feet deep.”
Hernandez said the human response to trees goes well beyond simply observing their beauty.
“We feel serene, peaceful, restful, and tranquil in a grove of trees,” she said. “We are at home there.”
For more information about tree care, talk to a Colusa County Master Gardeners or visit cecolusa.ucanr.edu/Master_Gardeners.
Colusa County Master Gardeners will also be available at both the Arbuckle Farmers Market on Wednesday evenings, and the Colusa Farmers Market on Thursday evenings.