Fog belt: Santa Cruz trees faring better than some in drought

In this article from the Santa Cruz Sentinel, Travis Evans, district manager of Davey's Santa Cruz office, tells readers how they can make sure their trees are getting the proper amount of water even during this drought. 

Posted: August 19, 2015 

By Jessica York

SANTA CRUZ >> While California grapples with the drought on the large scale, Santa Cruz is looking to the details of tree conservation, helping them survive one fog-heavy morning at a time.

City Urban Forester Leslie Keedy said that, not surprisingly, the tree species best weathering the state’s fourth year of drought are native to the area. However, city-managed ornamental trees lining streets and filling local parks are about 80 percent non-native, she said.

“What we’ve seen mortality on so far is the riparian tree species. Primarily, we’re seeing alders and birch that are dying in landscapes. The tops are dying,” Keedy said. “Some of the ornamental pair trees that are ‘street trees’ are a little bit drought-stressed.”

While the ongoing drought has wreaked the most havoc on local plant life during Keedy’s 15 years with the city, she said the area is lucky to benefit from the annual summer fog belt. Many area redwoods gather needed moisture from the air each morning, even as their inland peers outside the county have begun to fail, she said.

“We’ve had four years of drought. I’d say if we end up getting maybe another year or two of drought, we’ll probably start to see some native plants and trees start to decline. But not as of yet,” Keedy said.

Michael Loik, a UC Santa Cruz associate professor in the Environmental Studies Department, has extensively studied the effects of water-related stress on plant life.

Loik said the most worrisome trend he has noticed recently in discussions of the drought is an expectation that heavy rainfall will end California’s drought this winter, as a result of a El Niño conditions brewing.

“I think we need to be cautious about making predictions about whether we’re going to have a wet El Niño until it starts to happen,” Loik said. “We don’t want to curtail our conservation measures just because we think it might rain in a few months. Some of those conservation measures are things we should be doing all the time, whether we’re in a drought or not. Because there always will be a drought coming.”

Trees facing extra stress, such as those along streets and highways, particularly nursery-raised immature plants used to a heavy watering, are showing the most signs of struggle locally, experts said. Monterey pines also are facing high mortality rates.

Travis Evans, district manager for Nature First Tree Care, a Davey Co., said his Soquel-based company has seen an uptick in property owner consultations on how to rescue suffering trees, in addition to removal of dead ones. 

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