Anyone who knows trees will tell you coastal redwoods don’t belong in Bakersfield.
The trees are native to parts of the California and Oregon coast that have rainforest-like conditions: annual rainfall of up to 100 inches, compared to our roughly 6.5 inches, high humidity and temperatures that top out in the 80s, not the 100s.
Yet hundreds of redwoods have been planted in street medians and city right of ways, as well as on private property. And the mistakes of the past are starting to show. Foliage on many stressed trees has turned brown and a few have died.
CAN THEY BE SAVED?
That’s the question the city hopes to answer as it embarked this week on a two-year research project to identify the cause of the problem.
“To be honest, it’s the wrong tree in the wrong place. But I’m going to do what I can to save these trees,” said Race Slayton, the city tree department supervisor and certified arborist.
His research will test four different treatment methods on the local redwoods over the next two years: deep watering, fertilization, soil conditioning and possibly trunk injections of insecticide and fertilizer (if a company is willing to demonstrate for free).
The testing will be done on redwoods planted in three areas where the trees are exhibiting the most stress:
Ming and Grand Lakes avenues, where 17 of 30 redwoods are in decline, according to Slayton.
Hageman Road between Coffee Road and Fruitvale Avenue, where 83 of 189 trees are in decline and 14 dead trees have already been removed.
Brimhall Road between Jewetta Avenue and Allen Road, where 30 of 37 trees are in decline.
Slayton estimates the trees were planted 15 to 20 years ago and suspects the stress is due to poor soil conditions or a lack of water despite being irrigated. In their native climate, redwoods take in roughly 80 gallons of water a week.
But his hypothesis is complicated by the fact that not all redwoods are suffering; some are very healthy.
“We’re really stumped because one tree will look dead and the one next to it is fine,” Slayton said. Photographs of the trees will be taken monthly to track progress.
John Karlik, an environmental horticulture adviser at the UC Cooperative Extension in Kern County, said the project could be helpful if it yields positive results.
Not only would it preserve the aesthetics of the city’s urban forest but “It would help inform other people who own these trees if they’re successful,” Karlik said.
Slayton said he doesn’t know the precise costs to do the testing but believes it will be cheaper than removing the trees and replacing them with new ones, which could cost several thousand dollars per tree.
No extra money is being allocated to the project and it will be done with money from the tree department’s regular budget.
There’s no good explanation for why the trees were planted in the first place, only that no one knew better at the time.
“These trees were here long before urban forest management and those types of things,” said
Dianne Hoover, the city’s parks and recreation department director.
Today, the city plants only trees that are known to do well in our climate, redwoods not being one of them.
WHAT TREES DO BEST IN BAKERSFIELD?
The planting guide on the Tree Foundation of Kern’s Web site offers these tips for tree selection:
Consider the function you want the tree to serve.
Good shade trees include: ashes, elms, locusts, fruitless mulberries, Bradford pears, Chinese pistache, tulip trees.
For visual barriers and wind breaks, choose eucalyptus and cypress trees.
Plan ahead. Think how big you want the tree to be.
Small trees (under 30 feet): flowering plum, goldenrain, crepe myrtle.
Medium size trees (up to 50 feet): Raywood ash, Chinese pistache and certain oaks.
Large trees: eucalyptus, sycamore, London plane, ginko, Chinese elm, shamel ash and some oaks.
Consult an arborist or local nursery for help choosing trees that tolerate our climate and are suitable to local soil conditions and your water availability.
The Tree Foundation says sycamores, willows, alders and cottonwoods are native to Kern’s riparian ares, such as along the Kern River. Oaks are also common on the valley floor.
The Tree Foundation of Kern http://www.urbanforest.org/ The Tree Foundation of Kern's general mission is to increase the size of the urban forest in Kern County.
PHOTO BELOW: Dougan Nolan, tree crew worker with the City of Bakersfield Recreation and Parks Department does some soil testing along Hageman along with other workers, Tuesday, to help identify the problem with Coastal Redwoods planted around the city.
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