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Tiny Drops a Lifeline for Trees

July 22, 1990|ISABELLE C. GREENE

This plea for trees from Santa Barbara landscape architect Isabelle C. Greene, addressed specifically to drought-cursed Santa Barbarans, can be taken to heart by all who are doing their best to save water. Greene is a granddaughter of Henry Greene, one of the brothers who made the bungalow and the Craftsman movement almost synonymous with California.

--Robert Smaus

Times Garden Editor

We are all reminded again that we live in a special climate: not like the rainy east, nor the steamy tropics, nor humid Japan, nor the short-season Arctic.

The unique beauty around us is derived from the fact that there is hardly an overabundance of water in any year and thus no resulting overstatement of plant growth, nor vast bodies of water, nor any other manifestations of wet climates.

We have instead rugged mountains sweeping down to the coast; undulating foothills and valleys briefly clothed with plants for one brief, ephemeral period in the spring. For the rest of our warm season we have a tawny covering of standing grasses covering and battening down the soil. There are as well our rugged and rich chaparral and stands of live oaks, securely waiting until the next rainfall.

This gentle beauty that pervades our land was exactly what drew people to the area two centuries ago, seeking a better and more abundant life in balance with its mild environment. It surrounds us still and is there to be drawn on and enjoyed, even during the deep troughs of our normal dry cycles.

However, we must be watchful so that none of that which is permanently beautiful is permanently destroyed by our actions. This year we are all watching our toilet flushings, our car washings, our lawn waterings, our water meters, our huge water bills, our fights with our politicians and neighbors--all the frantic activities of a short year. We are also making critical choices of what to water and what to spare.

Your lawn, after all, can be replaced, your annuals are replaced every year, your herbaceous borders can be economically purchased in small nursery containers and your bulbs will survive; but what may not survive in three years of sequential deterioration is the tree heritage of your beautiful city, county and state.

Use the precious water you have to soak all your trees through the efficiency of a drip irrigation system. There is no time to lose; summer's heat is upon us. The deep roots of the trees have been stressed through two summers already, and the water table has dropped too far for some roots to reach.

The trees have been subject to disease in their weakened state for two years, and in the months following, many will succumb without help. Even the hardiest of native and drought-tolerant trees, once adjusted to the regular waterings that a garden receives, will suffer as their waterings diminish: they are no longer outfitted to drought conditions. Due to well-drilling and other disturbances, the ground water upon which deep-rooted trees depend, is no longer available. Smog and other human-introduced conditions, add to the toward stress and disease.

Imagine the return of a wet year: Your house, yard, estate, garden or park will have the lawns replanted and the roses will be blooming, but the magnificent oaks will be gone. Or the majestic pines, the broad strutting elms or sycamores or the cypress hanging onto the bluff--all of those will simply be no more.

To a lesser extent, also conserve your shrubs, the large plants of maturity and grace. Make sure that they, too, do not deteriorate. It is much more expensive to replace them than the smaller plants from seeds or one-gallon cans.

Be forewarned: larger trees and shrubs do not show their stress immediately; you may not pick up on their distress within the first six months, particularly if you are not a garden horticulturist.

By the time the foliage color has shifted, and you notice tracings in the bark, wilting leaves or other such gross changes, it is probable that the structure of the tree itself has lost the battle and you have lost your tree.

Please do not wait for the signs. Act now: call your gardener, call a contractor, go to your nurseryman, read books, go to the library, call on a tree specialist or call in an arborist.

Additionally, your local city, county and state government can provide more valuable information about how to ride through the drought. Lay out your drip lines and immediately begin deep-soaking the priceless greenery of this place we all love to live in.

For the sake of this Earth, and your particular spot: for your enjoyment for what you do now, and for what you enjoy in the future, take care of these things that have been so good to you.

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