Keeping Urban Trees Healthy During Drought

Los Angeles, CA (February 24, 2014) — After three consecutive years of below-normal rainfall, California faces its most severe drought emergency in decades. Governor Jerry Brown has called for a voluntary reduction in water use by 20%, with mandatory rationing possible. And wildfire danger is high. Community trees and the benefits they offer are also at stake. Here’s why it’s critical to water and care for street trees, especially during a drought, and a simple “how to” infographic.

California drought tolerant plantsWhy is it imperative to attend to a community’s trees during a drought? According to Los Angeles-based nonprofit TreePeople, while it may seem counter-intuitive to irrigate trees in a water crisis, it’s the single most important thing to do.

TreePeople recently issued a call for residents to take care of the most vital resource for environmental well-being in urban areas: trees. Even though many trees need supplemental water to get them through a drought, trees are key to a sufficient local water supply in Los Angeles—and in many cities.

When it does rain, a mature tree can capture thousands of gallons of rainwater in its canopy and root zone, sinking that rain into the aquifer instead of allowing it to run off into storm drains and the ocean. This is especially important for the city of Los Angeles, which imports nearly 90% of its water supply from distant and threatened sources.

When it doesn’t rain, the shade that trees offer keeps the land from baking dry. Shaded landscapes retain soil moisture and keep the city cool. Ample tree canopy can cool urban land by as much as 10 degrees Fahrenheit.

According to Andy Lipkis, TreePeople Founder and President, “With the lack of rainfall, the billions of dollars that Los Angeles has invested in urban tree canopy could be lost, leaving us much more vulnerable to continuing heat and drought.”

California droughtTreePeople is working with state and local water and resource agencies to coordinate actions that work with nature as the basis for a more climate resilient city. It is particularly focused on bringing solutions to Los Angeles that have been applied in Australian cities to help them successfully weather a recent 12-year-long drought. Learn more.

Ray Tretheway, Executive Director of Sacramento Tree Foundation, also sent out a call for “Being Water-Wise and Tree-Savvy.” He offers advice for keeping both young trees and mature trees healthy and growing during a drought, and this guidance to help trees conserve water:

  • Add mulch. Mulch is good for soils and trees year-around. Mulch holds water in the soil. Mulch keeps the soil evenly moist. Mulch is nutrient rich, reinvigorating the health of the soil and trees.
  • Remove grass and weeds. Grass and weeds around trees compete for water, and impede the growth of the tree. Especially around young trees, always keep the area free of grass and weeds.
  • Choose the right tree. More shade is better than less; choose the largest tree that will still fit comfortably in the planting area when it is mature. Choose trees based on longevity, water use, and pest and disease resistance.

To get started now helping your community trees survive a drought, use this clear and simple inforgraphic from California Urban Forests Council/Invest From the Ground Up. Young trees and mature trees require different care, as do different species and those trees that are more exposed to the sun.

Water and trees are precious resources. Water wisely and maintain trees carefully to enjoy the all the economic, health, and environmental benefits they provide people and communities.

Drought infographic_web banner image_570x290Download the "Help Your Trees Survive The Drought" infographic

News Release: TreePeople Offers Solutions to Survive and Thrive in California's Drought