12TH STREET — Santa Monicans love their trees.
The city by the sea has 35,000 of them spread throughout parks, Downtown and neighborhoods. The City Council even adopted a plan dictating which kinds of trees would be planted on specific streets, and the thought to make the city into an arboretum has made the rounds more than once.
Although many residents enjoy the quiet beauty of a mature specimen, they may not realize that they bear some of the responsibility for making sure it survives to that point, particularly if they’re a homeowner.
Trees planted in public parkways — the stretches of green between the sidewalk and the street — are more or less capable of taking care of themselves once they’re fully established.
However, young saplings need love — and a bit of water — to make it to adulthood, and City Hall relies on residents to provide it for them.
That doesn’t always happen, said Doris Sosin, a resident of 12th Street.
Sosin is an avid gardener, and former member of the Urban Forest Task Force. Her front yard is flush with drought tolerant plants and small water features powered by solar panels. The octogenarian prepared the parkway in front of her home for the cork oak that West Coast Arborists, the contractor that handles street trees, planted in recent years.
She dug a basin with a raised collar over a foot from the trunk of the tree, and fills it with water once a week to saturate the young plant.
“I turned all sprinklers off four years ago and let everything die,” Sosin said.
Over-watering trees can damage them, and Sosin warns against a common practice of allowing grass to grow right up to the trunk of the tree.
A quick jaunt down 12th Street demonstrates that some homeowners have had more success than others in caring for their new plants.
In some cases, dried out, browning trees surrounded by moisture-sucking grass stand mere yards from their healthy counterparts, around which a thoughtful homeowner has created a small oasis of native flora in the public space.
City Hall has a notice that hangs on the doors of homes to alert people to the presence of a new tree. The “Tree Planting Notice” tells the homeowner that a tree has been planted, what it is and why it was picked.
It also makes a request.
“[…W]e ask that you take the responsibility of watering your tree as needed,” the sign reads, and goes into some basics for tree care, including plucking the area of excess weeds and other plants, and filling the tree well with water twice a week.
That may be a bit less direction than needed, Sosin believes.
Young trees can fall prey to many ills, and have according to a report released by City Hall.
The document was prepared by a consultant called HortScience. It demonstrated that trees throughout Santa Monica were falling victim to poor planting habits, over-watering and other ills that cut years off the life of the specimen.
Former Community Forest Supervisor Randy Little called for the report after the arborist, Robin Beaudry, found that trees throughout Santa Monica were dying.
Beaudry asserted both to city officials and the District Attorney’s Office that the trees were in bad condition when they came into the city, and that the contractor, West Coast Arborist, was planting defective trees in an attempt to get paid to take them out and put in new plants.
Specifically, he alleged that the trees had circled or girdling roots, which cut into the tree at its base and ultimately resulted in death.
Although the report noted that some trees showed signs of such maladies, no single bullet was responsible for felling the trees. Poor planting practices and over-watering were often to blame.
Still, the Urban Forest Task Force has called for a deeper review of work done by West Coast Arborists, and asked that their contract be put back out to bid in an attempt to get more competitive pricing.
As the municipal process winds on, Sosin for one will continue caring for her trees, just as she always has.