Small Ficus tree




Ficus trees (Ficus macrocarpa) are very common street trees in San Francisco. Many large specimins magnificently line 24st in the Mission District. They are in every neighborhood. Unfortunately they are pavement busters and are known for dropping limbs.

This tree collapsed on itself in San Francisco last year.

I have heard that insurance companies wont cover auto damage caused by ficus trees.

This doesn’t happen every day, but I wouldn’t park your 1958 Ford Thunderbird under a large ficus. I won’t park my truck under a Ficus tree simply because it is almost a guarantee that the birds will have crapped all over it by morning.

They do a great job cleaning the air. They trap more pollutants than any other tree in San Francisco. After an hour in a ficus tree my face looks like I’ve been playing in a chimney.

In the Moraceae family, Ficus is a genus with over 850 species. Some of the more famous onces are: Ficus benjamina, a common house plant; Ficus carica, the common fig; Ficus benghalensis, the Banyan Tree, known in tropical climates of its aerial roots that create massive trunks.

In San Francisco ficus trees are often topped. I’ve seen them sometimes re-sprout and sometimes die. Never top your trees. They can be pruned harder than most trees, but if you remove all of the green you may end up with a dead tree.

Corymbia ficifolia, Red Flowering Gum



The goal here was to raise the skirt to comply with the city code for height over the street (14′) and over the sidewalk (8′).  We also wanted to lighten the end-weight of the branches.  This will lessen the risk of a branch breaking in heavy wind or rain.  These trees get particularly heavy because of the large seed capsules.  They look like large, hard olives.

The Corymbia ficifolia, previously known as the Eucalyptus ficifolia, is from Australia; the south coast of Western Australia.  Like California, Western Australia has a Mediterranean climate; a temperate zone with wet winters, and warm, dry summers.  So it’s not surprising that many of the trees in California are from Western Australia.

Although the Red Flowering Gum is not in the genus Eucalyptus any more, both are part of the Myrtle family: Myrtaceae.  Other members of the Myrtle family that are common street trees in San Francisco are the Callistemon citrinus (Bottle Brush), Metrosideros excelsus (New Zealand Christmas Tree) and Eucalyptus globulous (Blue Gum Eucalyptus).

The Flowers of the Red Flowering Gum have many
stamins (those fuzzy red things) but no petals.  This is a hallmark
of the Myrtle Family.
File:Corymbia ficifolia Flowers.jpg.jpg

The flowers come in various colors from pink to red to orange.

The flowers of the Bottle Brush (Callistemon citrinus)

The flowers of the New Zealand Christmas Tree (Metrosideros excelsus)

The flowers of the Blue Gum (Eucalyptus globulous)

More light please

Here we had a common situation. The neighbor’s large tree, a Eugenia, was overshadowing the area that my clients want to fill with plants. The goal was to cut it back, but make it look natural. The clients were clear that they did not want it to look butchered. That’s understandable.



Big, Black Acacia

The Acacia melanoxylon originates from Australia, but I have seen it naturalized all over California and all over Chile (both Mediterranean climates). It’s a large, evergreen tree with yellow, pea-sized, puff ball flowers. In San Francisco they bloom in late winter and make a huge mess.
I’ve heard some people say the acacia’s heavy pollen count drives them crazy. My allergist said that the acacia pollen is not a common allergen. I disagree. We were all sneezing our heads off the day we pruned this big guy
Some people like them, others don’t. I think they are a good choice for a large tree in San Francisco if they are well maintained. I’ve seen them trained as thick hedges; they make a good screen. The more you prune, however, the more they grow. So if you want to them to keep their shape, expect to have to get them pruned once a year.

Mikey (below), my friend and co-worker loves to use the wood for his furniture projects. He’s always on the lookout for an acacia takedown so that he can salvage the wood. The sap wood is a lush yellow and the heart wood is a dark brown with great venation. Gorgeous.

The goal with this tree was to open it up so that the client would have a view through the tree while maintaining sufficient screening. You can see in the picture below the fantastic view from the client’s upper deck through the tree from atop Bernal Heights.

We also wanted to tuck it back from two of the neighboring yards. The neighbors were all out that day, requesting the tree off of their property, or out of their views. Such a big tree in such a high density neighborhood means that everyone has a stake in what we do. Fortunately, in this case (but not in every case) these neighbors got along really well. Everyone in the end was pleased.


Young Melaluca

It was a beautiful day in Bernal Heights.  Our client, Karen, wanted us to prune this wonderful Melaluca.      
Our goal was to give it a nice natural shape, create natural layers, and to lighten it up a little without taking away the nice screening.  It took me about 2 hours to prune with Mikey helping on the ground.  


Balance Issues

Rock N Rose Landscapers asked me to fix their client’s crazy, off-balance tree.

The mayten tree (Maytenus boraria, from Chile) tolerates heavy pruning.   The more you prune, the more they grow.  
In San Francisco, I see this tree get drastically reduced in size just to bounce right back a year later.  So I know from experience that removing this much of the tree will not cause irreparable harm.  
WARNING!  Don’t be fooled.  Some tree trimmers head each limb until there is barely any green left.  Some people mistakenly think this is acceptable.  They may even call it pollarding.  It is neither.   It is topping.  It is not good for the long term health of the tree.  I’ll insert a picture of this style of pruning the next time I see it.  
In this case, the large unbalanced lateral branch had become the dominant leader.  Left unchecked it would eventually break.  It is best to take care of these structural issues early on, before they get so out of hand.  

Water Sprouts

These vertical shoots are called water sprouts. They are fast growing branches that can often overtake the leader. Usually they appear in a tree that has been over pruned or is under stress. It is a good idea to find out the probable cause and remedy the situation. You should remove water sprouts before they get too big. They tend to have weak attachments. If you let them develop into big branches they have good chances of breaking off.

Water sprouts also suck up too much energy. The energy they use detracts from the tree’s regular growth. Unfortunately sometimes if you remove them they just grow back. If this happens, the next time you prune just take out the big ones and leave a few of the small ones.

In this case, I think that this plum tree is under some stress; the root system remove is poor. How could I tell? A sure sign is to lightly shake the tree trunk. Watch the ground. If the ground moves, there is poor root structure. The ground moved somewhat when I shook the tree. However, I don’t think the tree is in too much danger of falling over. Whoever planted the this plum tree may not have sufficiently broken up the root ball. Or, it had spent so much time growing in a small pot that it will take much longer to form a healthy root system

Trees are smart. When they get knocked around by the wind they react by growing support roots. If they are tied up to a stake then they learn to rely on the stake. If the tree can’t support itself in a windstorm then it should come out before it gets too big.

I removed the biggest water sprouts and the stakes. We’ll see how this tree fares a year from now.

Young Tree Training

This plum tree needs some young tree training. It was planted by Friends of the Urban Forest several years ago. They usually take care of trees for three years after planting. This includes stake and tie adjustments and some pruning. After three years it is the owner’s responsibility to maintain the tree.

The owner of this tree got a notice from the city advising him to have an arborist help with the upkeep. There was not much work to be done, but the work was very important. Street trees are exposed to the elements without a natural environment. They can get very thick and bushy, creating a wind sail. They also can grow too low over the street or sidewalk and thus more prone to break. If you get an arborist to train your tree when young you will end up with a longer living, more beautiful, healthy tree. It is also better for the tree to train the structure while still young rather than waiting until you have to make bigger cuts or waiting until there is damage or the tree falls over.

I also took the stakes away, since they were no longer necessary.

Magnolia, first pruning

Here is a Magnolia grandiflora that has never been pruned before. Chris Fetter did a bang up job thinning it out and keeping the form look natural.
Before pruning:

After pruning: