Giant Bonsai

The Ocean Park Motel is a classic San Francisco establishment that has been in the same family for generations.  It is a beautiful Art Deco structure on the corner of Wawona and 46th Ave in the Sunset District, just a couple of blocks from the San Francisco Zoo.  The owners have always taken extra special care for their trees.  Here are two Monterey Cypress trees that we pruned on Wawona.










Transplanting a small tree

My client had planted this Fig tree too close to her foundation. It’s not a problem right now, but it will be some day. So it is best to take care of these things now while the tree can still be salvaged.

I dug a semi-circular trench about 18 inches from the trunk of the tree, about 18 inches deep. The trench was about a food wide. Had it not been butted up against the foundation I would have dug the trench all the way around.

Most tree roots are located in the upper 10-20 inches of the soil, depending on the age, size, species, and environment. Very young trees have tap roots that go straight down, but they usually disappear within a few years. This tree had been in the ground for a few years and I did not come across a tap root.

After digging the trench 18 inches down I began to remove the dirt under the tree. I also used my pruners to cut all the straggling roots that I had previously cut with the shovel.

Eventually I was able to lift the root ball, with the help of my assistant. We slid the tree over about one foot.

Fine micro hairs on the roots are responsible for absorbing water for the tree (osmosis). When these roots are disturbed they are destroyed. But they eventually grow back. In the meantime, it important to water a tree more frequently right after it has been planted, or transplanted. Sometimes you can remove some leaves to reduce the amount of water loss. Water enters trees through the roots, but loses water through the leaves (transpiration).

Misplaced Tree of the Week

The tree above is a Loquat, or Eriobotrya japonica. It’s not a common street tree in San Francisco, but closely related to the Bronze Loquat which is a common street tree. Both are evergreen, slow to moderate growers. When the above tree was planted the person who planted it never considered the problems that would incur down the line when the tree outgrew the small space. The roots have cracked the foundation and buckled the sidewalk because they are not getting enough oxygen.

Further inspection shows that the ground has poor drainage (below). After the contractor removed the concrete he hosed off the mess. Several hours later I passed by and noticed that the water was still pooled up at the base of the tree. This is not surprising since Mission Creek runs under 18th street.

Loquats like good drainage. These roots pushed up the pavement because they were growing where they could get oxygen, at the surface of the soil.

The concrete contractor did a poor job of working around the roots. He put several gouges in the roots that will add stress to the tree. This is not surprising since it was not his area of expertise.

The owners of this tree inherited it with the purchase of the house. They want to keep the tree, but they should have hired an arborist to monitor the roots during the concrete demolition.

I hope this tree makes it. I’ll keep you all posted.

I enjoy pruning Loquat trees. The fruit which ripens in the fall is attractive to birds and delicious to arborists.

The Bronze Loquat, Eriobotrya deflexa, makes a great street tree. Its new foliage in the spring has a crimson hue. The Bronze Loquat, however, rarely produces fruit. In the picture below see how the bronze leaves beautifully echo the color in the house’s facade.

Must be the season of the Birch

In the Bay Area, Birch trees are best pruned in Sept/October, right before the leaves fall. Pruning Birches in the Spring and Summer can lead to infestation of the Bronze Birch Borer. Pruning Birches in the Fall and Winter can lead to intense, unwanted suckering in the spring.

If you have a birch tree or would like to plant a birch tree check out this website.

I pruned two Birches in this clients yard. The first tree had to be brought down somewhat because it blocked a neighbor’s view. The second tree simply needed to be cleaned up. When I prune birch trees I like to accent the trailing branches and remove the vertical ones.



A Beautiful Berkeley Garden

Berkeley gardens are typically full and wild; grasses, roses, wild flowers, and small shrubs fill the space. One can grow so many plants in Berkeley because there is lots of sun, heat, and people who love their gardens. The owner of this house on Delaware Street has plants and trees everywhere. In exchange for several tickets to the San Francisco symphony, I agreed to tend to his trees.
These two trees in front are an olive (left) and a Campbell Magnolia (right).

Olives get thick and bushy if left alone. With some thinning, no more than one third of the canopy, I allowed its natural shape to appear: in this case, a graceful s curve. When pruning olive trees, it’s crucial to know when to stop.

The magnolia was full of buds. I only made about six small cuts because I prefer to prune Magnolias after they have bloomed. The secret to pruning this tree was less is more. With just a few small snips I was able to even out the shape.



In the back, there were several fruit trees, vines, shrubs, roses, and lots of flowers. This Bay Tree was front and center. To me it felt like the Incredible Hulk next to all these delicate plants. So I did my best to thin it out and keep a natural shape.



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.