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Watch out! Dead trees represent dangerous problem

Part of a fallen Jeffrey pine rests where it landed on a cabin roof. The top 20 feet broke off and did further damage.
(Photos: Debbie Arrington)

Bark beetle infestation takes its toll on pines

When a tree falls in the forest, it makes a big thud.

Fortunately in this case, someone was around to hear it -- and call the property owners. The fallen pine had landed on their cabin's roof.

That cabin sits next to our place in the San Bernardino National Forest in Southern California. If the tree had leaned a little more east, it would have smacked our roof instead.

It was a loud and graphic reminder that California's dead trees won't stand forever. That includes city and suburban trees as well as forest inhabitants.

According to the U.S. Forest Service, California has lost an estimated 129 million trees since 2010, due to drought and bark beetles.

In California’s pine forests, those two factors go hand in hand. Prolonged drought weakens trees and cuts back on their ability to produce sap. The sap helps protect trees from bark beetles; low sap, more beetles.

Bark beetles, which particularly attack pines, have been munching their way through our state’s forests at alarming rates. They’ll keep eating and multiplying as long as there are vulnerable trees. And there are many millions more.

These beetles don’t limit themselves to wilderness areas; they invade urban forests, too. According to the UC Cooperative Extension, about 200 species of bark beetles are found in California. Species that attack pines are now common in many communities.

These beetles don’t attack dead trees; they go after the weak and living. After they do their damage, other insects move in to finish the job.

That’s what happened to this particular Jeffrey pine, a skinny 60-foot tree on a steep slope. Its neighboring pines had previously succumbed to bark beetles and been removed. Of its little grove, this pine was the last to go.

This lone pine had stood like a naked totem for a few summers. From the outside, it seemed solid enough. But on this August morning, the bugs finally ate their way through the base. The whole tree broke off at the crown and collapsed, falling over as if sawed to the ground. Although it seemed kind of far from the cabin when standing, it hit the roof with full force. When it smacked the edge, the top 20 feet of the tree broke off, rolling down and causing more damage.

That’s what bugs can do.
The tree  broke off almost as if it has been sawed.
For more on tree health and arborist recommendations:


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Garden Checklist for week of April 14

It's still not warm enough to transplant tomatoes directly in the ground, but we’re getting there.

* April is the last chance to plant citrus trees such as dwarf orange, lemon and kumquat. These trees also look good in landscaping and provide fresh fruit in winter.

* Smell orange blossoms? Feed citrus trees with a low dose of balanced fertilizer (such as 10-10-10) during bloom to help set fruit. Keep an eye out for ants.

* Apply slow-release fertilizer to the lawn.

* Thoroughly clean debris from the bottom of outdoor ponds or fountains.

* Spring brings a flush of rapid growth, and that means your garden needs nutrients. Fertilize shrubs and trees with a slow-release fertilizer. Or mulch with a 1-inch layer of compost.

* Azaleas and camellias looking a little yellow? If leaves are turning yellow between the veins, give them a boost with chelated iron.

* Trim dead flowers but not leaves from spring-flowering bulbs such as daffodils and tulips. Those leaves gather energy to create next year's flowers. Also, give the bulbs a fertilizer boost after bloom.

* Pinch chrysanthemums back to 12 inches for fall flowers. Cut old stems to the ground.

* Mulch around plants to conserve moisture and control weeds.

* From seed, plant beans, beets, cantaloupes, carrots, corn, cucumbers, melons, radishes and squash.

* Plant onion sets.

* In the flower garden, plant seeds for asters, cosmos, celosia, marigolds, salvia, sunflowers and zinnias.

* Transplant petunias, zinnias, geraniums and other summer bloomers.

* Plant perennials and dahlia tubers for summer bloom.

* Mid to late April is about the last chance to plant summer bulbs, such as gladiolus and tuberous begonias.

* Transplant lettuce seedlings. Choose varieties that mature quickly such as loose leaf.

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