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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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Dig In: Garden Checklist

For week of March 26:

Sacramento can expect another inch of rain from this latest storm. Leave the sprinklers off at least another week. Temps will dip down into the low 30s early in the week, so avoid planting tender seedlings (such as tomatoes). Concentrate on these tasks before or after this week’s rain:

* Fertilize roses, annual flowers and berries as spring growth begins to appear.

* Knock off aphids with a strong blast of water or some bug soap as soon as they appear.

* Pull weeds now! Don’t let them get started. Take a hoe and whack them as soon as they sprout.

* Prepare summer vegetable beds. Spade in compost and other amendments.

* Prune and fertilize spring-flowering shrubs after bloom.

* Feed camellias at the end of their bloom cycle. Pick up browned and fallen flowers to help corral blossom blight.

* Feed citrus trees, which are now in bloom and setting fruit.

To prevent sunburn and borer problems on young trees, paint the exposed portion of the trunk with diluted white latex (water-based) interior paint. Dilute the paint with an equal amount of cold water before application.

* Cut back and fertilize perennial herbs to encourage new growth.

* Seed and renovate the lawn (if you still have one). Feed cool-season grasses such as bent, blue, rye and fescue with a slow-release fertilizer. Check the irrigation system and perform maintenance. Make sure sprinkler heads are turned toward the lawn, not the sidewalk.

* In the vegetable garden, transplant lettuce and kale.

* Seed chard and beets directly into the ground.

* Plant summer bulbs, including gladiolus, tuberous begonias and callas. Also plant dahlia tubers.

* Shop for perennials. Many varieties are available in local nurseries and at plant events. They can be transplanted now while the weather remains relatively cool.

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