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Help keep your home cooler; grow your own shade

Now is the best time to plant trees in Sacramento; get some for free

Blue oaks like the one at left are popular drought-tolerant shade trees. Trees of all kinds help keep neighborhoods cool.

Blue oaks like the one at left are popular drought-tolerant shade trees. Trees of all kinds help keep neighborhoods cool.

Kathy Morrison

Shade: On a scorching summer day, it’s one of the most valuable assets for any home in the Sacramento region – and you can grow your own.

“It’s the difference between a livable summer and one that’s really stifling, not just uncomfortable but could threaten your life,”  says Stephanie Robinson, communications and marketing manager for the Sacramento Tree Foundation. “If you lost a big shade tree recently, you really noticed the difference – especially this summer. You don’t realize until it’s gone how valuable shade is.”

Not only your own home is affected, she adds. “Shade trees keep your whole neighborhood cooler.  Without trees, all that heat is absorbed by asphalt.”

Tree-lined streets lower the temperature of surrounding homes and improve the neighborhood’s quality of life, Robinson notes. “That’s why it’s one of the main priorities for our mission (at the foundation); plant more shade.”

SacTree volunteers tested their theories of shade tree impact on neighborhoods with a drive around Sacramento neighborhoods on a summer afternoon,  Robinson says. “There was a 20-degree difference between the hottest and the shadiest neighborhoods at afternoon peak highs. That can be the difference between life and death for people without air conditioning.”

Now is the time to plan ahead and plant some shade. Fall is the best tree-planting season in the greater Sacramento area. While some trees have reputations as water hogs (specifically coastal redwoods), many other water-wise choices are available.

“If you’re re-doing your landscape, think trees first,” says Robinson. “It’s not just shade, but wildlife habitat. You can build trees into your water budget. It costs less than $3 a month to water a mature tree. A young tree costs only pennies. You can afford to invest in that shade.”

SacTree partners with the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) to offer up to 10 free shade trees to customers. Since 1990, the program has planted more than 600,000 local trees. Details here:

Participants contact SacTree and set up an appointment with a community forester. That program has expanded to include evergreens as well as trees that shade portions of a customer’s property other than their home. 

“Shading landscape saves water because there’s less transpiration,” Robinson says. “There are many benefits of shade trees.”

Among the most popular water-wise shade trees for Sacramento landscapes are native oaks: Valley oak, interior live oak and blue oak. 

“People love oaks,” says Robinson. “They’re sturdy, long-lived and (the deciduous varieties) offer a rainbow of fall color.”

Oaks take time to grow. A faster option is a zelkova; native to Japan, these trees can reach 60 feet in a hurry. “It’s a big, beautiful shade tree that grows fast,” Robinson says.

“Chinese pistache are still very popular, and the new cultivars are not as messy,” she adds. “Right now, people are very interested in trees that flower and support pollinators. The favorites are desert willow, vitex and strawberry trees.”

SacTree has many more suggestions in its “Shady 80,” its selection of best trees for Sacramento. This urban forest features dozens of water-wise choices:


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Dig In: Garden Checklist

For week of June 4:

Because of the comfortable weather, it’s not too late to set out tomato and pepper seedlings as well as squash and melon plants. They’ll appreciate this not-too-hot weather. Just remember to water.

* From seed, plant corn, pumpkins, radishes, melons, squash and sunflowers.

* Plant basil to go with your tomatoes.

* Transplant summer annuals such as petunias, marigolds and zinnias.

* It’s also a good time to transplant perennial flowers including astilbe, columbine, coneflowers, coreopsis, dahlias, rudbeckia, salvia and verbena.

* Let the grass grow longer. Set the mower blades high to reduce stress on your lawn during summer heat. To cut down on evaporation, water your lawn deeply during the wee hours of the morning, between 2 and 8 a.m.

* Tie up vines and stake tall plants such as gladiolus and lilies. That gives their heavy flowers some support.

* Dig and divide crowded bulbs after the tops have died down.

* Feed summer flowers with a slow-release fertilizer.

* Mulch, mulch, mulch! This “blanket” keeps moisture in the soil longer and helps your plants cope during hot weather.

* Thin grapes on the vine for bigger, better clusters later this summer.

* Cut back fruit-bearing canes on berries.

* Feed camellias, azaleas and other acid-loving plants.

* Trim off dead flowers from rose bushes to keep them blooming through the summer. Roses also benefit from deep watering and feeding now. A top dressing of aged compost will keep them happy. It feeds as well as keeps roots moist.

* Pinch back chrysanthemums for bushier plants with many more flowers in September.

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