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Sacramento Shade program offers free trees, more shade

Program offers more choices to grow our urban forest

Redwood trees provide shade at Capital Park in Sacramento. You can add more shade to your own landscape with the Sacramento Shade program.

Redwood trees provide shade at Capital Park in Sacramento. You can add more shade to your own landscape with the Sacramento Shade program. Debbie Arrington

Sacramento loves its trees. During our recent heat wave, we’re especially thankful for their shade.

Here’s an opportunity to add to your own shade with free trees: Sacramento Shade.

Sacramento Shade is a partnership between the Sacramento Tree Foundation and SMUD, our local municipal utility. The program offers free trees to all SMUD customers. The extra shade can lower electricity consumption (and power bills) during intense summer heat. Urban trees also clean air and help cool neighborhoods.

Sacramento Shade can help SMUD customers add (or replace) valuable trees, says Alex Binck, community arborist for the Sacramento Tree Foundation.

Our intense winter storms took a dramatic toll on many trees particularly eucalyptus and elms, Binck notes. This year is a good time to put the right tree in the right place.

Binck has a special relationship with hundreds of Sacramento-area trees; he played a direct role in their planting. As a community forester, he helped residents pick out and site trees as part of the Sacramento Shade program.

SacTree experts such as Binck are currently studying which Sacramento trees did best (and worst) after our wet winter. They’re also trialing new tree varieties. Their observations will help shape recommendations for the Sacramento Shade program.

“With wild weather swings, we’re really trying to look at which trees are doing well and which are not,” Binck says. “It’s not only heat, but flood adapted, too. Even if it doesn’t ‘flood’ – flooding that impacts people – it can still be very, very wet soil.”

That wet aspect can be bad for trees native to dry habitats. Sacramento area trees have to withstand too much rain as well as too little.

“If you experiment with desert species, be careful,” he says. “Even if heat and drought adapted; wet soil can be challenging, especially wet clay soil. They just don’t like it.”

Desert Museum palo verde, for example, demands excellent drainage and sandy soil; that species does not like standing water.

Binck’s observations so far? Valley oaks are loving this year. “They tolerate both drought and wetter conditions. They can stand in four feet deep of water for weeks, then be bone dry in August. They’re big trees, though, and do need some space.”

California live oaks are doing well, too, as are olives. Binck recommends both of those trees; they’re well adapted to our climate but can take the weather swings, too. They also keep their foliage year round.

“Originally, we only had deciduous trees in the shade program and concentrated on energy savings,” Binck says, “but we now consider the holistic benefits of trees and added a few evergreens such as olive and live oak.”

Trees with intense fall color are popular in the Sacramento Shade program.

“Sacramento Shade’s most popular tree is the Shantung maple; people love its fall color,” Binck says. “It’s medium size, a little larger than a Japanese maple.”

Binck likes to recommend trees he knows will grow well here, not just now but for years to come.

“The reasons I like them: They’re adapted to our climate,” he says.

Binck’s short list of favorites: Zelkova (Zelkova serrata), a tough urban shade tree with great fall color; fern pine (Afrocarpus falcatus), a graceful African evergreen ornamental tree that’s neither fern nor pine; and desert willow (Chilopsis linearis), a small tree native to Southern California with beautiful trumpet-shaped blooms.

About two dozen varieties of trees are currently available via the Sacramento Shade program.

“When you meet with a community forester, you come up with a plan together and decide where each tree should go and the appropriate type for each area,” Binck.

For more on Sacramento Shade and great tree tips:


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Garden Checklist for week of May 19

Temperatures will be a bit higher than normal in the afternoons this week. Take care of chores early in the day – then enjoy the afternoon. It’s time to smell the roses.

* Plant, plant, plant! It’s prime planting season in the Sacramento area. If you haven’t already, it’s time to set out those tomato transplants along with peppers and eggplants. Pinch off any flowers on new transplants to make them concentrate on establishing roots instead of setting premature fruit.

* Direct-seed melons, cucumbers, summer squash, corn, radishes, pumpkins and annual herbs such as basil.

* Harvest cabbage, lettuce, peas and green onions.

* In the flower garden, direct-seed sunflowers, cosmos, salvia, zinnias, marigolds, celosia and asters.

* Plant dahlia tubers. Other perennials to set out include verbena, coreopsis, coneflower and astilbe.

* Transplant petunias, marigolds and perennial flowers such as astilbe, columbine, coneflowers, coreopsis, dahlias, rudbeckia and verbena.

* Keep an eye out for slugs, snails, earwigs and aphids that want to dine on tender new growth.

* Feed summer bloomers with a balanced fertilizer.

* For continued bloom, cut off spent flowers on roses as well as other flowering plants.

* Don’t forget to water. Seedlings need moisture. Deep watering will help build strong roots and healthy plants.

* Add mulch to the garden to help keep that precious water from evaporating. Mulch also cuts down on weeds. But don’t let it mound around the stems or trunks of trees or shrubs. Leave about a 6-inch to 1-foot circle to avoid crown rot or other problems.

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