Thursday, December 31, 2009

Street Trees and Water - Red Maples in Emeryville

A happy New Year to all.  I'll have another post from Arizona and some from Kauai in the next weeks.  But for now something I didn't get a chance to post before.

What a difference water makes. Our wonderful city of Emeryville took out our diseased street trees about a year or so ago and planted new ones. They widened the hell strip so the trees would be healthier and even asked us what kind of tree (off a list of 10 pre-selected varieties) we wanted  in front of our house. They also hired an arborist to oversee the whole project. They brought in compost and planted the trees very well right before a series of storms. Great job Emeryville. We and our neighbors both asked for a red maple and the neighbor on the other side got one too. But each tree so far has had a very different experience.

Neighbor to the north: This tree got no supplemental water at the very beginning, but a while later was put on drip irrigation (a double circle of emitter line) when the rest of the hell strip got planted. This was the last maple in the neighborhood to both change colors and lose its leaves.

Our house: I watered the tree by hand with a 5-gallon bucket of fresh tap water from the very beginning. Watering more at the beginning and less as time went on. Later on the tree also received grey water (the water from the rinse cycle of our washer) . But towards the end of summer received almost nothing until fall. The leaves of our tree started to turn brown at the edges until receiving some water in the fall at which point the centers turned a nice shade of red. It was the first of the 3 to start losing leaves, but held onto some longer than the neighbor's to the south.

The neighbor to the south: The hell strip this tree is in was quickly planted with sod and was watered regularly with sprinklers. This tree turned a beautiful red, but was the first to lose all its leaves.

All pictures taken the weekend before Thanksgiving.

As a note of comparison, the other red maples in our neighborhood received supplemental water only once from a city truck in August. Their leaves turned brown, never turning red, and dropped well before ours did.


  1. Very interesting! Certainly illustrates that baby plants need extra water. On the flip side, I didn't water our liquidambar, which is mature, at all last summer, and it looked great all year and was one of the later ones to drop its leaves.

  2. It'll be interesting to wath what happens in the future, whether it was the cultural conditions or differences in the cloens of maple themselves that made the difference in how the trees behaved. I've often seen plantings of identical tree species where one or two specimens seem to be marching to their own iPod soundtrack.