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The Best Trees to Plant in a Drought


The Best Trees to Plant in a Drought

By Ed Attanasio

During water-challenged times, California’s trees are increasingly stressed due to the lack of deep watering. Warning signs include premature yellowing or browning, the premature dropping of leaves and a very recognized lack of vigorous growth. Another factor affecting drought-impacted trees is called the “fading of the green,” which is caused by an extreme shortage of water, which seriously limits the production of green chlorophyll that gives leaves their vibrancy and their deep, green color.

Jeff Kowell, the owner of Image Tree Service in Windsor, CA has seen many droughts during his 25-plus years in this business, but this one is especially dry, he explained. “I’ve seen trees declining more rapidly this year than in the past and obviously it’s all caused by the lack of water. People have stopped watering their lawns to save water and that impacts the trees. We sit down with our customers and devise a watering strategy, based on the type of tree, the soil and the area where it’s located. If a tree is on a hillside, for example, it obviously has different needs—so it’s not a ‘one size fits all’ situation. We work with arborists and are tree experts ourselves, so our clients benefit from our knowledge and experience.

Every tree’s health revolves around the tree’s root system and how it can absorb enough water to thrive, Kowell said. “Most trees’ roots are in the top 18 inches of soil, but the roots that are really getting all of the nutrients and oxygen are in the top 6 to 8 inches. Long, slow watering with soaker hoses or in-line emitter drip systems buried under 3 to 4 inches of wood-chip mulch will do the job in summer-like weather, once or twice weekly for younger trees, biweekly for mature trees — not more. If trees are over-watered, their roots cannot take up oxygen, which can suffocate the tree.

Lawns compete with trees for water, so, in an ideal situation they should be removed to 2 feet beyond the outermost reach of a tree’s branches, which is known as the “drip line.” Irrigation lines should spiral outward, starting at 9 inches from the trunk to 2 feet beyond the drip line, if at all possible

Instead of struggling through California’s next drought, planting the right types of trees now is a smart move for the future of your yard. Natives such as Oaks, Manzanitas and Redbuds tolerate drought much better than thirstier non-natives such as Evergreen, Magnolias, Jacarandas and Sycamores that are popular throughout the Golden State.

Some of the best drought-tolerant native trees for Southern California:

Valley Oak

Coastal Live Oak

Engelmann Oak

Scrub Oak

California or Western Redbud

Native Lilac



By stressing customer service and focusing on performing quality work for each and every client, Image Tree Service, Inc. in Windsor, is a family- owned and operated business that has been serving all of northern California for more than two decades.