Caring for figs California-style- lessons to learn


In a recent post I mentioned a huge Moreton Bay fig in Santa Barbara. There seem to be quite a few in California, as well as in South America and Portugal. The tree in Santa Barbara has a park all to itself and is a tourist attraction.The tree can be seen here. 

The tree shown is in Gregson Park in Hamilton. This is a tree I considered measuring but it’s home to some pretty impressive spiders so I wimped out. I thought its size would rival the Californian trees I’d been reading about, but while I think the canopy’s not much smaller, the girth’s tiny in comparison. On the same page you get an idea of the canopy cover of Santa Barbara – it looks amazing. 

Newcastle City Council’s aim is to increase our tree canopy which currently reaches 21%. An ideal figure of 40% has been mentioned but I don’t know whether this is policy or something on a wish-list. 

There’s a Moreton Bay fig outside a Californian hospital, the Cottage Hospital in Santa Barbara. The hospital is undergoing a $300 million rebuilding programme. The tree was planted in 1919 and is much-loved so special protection measures are being taken to maintain and improve the health of the tree so that it survives the construction work and graces the front of the refurbished hospital. 

Oh to have those resources here to look after our mature trees. 

This is an artist’s impression of the hospital, showing the fig on the right of the picture.

There are several things that were arranged to help look after the tree that we could learn from here. Our council has loads of experience looking after mature trees and can do it really well when the will to do so is there. 

The report on the Cottage Hospital tree, which can be accessed here on the City of Santa Barbara website, says that it has some problems: 

‘…the tree is showing signs of stress due to the relatively small planting space where it is growing and the lack of sufficient water. Mr Spiewak examined the soil and rooting area beneath the tree after exposing portions of the root system with an airspade, which is a tool that uses air pressure to remove soil around roots without significant damage. 

The root area was prewatered with soaker hoses to soften the top several inches of topsoil, and an extremely dry and hard soil surface was encountered to the sides of the areas that were preirrigated. Roots were found growing in this soil, but there was no indication of any moisture noted except on the east side of the tree. 

The airspade excavation also indicated evidence of historic root cutting on the south and west sides of the tree. Most roots were cut on the west side of the tree near a pedestrian walkway, but roots were also pruned at least twice on the south side of the tree where utility lines exist. 

This specimen has outgrown its existing space, and both the canopy and root system are currently impacted by the lack of adequate growing area. The canopy has been pruned several times to accommodate the hospital building, affecting the vigor of the tree and symmetry of the canopy. Much of the fig tree’s root system is covered by paving, and the soil is very hard and compacted in the rooting area, which limits water penetration and availability to the roots.’ 

Two trees presumably planted at the same time - whole-street removal and replacement in Laman Street could result in uneven growth like this

Some people would be tempted to give up on a tree like this: previously reduced canopy, root damage for infrastructure work, compacted soil. Sound like somewhere close to home? 

Not the Cottage Hospital team. This tree is called a ‘significant tree resource’ and an ‘object of merit’. The report goes on to talk about the measures to be taken to look after the tree, in spite of all its problems: 

‘Intensive invigoration techniques are required to improve the overall health of the tree prior to initiation of construction activities in the vicinity of the tree [which may cause damage to it]. 

These techniques may include deep watering, deep root fertilization, application and maintenance of mulch underneath the tree and prophylactic pruning.  

Discourage pedestrian access to the tree. Parking and/or vehicular traffic shall not be permitted within six feet of the outside edge.Trees shall be watered thoroughly prior to beginning of construction and the root protection zone will be covered with a two-inch layer of chipped bark mulch. Mulch may not be piled against any trees.  

Tree invigoration action items for the first two years (2004 to 2006) include monthly deep watering from April through October, yearly mulch applications, yearly deep root fertilization, and specific pruning in October 2005. Hand tools will be used to demolish the walkway on the west side in November 2006. 

The watering, fertilizing, and mulch application schedule continues through 2010 and thereafter on an ongoing basis. Roots and limbs on the north and east sides will be cut in November 2009. All work will be done under the direction of the Project Arborist.’ 

That’s music to my ears, all that. It doesn’t sound like rocket science, does it?  These are the sorts of tree maintenance that Laman Street Action Group put in a handout to charette attendees on day one; they were called fanciful by one of the councillor’s lecturers.

In part 7 of the report they go on to say 

‘…fencing shall be placed at the dripline plus 6 feet, a landscape maintenance individual shall be designated, the tree shall be examined twice monthly for signs of stress, the amount of paving and other non-permeable surface encroachment under the canopy/dripline shall be minimized, and the root system shall be protected from smothering and compaction. 

 Obviously there’s a difference between an American organisation flush with funds and an Australian provincial town, and street trees vs a tree that can be protected from cars and pedestrians.

Wouldn’t it be a dream if a coal company came up with funds to research tree maintenance in Newcastle?                                Home                            Index



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