THE NOVEMBER TRIM

“I frequently tramped eight or ten miles through the deepest snow to keep an appointment with a beech-tree, or a yellow birch, or an old acquaintance among the pines.”

– Henry David Thoreau, 1817-1862

November: in ancient times this was the beginning of the New Year; time to prepare for winter, time for celebration of a bountiful harvest and for giving thanks.

In Montecito, we may not be out in the fields harvesting our crops, but there are many things we can be thankful for. For one thing, we have trees, an abundance of trees. And now is the time to take care of them.

What do you really want from your trees? A tree can provide inspiration and lifetimes of enjoyment for you and future generations – an asset in your garden that is worth enhancing and preserving. November is a good time of the year to assess your trees and tend to their needs before the winter storms.

First, take stock of your trees. Determine what purpose each tree continues to have; shade, beauty, focal point in the garden, privacy screening, etc. Have any of them outgrown their location? Is competition between trees a problem? Inspect each tree carefully; do you see signs of decay? Do any trees appear dangerous in any way?

When the winter storms come, trees that have not been properly thinned become heavy with rain and can suffer wind damage due to excess weight. Unless you have a topiary garden, trees should be pruned from the inside out, removing crossing branches and dead wood. Expose the tree’s structure and its innate beauty. Never allow your gardener to “hedge-clip” trees from the outside.

If there are any indicators that your trees need attention hire an arborist; they are specifically trained in tree pruning and tree preservation.

If any tree deserves most attention, it should be, in Montecito for sure, the oak tree, whose pervasiveness and dominance is most assured in the miles upon miles of shade it creates in these parts. Oak trees were considered sacred by the Greek god Zeus (the ruler of Mount Olympus and god of sky and thunder) and can live up to 200 years. Here, we protect oak trees with their own County ordinance.

It takes more than 20 years for oak trees to produce their first acorn. They don’t like to be exposed to excess water. Winter rains are all they need. Oaks should have nothing underneath them save for oak leaves. If you do have other plants around them, use drip irrigation to reduce water to your oaks.

Enjoy your trees; hang a swing, have a picnic, read a book or just lean against the trunk of an old tree and breathe.

“It is not so much for its beauty that the forest makes a claim upon men's hearts, as for that subtle something, that quality of air that emanates from old trees, that so wonderfully changes and renews a weary spirit.”

– Robert Louis Stevenson