by Terry Kramer
If you want to plant a tree to celebrate Arbor Day this month, consider looking into the future first. No, you do not need a crystal ball, but consulting the Sunset Western Garden Book, or chatting with a local nursery person, will give you clues about how the cute little tree you plant today will mature years down the road. Planting the wrong tree in the wrong place can create fire hazards, destroy foundations and crack sidewalks, tree experts will attest.
Look up before you plant, because when tall trees grow into high voltage lines, limbs will burn, creating a fire hazard and interrupting power, according to Mark Heffley, senior utility forester with PG&E.
"We (PG&E) do have a tree list and we suggest planting the smaller trees that are for the coastal area. Go to a height of less than 25 feet. And if you are going to plant the larger ones, they should be planted at least 15 feet away from power lines," he advised.
PG&E offers two solutions for problem trees that tangle with power lines.
"If a tree is directly underneath the lines, we can remove that tree and replace it with one that can be planted further away from the lines. Or a smaller one can be planted in the same place," he said.
PG&E bears the cost of cutting down the tree, cleaning up the mess, except for stump removal, and buying the new tree. Heffley also said PG&E will come out and trim a tree if it is interfering with high voltage lines.
"We do trim a lot of them, using natural pruning. We let limbs all grow up on the sides, so you still get a lot of the tree and just the middle is gone. But a lot of people really don't like the way this looks. So in those cases, we like to go with replacement, if we can," Heffley says.
Heffley advises homeowners to contact the utility company if they suspect tree limbs are coming in contact with high voltage lines. Do not do any pruning yourself.
"First, you have to be able to identify what the power lines are and what the telephone lines are. Always on top of the pole you see the insulators at least 35 feet up, and the lines there are the high voltage lines, which are uninsulated -- and which, if contacted by a tree, will burn. The lower thick heavy black lines are the telephone and TV cable."
If you have a question or concern about a tree limb touching high power lines, you can call PG& E at 1-800-PGE-5200.
Poor site selection when planting trees can also cause other expensive problems, says Tom Coyle, parks superintendent with the City of Eureka.
"Obviously a very tiny small front yard does not have the capability of handling a massive tree. You will get damage to your sidewalks, to your foundation. If you plant a redwood in a small side yard, 20 years later you will be cutting down a redwood," he said.
Coyle suggests analyzing your entire yard, getting to know its layout, before planting a tree.
"Take some yard measurements, get an idea of what your yard looks like and the size of area you are talking about, and then go down to the nursery. Tell them what you are trying to accomplish, and they can guide you a little better as to the kind of tree you need."
Planting small trees in residential areas is best if you want beauty with a minimum amount of maintenance and fuss, Coyle says. "The city has been emphasizing smaller trees and we have been going towards a lot of evergreens because then you have a nice aesthetic benefit on a year-round basis.
"It's nice to mix in the deciduous trees because they have the nice display during the summer months and some are very prolific at flowering, like the flowering cherries. With smaller trees, you also have less damage to sidewalks, curbs, paving," Coyle says.
Choice small trees Coyle recommends include Wilson holly, India hawthorne and flowering plum.
"Trees increase property value," Coyle says, "and they clean the air; they retain water in the soil."
If you are looking for just the right tree, the City of Eureka, PG&E and the UC Cooperative Extension office offer free publications on trees suitable for residential landscapes.
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