In all their stately grandeur, trees are, as poet Alexander Smith once wrote, our very best antiques. And author Kahlil Gibran once described trees as "poems that the earth writes upon the sky."
The ultimate natural coolant, urban forests provide enormous benefits. The beauty of our community, the quality of its air, the character of our neighborhoods and our own level of comfort all rest on her mighty branches.
One acre of trees provides enough oxygen to support 18 people. They can help lower temperatures by up to 20 degrees in the summertime, break bitter winds and buffer the noise of our concrete world. Strategically planted, trees can lower utility needs significantly, lessening the collective carbon footprint on our urban landscape.
And the larger, the better.
"There is an energy savings with larger trees," said local certified arborist Dana Karcher. "They help in the absorption of pollutants and storm water."
Some of Bakersfield's oldest and majestic trees can be found downtown, including the valley oaks at Beale Park. Among Karcher's favorite is a cork oak tree at the corner of 21st and Beech streets.
"I love everything about it," Karcher said. "It is beautiful, and the texture of the bark is exquisite."
Experts like Karcher enthusiastically endorse varieties like the Chinese pistache, California sycamore and Chinese elm.
"These trees adapt well to the environment and are drought-tolerant," said City of Bakersfield Arborist Race Slayton, who also favors liquid ambers and oak trees like the Bradford pear.
"The Chinese pistache has a great root system and will grow to be 25 to 30 feet in height," Slayton said. "It also provides a nice canopy and is easy to maintain."
The right tree
Among the varieties local experts don't recommend for Bakersfield's arid climate is the coastal redwood.
"Years ago, there were thousands of coastal redwoods planted downtown, but they didn't do well," Slayton said. "With water conservation, the city stopped planting them."
Experts say other trees to avoid include the mulberry, because of its aggressive root system, and the female cottonwood.
Selecting the right tree can be a daunting task. Arborists agree that before you decide on what to put down into the ground, look it up. The first thing to do is think about, as PG&E advises, "the right tree, the right place."
"Don't plant under power lines, which is a common mistake people make," Slayton said. And check for underground utilities as well.
Then ask yourself how big the tree will look in the future. Something that seems small and manageable can be enormous in 20 years, Slayton said.
Next, examine where the tree will be planted.
"You have to look at the space first, and where you are going to plant it," Karcher said. "Trees like the valley oak will get large."
She suggested the website, treesaregood.org, which can help even novices with their selection, sizing and gives useful information to take to a local nursery.
Tips from the experts
How and where the tree is planted is critical. Don't plant right up next to a house. As the roots grow, they will interfere with sprinkler and sewer lines and affect the foundation.
"Choose a tree with a small root system when selecting something for a small yard," said John Varela, with General Tree Service, who added that the hole should be twice as wide and the depth of the root ball. "If it is being planted on a lawn, provide a ring of mulch around its base," Karcher said. "Plant-ing it right at the beginning will give your tree many more years."
While caring for a young tree doesn't require much expertise, maintaining the integrity of it as it grows can be tricky. Don't overwater or root rot will develop underground. Experts recommend watering once a week during the winter, and at least three times a week in the summer, if there is no covering.
And never top a tree. Water will sit on open cuts, attract bugs and lead to decay.
"That is the best way to kill it," said Slayton. "Years ago, it was a common pruning practice here, but in the last few years we have planted new trees in anticipation of the decline of those older trees that had been topped."
Pruning, Karcher said, should be done after a tree has lost all of its leaves in the fall.
"Don't trim off essential branches, or take more than 25 percent of the tree off at one time."