Sunday, March 25, 2018

The little things in Nature I miss living over here in Sweden

So let's be completely honest, there is one obvious thing I miss more than anything else, especially this time of year when darkness rules over Scandinavia with the  lack of sunshine along with the warmth and light that comes with it. Cold, damp, dark and rainy is just not my cup of tea. Although it's better than living in Bergen or Stavanger Norway where sucky weather rules as king most of the year. They even have a rain festival. In fact this past Summertime Temps at both places averaged 13C or 55F according to friends at both places when we meet in Oslo for conventions. Coming from a land where life is mostly lived and enjoyed outdoors, it's tough being confined within the concrete walls of a Soviet style housing project, otherwise known as Lägenhet. Other immigrants here from Africa, India, etc feel exactly the same way. You feel like a prisoner shackled to the dictates of this cold wet climate's environment for which you can do nothing about.
Our original two story home (10 years ago) and neighbourhood was pleasant in the sense we all had backyards with gardens, nice neighbours and we specifcally had a backyard which offered a view of nothing but meadows and forest. Trust me, for a city Sweden that's rare. We also had an elaborate hiking trail system in those same woods behind our house, but unlike where I come from in Southern California, these woodlands are devoid of a lot of various critters and their sounds. Also missing are the scents and fragrances of the coastal sage scrub plant community I was use to. Cold doesn't necessarily facilitate the movement of fragrant scent compounds, even more so if they don't really exist here in the first place.

My photo from 2013 in the trail network behind Biskopsgården

John C. Avise

Side Blotched Lizard
One thing did stand out as odd my first year here in Sweden. Prior to moving here to Sweden, for 50+ years when I went hiking on any trails in Nature, one of the most common things experienced was this continuous darting back and forth across trails of all kinds of lizards. I never thought about it really until I came to Sweden and suddenly noticed there was something missing while walking through Nature trails here. Over in the United States and elsewhere (Canary Islands, Greece, etc), whenever you hike, even in forests, there are always lizards everywhere. But here this new strange quietness and silence of a Swedish boreal forest was just different. I have at times seen a single Red Squirrel, a Nuthatch or two and the occasional Hare, but even they are rare. One summer we did experience an abundance of tiny recently morphed toads from a tadpole explosion, but that was just once. They were all over the trails. The only other thing I did experience (which wasn't pleasant), were zillions of mosquitoes. Boreal Forest environments are loaded with countless lakes, ponds and millions of bogs. You can't walk anywhere without wet or mosquitoes. This place has the perfect stagnant breeding grounds for the the Mosquito. But the major difference was the lack of bird sounds in the forest, with the exception of the Eurasian Blackbird males (Swedish 'Koltrast') whose song echoes loudly in the forest in Springtime. Most common birds you see here are large ones like Jackdaws, Magpies, various Seagulls and Pigeons (common city and forest wild types). Sparrows are here, but they are relatively few and only in city. Part of the problem is that most Swedish Forests I've experienced are these large unnatural industrial forestry plantations managed by in huge Timber Companies, even small woodlands owned by private individuals are dense and often impenetrable. 
Redheaded House Finch
picture by Charles Parker

This unfortunate mobile home fire tragedy took place at Starlight Mobile Home Park in El Cajon California. This was one of the properties I was assigned to maintain as head landscaper and this exact trailer space #128 and it's garden was territory of a Red Headed male House Finch who claimed his favourite perch on top of an old Peach tree behind this mobile home. This bird is another one of those birds I really miss as far as wild song birds. Every year in the Spring just after the blooming time of year this same House Finch would claim his perch at the top of that peach tree singing his heart out for hours. What I remember most is working there in the morning doing some sort of work with the lawn, it's irrigation system (which always needed maintaince) or doing something with the citrus trees. The Springs are idyllic there with crystal clear blue skies, perfect temperature (around 70 F or 21 C). Air was fresh and alive with all manner of fragrances of all sorts abundunt in the air (particularly citrus) and work was always pleasant and soothing with this bird's repetitive song playing over and over. To give you an idea of their song, here is a 14 minute video (audio really) of the male House Finch.

Western Meadowlarks
Kathy Munsel/Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife

This next bird sound comes from the Western Meadowlark which was once a common sound in San Diego county's interior valleys, but now a rarity there as well because of commercial housing development. Probably some of the last holdout habitats would be Ramona, Lakeside and maybe Otay Mesa. I'm sure there may be other pockets of grasslands scattered around, but it's the grasslands that are of most importance to this bird. But grasslands are generally on flat or rolling hills and those are perfect for development. The photo above would have been a common perch for such a bird on a Silver Sagebrush. Later when cattlemen came, the various fence posts would replace those shrubs. Shrubs would have been considered a curse to cattle operations in favour of grasses. So once removed, the fence post would have worked just fine. When I was growing up in the early 1960s, pockets of grasslands were everywhere with the largest being the San Diego River floodplain in the middle of Santee/Lakeside California. Santee still had many range cattle back then, but the Santee bedroom district building boom was in full steam ahead in late 60s thru 70s and gradually these habitats shrunk to almost nothing as have the meadowlarks. Listening to their songs makes me think of long warm summer days. 

Fragrances of  Coastal Sage Scrub

Image: Bert Wilson - Salvia 'Celestial Blue' Sage

Image - My photo 2014
The Sage variety above is 'Celestial Blue' Sage which was named by the founder of Las Pilitas nursery, Bert Wilson, for his wife Celeste and introduced into their California native plant nursery by him. It was a seedling that came from seed he collected collected in the Las Pilitas Nursery's demonstration garden.  Celestial Blue Sage is most likely a hybrid between Salvia clevelandii 'Alpine' and Salvia pachyphylla or a three way hybrid with 'Pozo Blue' which would add Salvia leucophylla into the mix. The fragrance of all California sages are wonderful, although White Sage is a bit more pungent. The one on the right here is 'Pozo Blue' Sage. The other addition to the fragrance is the ability of many coastal sage scrub plants to attract hummingbirds, Butterflies and various native bees. This is another thing one takes for granted when hummingbirds are so common where you come from. Move somewhere like Sweden where they do not exist and you notice their absence. Same with fragrances. Although on warm days here you may smell wild roses and Elderberry flowers when in bloom, but the absence of fragrances is more common in a colder climate.

Image - My Photo 2014
My mother's place across from Pepper Drive School in El Cajon California. 'Canyon Sparkles' Manzanita, 'Pozo Blue' Sage, and Mexican Red Bird of Paradise Bush.
And Finally, Crickets & other Night Sounds
Frankly any sounds at night is another rarity for me here in Sweden. It struck me as odd that there were no night sounds here when I first came, especially crickets. Like the lizards on the trail which one takes for granted because they are so common and you are use to their presence, but then suddenly you realize their absence when they are not around. The lack of cricket sounds was also immediately noticed by me. Imagine no sounds at all on summer evenings. Not even owls or frogs. Well, maybe Mosquitoes. Click on the Youtube audio below and imagine nighttime scenarios with no sounds. Funny how one can notice the absence of things.

To be fair to Sweden, they do have the 'Koltrast' (common Blackbird) song

One pretty sound that is common here in this part of Sweden that is pleasant when walking through a tall Boreal Forest (that's not an industrial forestry plantation) in the Springtime is listening to the 'Koltrast' which is just a larger common blackbird than what I'm use to seeing in SoCal. The males are the singers and their songs echo loudly within the forest, not like when there is more open urban environment. At least they don't have 'Silent Spring' yet. Here is another Youtube link to sights and sounds of both male and female Blackbirds or Koltrasts. 
Song and calls of the Blackbird

Maybe later if I think of something more, I'll add it to the list 😉

Friday, March 2, 2018

Municipal Infrastructure can influence the Public on using California Native in Landscaping

Take Santee Lakes & San Diego River Walk in California as an example

SanteeSaturdays Episode 22: Santee Lakes - San Diego Real Estate Agent: Kyle Whissel

Growing up through the 1960s, Santee Lakes recreation was a big part of how we spent our weekends. The landscaping at Santee Lakes has come a very long way from it's generic bland beginning where only a handful of native California Sycamores, a few Fremont Cottonwoods & a couple of Coast Live Oaks existed. A few areas had some lawn strips and picnic tables but mainly it was sand and gravel, but nothing overly spectacular. Most people came there for the fishing. The concept of water recycling was really born here. Many researchers came from around the globe to study and find out what Santee was doing with their water. As kids at Pepper Drive Elementary School, we went there on field trips to learn how this innovation of reccling water worked. I remember the guy showing us a movie and a magnification of a water sample where these sort of clear looking squiggley things were moving around in the water and the guy commented, "We really don't know what these things are, but we know they don't hurt you." 😕 I was super-glad our water came from Helix. I'm sure they know what those things are now compared to 1960s understanding and they've been dealt with. 😉 Most Municipal Sewage Treatment Facilities conventionally cleaned up most of the solids from sewer water before the grey water was further transfered on it's way out to Sea. Later many Facilities started grey-water programs for the mega-water users like Public Parks and Golf Courses.
The northern most reaches of the lakes is where the actual mechanized part of the treatment facility itself is located where solids (yuck) are separated and grey water further aerated prior to release into the northern most percolation ponds and lower series of lakes. That lake and the one below it were always off limits for boating and fishing or even walking around. But the idea behind the concept was to further allow nature (aquatic ecosystem with algae, cattails, rushes, fish, crawdads, etc), to take care and restore the water as it filtered through each of the various gravity fed lakes down stream where it was eventually re-used. Here is a link to the Padre Dam Municipal Water District website where a detailed but not overly complicated explanation is given as to how the treatment facility's concept works. (Water-Recycling-Facility) In the photo at left you can see an aerial view of the majority of the series of gravity fed lakes where little by little 2 million gallons of water a day becomes more and more purified and further treated prior to reuse. In researching their website, they actually only recycle about a third of the available sewer water that is generated and have plans to expand the plant's capacity for far more water recycling. They also have plans for pumping the extra cleaned recycled water and mixing it with Lake Jennings Aquaduct water from natural sources up north and from the Colorado River. I think it's a kool idea and there is some talk of filtering it even further by pumping it first within the floodplain of El Monte Valley allowing the Sand (excellent filter for water) and the microbological forces of nature to further cleaning it before pumping it out near the west end of the valley up into Lake Jennings. Now there is more good news about Santee Lakes.

Image from Santee Lakes Archive
Back when I was still a kid in the early 1960s in, "Leave it to Beaver World," there really wasn't much in the way of landscape, native or otherwise. What little there was, was mainly native which already existed in this former cobblestone strewn floodplain where the lakes were constructed. Mostly plain and generic with little thought to landscape. This has developed and improved over time. Back then in the 1960s when I was in Boy Scouts, we attended Jamborees north of the Lakes and Sewer Plant facilites in a open area valley known as the Goodan Ranch and Sycamore Canyon Open Space Preserve. It was here we learned about many of the natural wonders of San Diego Country's plants and animals, which of course were interesting, but not the type of plants most people ever considered planting in their yards. After all, coastal sage-scrub was viewed as jagged rough wild rangy looking stuff and the retail nurseries had all the good looking safe domestic plants, not to mention all the science-based goodies to make them grow. After all, the settled science back then was informing people just how dangerous, harsh and stingy Nature was in growing things. No worries, we were told Science could fix all that 😕

Goodan Ranch and Sycamore Canyon Open Space Preserve
Images by Mountain Bike Bill

Image - Frank Bruce (2013)
While I mostly hated the military aspect part of Boy Scouts with the uniforms and all that came with it, it did afford me some free outdoor opportunities I would never have otherwise received. My dad was never really an outdoors person. Weekends were all about ball games and ABC's Wide World of Sports on television. So it was fortunate that there were other fathers in the neighbourhood who for several years dedicated and sacrificed their own personal weekend free time to provide us with learning experience through outdoor adventure for a lot of young neighbourhood boys. It was the Nature part of things I only ever liked about the Boy Scouts, the other ideological indoctrination stuff never worked for me. No offense to Boy Scouts, just wasn't my thing. I also had a Great Uncle on my mother's side who took me outdoors alot, and we hiked many many times in Sycamore and other adjacent canyons. So when I actually do on occasion come back for a visit to Santee Lakes I think of those past times of learning about Nature and pleasantly surprised at the move towards a more native plant ecological approach that Santee Lakes. Other organizations are making attempts to partially restore if not all of the San Diego River course from the Mountains to the Pacific Ocean. There are a number of incredible benefits to that. (1) It keeps people closer to home for outdoor recreation activities which provide less environmental pressure on State & National Parks and Monuments, etc. (2) It saves fuel and congestion on roadways which means less air pollution. (3) It also acts an an example of how beautiful California Natives Plants can be incorporated into homeowner's front and backyards which in the long run saves water.  Now below here, this is what Santee Lakes has done from an important ecological and practical viewpoint.
Excellent Reading & Information References
Plant it and they will come! 😎
Image is from SanteeLakes

A big part of having an urban landscape is not just a bunch of beautiful trees, shrubs and flowering plants. It's also the native critters who are encouraged to come to visit. After my Dad died, I re-did my mum's landscape with natives. He never wanted any of that, just lawns like they all have back in Iowa. As a result of the change, my mum now has birds who visit and nest that you previously only saw in the wild. Also since I lived there growing up from 1961 till 1982, I never saw lizards or snakes before, now she gets both. When I came back to the USA for a visit in 2015, my wife and I visited Santee Lakes after I had been away since maybe sometime in the 1980s. So many amazing changes have taken place since them. Like these new camp grounds and cabins above. What I do like is that they have incorporated California Holly or Toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia) into the landscape around the cabins. But aside from the obvious beauty of the native chaparral shrubs are the obvious side benefits of attracting wildlife around the vicinity of the cabins like these beautiful Cedar Waxwings eating the red berries. When I worked over on Bradly Ave in El Cajon on one of the large properties with the Property Management Rental Company I worked for, we had lots of California Holly, some almost like mature old growth small trees. In Winter we'd have whole flocks of Cedar Waxwings come though and spend several days around our Toyons which were loaded with numerous red berry clusters.

Image - Santee Lakes
 Most wildlife at Santee Lakes with of course will be birds, especially aquatic birds like this Green Heron who just captured a frog for dinner. This was taken from their Facebook page. They have other shots of these little Green Herons with fish in their mouths among other prey caught at the lake's shoreline edges. These are funny little birds to watch as the deliberately and patiently slowly walk and stalk prey in the shallows. It's amazing to watch them slow motion walk, suddenly and instantly freeze and hold that pose for a very very long time and suddenly without warning strike with that spear-like beak and snatch prey who no doubt didn't even realize what happened until they find themselves in the bird's sharp beak.

Photo . Mike Thirkell
This next bird is a cormorant which you've no doubt seen in documentaries or in real life with wings spead out. This behavior is commonly described as "sunbathing" or "wing-drying." The Cormorants frequently assume these postures, which are also seen in both Brown and White Pelicans, as well as in some storks, herons, vultures, and hawks. All these birds are in and around Santee Lakes and the San Diego River Walk areas. This bird photograph on the right was an excellent catch by Mike Thirkell who shot at the exact moment the bird snatched a fish and gulped it down. Birding is a huge hobby here from what I've been reading and not surprising given water's influence on attracting all sorts of wildlife.

Image - imgur 2012

This shot above is a Hummingbird nest where the mother has built the nest on top of a Sycamore seed ball. Shot was taken in 2012 and the picture on the left here is 2 days later when the little Hummer chick hatched. It's amazing, most Sycamore seed balls are not all that big. Makes you wonder what inspired that mother to built there. Makes perfect sense though. Most of the seed balls of a Sycamore tree are just under the large leaves and such flimsy limber twigs wouldn't really hold the weight of a large bird looking for a meal. Hummers are always kool to have around and aside from their nesting tree choices, there are multiple flowering shrub and perennial choices for which will attract lots of hummingbirds.

Image - Santee Lakes

Image by Mary Beth Stowe
First time I ever saw Wood Ducks was when I lived in Anza, California back in the 1980s. The area was Terwilliger and the guy had a large pond on his property and purchased some Wood Ducks as young birds, built a couple of Wood Duck nesting boxes on poles sticking out of the water. Wood Ducks in Nature live in old hollowed out woodpecker holes which have been long abandoned and entrance widened. Like the Mallards the males are the ones who are the flash dressers and the females have a more camoflaged appearance to blend into their vegetative surroundings so as not to give away her nest location. But they are aamazing in their choice of nesting habitats and if you ever get to watch a video of their little ducklings dropping from a high nest to the ground, it's amazing.
Ducklings Jump from Nest 50 Feet in the Air
Photo by Ron Niebrugge

Image - Santee Lakes
Other plants that attract wildlife are the Palm tree islands at Santee Lakes. Unfortunately these Palms are mainly non-native Mexican Fan Palm and what looks to be Canary Island Date Palm. But they're still attractive and the wildlife don't mind. Know what else might you spot as the sun goes down? In an interview by East County Magazine, Nancy Gallagher, Park Recreation Cooradinator, provided info on what kinds of critters live st Santee Lakes, “In the evening, raccoons scurry into the trees.” Bryan Hague, park and recreation supervisor, told East County Magazine, “Most people don’t know that they can swim. We see them out on the islands.” Some of the raccoons nest in palm trees overlooking the lake. I'm not crazy about the Mexican Fan Palm for the reason that they are highly invasive (MexFan Palms - Day of the Triffids ???). The Sycamore Canyon Creek channel which runs along the west side of Santee Lakes is loaded with all manner of Mexican Fan Palm volunteers along with massive mounts of riparian undergrowth. It looks like a maintenance nightmare, especially with the other invasive Brazilian Pepper tree. I wish they had chosen the native California Fan Palm which does not do very well reseeding itself. It grows wonderfully, but why it does not reseed or perhaps produce viable seed like the Mexican is a mystery to me. Old examples of this palm can be found everywhere in the interior valleys of San Diego county, especially around old palm lined roads or driveways of many of the early agricultural Citrus Barron estates. Nice link below here from East County Magazine from 2011.
California Sycamore an amazing Wildlife Tree @ Santee Lakes
Image from Hans & Lisa - Metamorphosis Road

Wikimedia - User Lorax (2011)
California Sycamores are wildlife magnets. The first draw would be the typical Red-Headed Woodpecker which is abundant there at Santee Lakes. Woodpeckers have numerous specialized traits that work together to enable them to peck holes in trees. The Sycamore often when in youth grows so incredibly fast, it will often self-prune itself with whole branches emerging from it's main trucks which will suddenly die back to the trunk and snap off. This happened with the Sycamores I planted at my mum's place over by Pepper Drive Elementary School. The resulting shallow cavity after the branch falls out is an ideal portal for the woodpecker to further excavate like the one here on the right. Some Woodpeckers will also create several test holes. Later coming back and finishing them little by little until the hole can be used. At that point specialized growth cells from the tree where the branch collar which is generally that wrinkled area of bark between branch and trunk will heal around the hole opening making for a neat protective seal around the entrance.


Of course the woodpeckers eventually abandon their nests which are then utilized by other birds link owls, squirrels and other cavity nesting critters. If you are fortunate enough to find some exceptionally tall Sycamores, then maybe you'll also find an entire Rookery of Great Blue Herons. Another riparian bird taking advantage of California Sycamores. These in this 30 second video below are in Kansas, but I've seen them here. They like safety in numbers. Herons may or may not create a rookery around the busy noisy Santee Lakes, but they could well develop one over somewhere along the San Diego River Walk where there is more privacy, but they need more landscaping done along the trails set further back from the river bank. More on that below.

Bald eagles also live the great heights and privacy of a tall Sycamore if they can find one
Image - Prairie Rivers Network
Bald Eagles most likely prefer not only the great height of a old growth California Sycamore, but also the fact that the California Sycamore with it's twisted contorted open airy structure makes it easy to get in and out. They are not nearly as dense as other trees, even other varieties of Sycamores. Again, another kool addition if located over along the San Diego River Walk where there is more privacy and wildness besides the peace, & quiet.
Image - Woodpecker Chronicles
Then there are Squirrels and Owls of all kinds
Image by D. Bruce Yolton  (2011)

River Walk Project:
Imagining a Greener Future for the San Diego River
Photo by Katy Chappaz
Walking trails near the San Diego River in Santee, where I went to remind myself of what we're working towards. There are also playgrounds, picnic areas, basketball courts and a dog park nearby.
The Open Earth Project: Exploring a restored section of the river, and some before and after photos from this week's River Rescue clean up
I actually love the idea of rebuilding and restoring the San Diego River course from the Cuyamaca Mountains to the Pacific Ocean. Such ambitions and ideas were never entertained when I was a kid growing up in the 60s & 70s. For most people the river has been mostly a fractured mess of dry floodplains, sand mining and gravel pits, over grown tangled mess of invasives used as a residential habitat by the homeless, etc. Here and there golf courses utilized the bottomland which has often been prone to periodic flooding of the country clubs. It's certainly not the large picturesque rivers like those of the eastern United States fame where waters always flow abundantly and recreational activities like fishing and boating can be enjoyed anytime of the year. But change has been slow for a couple of decades where some folks have seen a real beautiful vision for this river and they've been proven right as you can see from areas which have been developed with park-like settings and well manicured trails. Take this photo in the example above. This is an area of the wider floodplain far removed from the banks of the San Diego River's edge that you see further in the background. This tree in the foreground looks to be a native Fremont Cottonwood. Oddly enough this tree looks like it may be several years old, yet it's height should be four times this with lush vigorous foliage, but that's not the case here. But why ??? 😕

Image by Brian Holly Ojai Riparian Restoration project

Copyright 2018 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved.
The reason is that many plant restoration projects in municipal parks and wild recreation natural areas will use five gallon container or bigger sizes, because they want instant tree. I can understand that, we humans are prone to impatience and want things now, even in a landscape. But I avoid the large container trees for a number of reasons. First there is the cost waste factor. I don't have money to burn on instant trees. Often in most nurseries a five gallon containerized tall tree can be $24+ with 15 gallon being as much as $40+ or more depending on species. And this is what I see above in habitat restoration projects above both in Ojai & San Diego River examples. The two trees above are California Sycamores and to the right is a California Live Oak. I can understand planting near trails where they want their visitors to see instant tree (eye candy). But the facts are they can attain instant tree status within a year's time by simply using a one gallon container tree which will surpass the five+ gallon nursery trees anyway. This doesn't mean such projects never use one gallon, they do. But these examples above show that they will use larger species where public eye appeal is desired. Look below at another reason to use one gallon trees.
Image -
On February 20th 2017, Takeda California, Inc., the San Diego-based innovative research center of Takeda Pharmaceutical Company, showed up to the Walker Preserve in Santee to complete its four year effort to restore a 1.3-mile long stretch of the San Diego River Trail with native plants and shrubs and help from other volunteers.

Image - East County Magazine
Examples of 100s of one gallon plants being planted. From what I can tell mainly native shrubs, maybe some trees.

Nursery grown stock (irrespective of tree or shrub variety) is susceptible to root system training where the pattern of a circular spiral will often develop. Despite the straight tall desirable form of the trunk, branches and foliage above, the root system has no such freedoms. The bigger the container, the bigger the problem of spiraling. This example of spiraling roots in the large landscape planted tree at left is what happens after years of growth where the roots never self-correct and the term for this is girdling. “Girdling roots” are roots that grow around other roots or the trunk of the tree, eventually restricting their growth and choking off any nutrients they carry to the rest of the tree. Go to any older city park and you will often find large trees with this problem. The girdling can be on one side of the trunk, or in more sever cases, will encircle the entire trunk, causing the eventual death of the tree. It can also be susceptible to being blown over by severe wind storms. As these girdling roots continue to grow with time, they eventually enlarge causing further restricting of water and nutrient flow to the rest of the tree. The tree can quite literally strangles itself. Tree life would be even more greatly reduced in a wild preserve setting where life support irrigation is usually absent. Your main goal here with Sycamores is to encourage roots to grow straight down as far as they can go to reach the water table and if not, then just above it where capillary action of soil will force moisture upwards to be tapped into by the tree. Same applies here to Fremont Cottonwoods which will also thrive in dry washes in hot summers where deep underground soil moisture is abundant and easily accessed.
My Own Personal Experience in Riparian Tree Establishment based on Observation of  Prolonged Flooding Events during Wetter El Niño Years
Image is mine from 2007

Image - 2006 - Las Pilitas Native Plant Nursery
Prior to my move here to Sweden in May 2006, I had previously in 2005 removed a huge Texas Umbrella or China Berry tree and replaced that tree with one gallon container nursery grown native California Sycamores purchased at Las Pilitas Native Plant Nursery in Escondido (now closed). The young Sycamores (six altogether) were all on average eight inches tall when planted in September 2005 and when I left the following year to Sweden were about 4'+ tall (little over 1 meter). I heavily inoculated them at time of planting with a rich blend of endo-mycorrhizal fungal mix called MycoApply from Mycorrhizal Applications Inc out of Grant Pass Oregon. Thereafter several inch layers (10" to 12") deep of good mulch. Absolutely no soil amendment, it's a waste of money (like 5 to 15 gallon trees). And absolutely no science-based synthetic or organic fertilizers used whatsoever EVER. With mycorrhizal roots and mulch you won't need them EVER. Keep applying much every single year for five years. Call a tree trimming service ahead of time to see if they are in the area locally and often they will dump the woodchips on your property for free so as not to travel to the closest landfill and pay a fee. Of course they have to be locally in your neighbourhood or they won't come. Watering heavily was also a must, but I'll explain further below. The photo at top is Spring of 2007, so in 16 months, these one gallon Sycamore trees became 15' to 20' high with huge spread. 

Photo is mine from 2011

This photograph above now is 2011 and as you can see these trees are huge. The only trimming I did was from below and to keep limbs off the patio roof. Sycamores in Nature tend to self prune themselves, especially in youth. There is a native fungal disease, anthracnose. This will make disfigure many of the leaves each year. The most damaged leaves will fall in the early Summer. I have never seen this to be fatal to the Sycamore trees. Only the new leaves are susceptible to anthracnose canker, which causes a side bud to become the new leader. Don't worry, this is a kool thing. It's kind of like a natural tool which creates those picturesque angling trunks and branches on older specimens. Do NOT freak and feel you have to go out and purchase a fungicide to spray and kill the stuff. That would be the worst thing to do. Where I have seen real harm is in non-native Sycamore from eastern USA and Europe. The natives in SoCal do fine with the anthracnose.

Photo is minee from 2011

This is simply another angle shot of the Sycamore woodland in my mum's backyard from the backside of the other photograph above here. Rich lush foliage and accomplished with no science-based fertilizers.

Photo is mine from 2013

Take note of how close together the six Sycamore trees are together. This shot here is from 2013 and behind the backyard viewing the trees from the west towards the east. Notice in pruning them I've left the west side branches much lower than on the east side near the house. This provides further shading from hot summer afternoon sun. My here goal in the original layout was planting three trees in a sort of triangle pattern at a meter apart and two separate groups of these at about three meters from each other was to replicate the pattern of California Sycamore found in the wilds or like the example below at Tree of Life Native Plant Nursery. I'm told now that presently the height of these group of trees tower way over the roof of my mother's house. In fact she's been contacted by drive by tree hacker companies telling her she needs to top these trees. This is bunk and to be honest, most tree trimming companies don't know the art of actual tree trimming with an aim at beautiful picturesque sculpting. My mother has also been contacted by numerous Solar Panel companies who like the tree trimmers say she needs to cut the trees way back and put solar panels on her roof. This is also bunk. Prior to these trees being so large, this house cooked in the summer time (100+F). She has an industrial air conditioner mounted on the back part of the roof which used lots and lots of electricity. These trees with their cool moist shade and the back screen door open and front screen door open allow a westerly prevailing breeze to blow through underneath this massive Sycamore tree canopy have quite often negated the use of the air conditioner and a savings.

Image by Tree of Life Native Plant Nusery, San Juan Capistrano, California

SDSU: Post-Fire Environmental Recovery Process
Sycamores by nature are like a lot of other trees, when growing they have a central main leader (trunk), though numerous side branches. An undisturbed Sycamore may get huge, straight and tall over a couple of decades. So how do those ancient old growth California Sycamores develop into multi-trunk giants like the one above at Tree of Life Nursery ? Something catastrophic needs to happen to the tree sometime in it's life. They do grow in major floodplains, so flooding and being knocked down on it's side is a possibility which would trigger suckering. But more often these Sycamore are fire prone like so many other plant communities in this region of the Southwest. Their bark is thin and not dense enough to protect that delicate cambium layer from wildfire. Hence from the ground up a Sycamore dies but quickly resprouts even before next season's rainfall. 4 or 5 of these suckering leaders turn into a multi-trunked tree. This is the same for another native up in Northern California, the Pacific Madrone. They often start out straight and tall, but have a thin bark like Manzanita. They die back and resprout with suckering which turns into multi-trunked specimens. But I had no intention of allowing a couple Sycamores to grow big and tall, then destroy them with fire. Again my method of attaining the appearance of multi-trunked groups was to plant three in a group close together and it worked perfectly.

Stephen Chernin/Getty Images

Okay, so pay close attention to our goal here in Sycamore or Cottonwood deeproot training program. This scupture above is from a massive old Sycamore tree which once stood in front of the Trinity Church in New York City, but was destroyed by falling debris from one of the Twin Towers. You can research for more on this later. The point here is to look at all those main branched thicker roots which grew straight down. Sure at the topsoil layers there are lots more smaller lateral roots, but almost every tree has those, especially when in an urban landscape. So again goal here is a root system where the main roots grow straight down and as deep as they can go. Take a look at this Groasis Waterboxx video of where this planting strategy forces roots of a Mango Tree to grow straight down and deeper into the subsoil. (Mango-Roots Here 00.48 sec) It's a beautiful illustration. But take this other illustration below which is improtant in describing what exact function those large anchor roots provide other than stability.

This is an illustration of what takes place at night generally in the much hotter months throughout Summertime. Just focussing here on California Sycamores and Fremont Cottonwoods found in normal dry washes and floodlains of the Southwest, these large deep roots which may go down several meters (seven meters on average). This is good because ground water levels are fairly high through Santee, El Cajon and Lakeside valley floors. Hydraulic lift & redistribution is the passive movement of water from those thicker deeper verticle roots in the subsoil layers to shallower lateral roots in the surface soil of either Sycamore or Cottonwood. Hydraulic redistribution can increase water availability in the drier shallow soil later to alieviate the drought stress of summer, providing better soil and root water availability, which affects shallow root conductivity and native tree's lateral root hydrated and alive. This effect is of further importance when we consider mycorrhizal fungal grid connection functions in the lateral roots being kept alive and transfering water to other shallower rooted herbaceous plants and other shrubs within the sphere of influence of the large tree's absorption zone. The entire mycorrhixal network or grid is kept functional and operational for the benefit oof the entire riparian ecosystem. Several trees in large woodlands or groves keep the understory lush and green if developed properly in youth and this benefits all wildlife. This is why it's so important to biomimic what nature does in the wild to establish mature trees from the start during a wet period phase like an exceptionally wet El Niño event. Keep in mind this also goes for other chaparral and forest pioneering phenomena in the mountains. Now look at this pic below of the San Jacinto Valley floor which is mostly dry with the exception of subsoil layers which are very wet. Researching one water department report from the San Jacinto Groundwater Basin and they said water wells in this basin produced from 200 to 2,600 gpm. Wow! 😲

Photo taken by me in 2013 - San Jacinto Valley, Riverside County - Riparian Ecology
I love the area around the San Jacinto River Park with those giant majestic Cottonwoods. This photo on the left here is a two-year old cottonwood (planted as a cutting) was excavated by a flood and found to have five individual roots that were over 25 feet long. That's how incredibly fast many riparian trees can heal and restore an aquatic ecosystem. But of course the goal here is not so much lateral roots in the widest part of the system, but incredibly deeper roots going straight down as would be necessary for Cottonwood and Sycamore far away from the main river channel to reach water table. Like the huge ones in the photo above near the town of San Jacinto and the solitary tree I reference well above in the photo of the San Diego River Walk trail quite a distance from the main river course. Yes, it's hot and dry, but the water table shouldn't be that far down. To me the Santee River Walk tree looks to be struggling a bit. That can be fixed. Another component which would definitely help is inoculating with a mycorrhizal blend at planting time. It's a must despite negative advice to the contrary. Also, NEVER fertilize, I don't care what the Nursery guy or some anonymous troll on a social media site says. When I visit this Santee River Walk in April (2018), I'll have to contact someone and get more details. 

Photo by LA Creek Freak
This photo now over here on the right is a riparian restoration program going on near the Colorado River Delta which has restricted available water from it's former past glory. The reason I bring this photo up is the long slender Cottonwood poles which were used as cuttings for a faster head start. Many of these can be 20' long poles and holes drilled with a long boring auger, not too big of a diameter, but one which will also go deep enough (4' or 5') to give these poles a head start (& planted in the Winter when dormant). The worker above is placing these in an irrigation ditch  to keep them soaked until time of planting. You cannot allow these poles to dry out or the tissues will die which renders the pole useless for planting.

The same idea can be applied to California Sycamore by aquiring long pole cuttings. As much as 20' long. This could be a challege if you don't know where to find good straight long poles. I took this photo along Hwy 74 leading into the mouth of the San Jacinto River canyon on the drive up to Idyllwild California. It's right close to the North Fork San Jacinto River Truck Trail turnoff. These Sycamore trees along this stretch of road have always been molested by Southern California Edison for a few decades now by hiring tree hack jobber Asplund or Davy Tree to constantly maintain the electical and telephone pole easement that you see in the photo. In so doing they are triggering the tree's need to replace lost and damage branch and trunk infrastructure through excessive suckering. These trees will never ever amount to anything, but at least large long quality poles could be obtained at the right time of year when they are in dormancy phase and by someone who knows what they are doing and has the proper transport and equipment to keep the dorment cane poles continually wet or your efforts will be wasted. Seriously folks, you want success, so do it with forethought

Image from Google Earth

Note small California Sycamore in the center of photo ?

This area above in the Google Earth photograph is along Interstate 15 heading north from San Bernardino just before Devore. This area is a region of massive floodplains and alluvial fans which are geological features also known as Bajadas. The floodplain soils here are rocky large, medium and small cobble stones with massive amounts of sand. Yet throughout this area are multiple lone sentinel California Sycamores (& Fremont Cottonwoods) which look like there is no earthly reason for them to not only NOT germinate and establish themselves, but also to even thrive here for countless decades or well over a century. Remember, these trees love lots of continually available water, because they are riparian trees and are usually not far from water sources. Yet this is a dry hot floodplain on the outskirts of San Bernardino where temps are often well over 100+ degrees Fahrenheit (40+ C). Dry hot Santa Ana winds are also common here which blow in from the eastern deserts with the ferocity of a hurricane at times. So the question that has always intrigued me is, under such conditions of extreme hot weather climates which normally thrash most riparian trees, how do these ever get established in the first place and thrive, especially since no water course of a stream or river channel is anywhere nearby ??? Drive along the 210 freeway west from here to Los Angeles and you'll find the same exact scenario as you drive through numerous dry boulder strewn floodplain Bajadas. Sentinal Sycamores are everywhere & nowhere near a water source. Ask yourself, how did any of these trees get established within a hot dry environment far from the main stream or river channel ??? I pondered this for over a decade until the 1978-1983 El Niño Event which brought massive flooding each winter for a few years. And then it clicked.

Well there's not enough time or room here to explain, so if you want to learn more, click on this link below I created about Bajadas and Alluvial Fans and rare heavy flooding period events that happen every few decades. Once you learn this, you'll be able to plant and succeed at installation of not only riparian trees and shrubs, but any plant community theme or ecosystem, either in the urban landscape or habitat restoration project anywhere. It's helpful to experience it first hand, as opposed to just reading my words. Hands on experience tends to burn things into the memory which cannot be erased. Disclaimer: May require getting off your duff, going outside and trashing your electronic devices. 😛

Lessons Learned from the Bajadas (Alluvial Fans)

image - KWCH12
Now the next kool thing is, if you master establishing trees to the point of where they can be independent without elaborate life-support irrigation systems to welfare them along for life, then you'll be aable to move on and plant such items any time of year. Remember the old tradition of planting in Fall & Spring only ??? Forget it, you can even plant natives during hot weather and not lose a single plant. But 100+ Fahrenheit (40+C) ??? No problemo.
Is it safe to plant & water California Natives Plants in Summer ?
Further Reading References - Santee Lakes

PadreDamMWD: Youtube Video Library

Further Reading References - San Diego River Walk

San Diego River Conservancy

The San Diego River Park Foundation

Lakeside River Park Conservancy

Mission Trails Regional Park

Practical Application for Urban Landscape Biomimicry of Nature 

Lessons Learned from the Bajadas (Alluvial Fans)
Reclaimed Water: Municipal Projects, CalTrans Landscaping & Pompous Grass Resorts
Future Update - I'll post a future El Monte Valley and Lindo Lake in Lakeside version of this post after I visit there and take more photos in April 2018