Tag Archives: California

Plant A Coast Live Oak Now

New growth on a coast live oak seedling in the winter.

“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” Chinese Proverb

Rugged and beautiful, coast live oaks are the backbone of California coastal woodlands and chaparral. Found within 60 miles of the Pacific Ocean, they are perfectly adapted to summer droughts and winter rains. They can live as long as 250 years and grow up to 20 to 80 feet tall and 30 feet wide depending on where they are planted. Coast live oaks typically have a multi-branched trunk with smooth, thick bark that can become contorted and gnarled as it ages. The leaves of coast live oaks are evergreen and resemble holly leaves. The trees flower in the spring, and the acorns mature about seven to eight months later. Each tree has both male and female flowers. The male flowers have pendulous catkins. The female flowers are tiny, inconspicuous clusters.

If your yard has enough space, coast live oaks can be a focal point in a drought-resistant native garden that needs little care and will attract birds and wildlife. Companion plants include ceanothus, manzanita, California buckwheat, toyon, coffeeberry, and many other natives.

If your yard is too small, find some open space nearby that needs habitat restoration. Coast live oaks are one of the most important trees for wildlife. Native birds and mammals depend on their acorns and use the trees for shelter. Oaks are host plants to five native butterflies: California sister, propertius duskywing, mournful duskywing, golden hairstreak, and gold-hunter’s hairstreak.

With the recent stories of destructive wild fires and mudslides in California planting coast live oaks is more important than ever. The vast root systems of these tough natives help stabilize hills, prevent erosion and improve the watershed far better than most non-natives.  They are also exceptionally fire resistant  more so than most other oaks. They have very thick bark and reserves in their extensive root systems and can resprout even several years after a fire. One study found that after eight years, 96 percent have recovered.   (US Forest Service-Quercus agrifolia)

A coast live oak in Marin.

Winter is the perfect time to get a coast live oak started. Collect acorns from a local tree. Look for brown or green acorns that have fallen from the tree. The caps should separate freely and the acorns should not have discoloration, holes, or stickiness. Acorns don’t store well, so plant them soon after collecting them. It’s a good idea to start them in pots, the acorns about one to two inches deep. Protect the planted acorns from birds and squirrels. Transplant them after their first leaves appear, and water them every two to three weeks if it doesn’t rain. If acorns from a local tree are unavailable, check your local native plant nurseries for seedlings.

A two year old coast live oak seedling planted from a gallon container. Photographed in the winter. Notice the growth.

Pick the site wisely. Take care to find a spot where rainfall naturally drains but never where the roots will stay soggy year-round, as the roots are susceptible to rot and the mature trees do not like summer water.  A furrow in a hill, or an area with good, loamy soil can work well.

Oaks tend to grow towards the bottom of hills in furrows to catch the winter rains.

Plant them during winter rains when oaks do their growing. Be sure to pick a location with plenty of spreading room. If possible find a spot with nearby oaks. Mature trees form a obligate relationship with mycorrhizal fungi, so if you plant a seedling near a larger oak the fungi associated with the older tree will help the younger tree.

Dig a hole for your seedling twice as wide as the width of your pot and and least six inches deeper. Before removing the seedling from its pot, water it thoroughly. Turn the pot upside down and tap the rim to dislodge the root ball. Loosen the roots and place the root ball in the hole. Make sure the top of the root ball is level with the ground, then back-fill the hole. Water. Don’t fertilize or use potting soil, but do mulch around the base to keep weeds down. Water once a month for the first year, but don’t fertilize. Eventually the tree’s own leaves will form a thick mulch that will feed the mycorrhizal fungi that help the tree. Depending on location and rainfall the seedling will grow from several inches a year to up to 24 inches a year.

There’s a lot of of information about coast live oaks on the Web. Here are several recommended sources:

USDA NRS Coast Live Oak Plant Guide

California Native Plant Society- Coast Live Oak

US Forest Service-Quercus Agrifolia

 

West Oakland Farm Park

Rodney Spencer, executive director of City Slicker Farms.

Rodney Spencer, executive director of City Slicker Farms.

There’s a difference when you walk into to West Oakland’s newest park. The plaza beckons with its lush grass. There’s picnic tables and a playground, but surrounding the park is something else. It’s familiar but unexpected. Vegetables. The newest park in West Oakland is also a farm. Kale, collards, cucumbers, beans, and tomatoes surround the central plaza and a 28 raised-bed community garden line the fence. A newly planted orchard has taken root on the southern edge and on the opposite end is a chicken coop with 20 young hens. If you stop by Saturday you can buy freshly harvested produce from the City Slicker Farm Stand on a sliding scale.

West Oakland Farm Park, a view from the entrance.

West Oakland Farm Park, a view from the entrance.

Located at 28th and Peralta Streets, West Oakland Farm Park is a public space with a working farm and a community mission. Open daily from 10am to 7pm, executive director Rodney Spencer says it’s all here for the neighborhood of West Oakland. Once a food desert with nothing but liquor stores and industry, City Slicker was able to obtain the 1.4 acre site through a $4 million dollar grant from Proposition 84. The statewide bond not only funds safe drinking water, water quality and supply, flood control, but also seeks to revitalize disadvantaged communities making them more sustainable and livable by investing in local parks and urban greening. Because City Slicker farms is a non-profit and willing to include public access with a park and restrooms within their farm they were able to obtain the grant.

Joseph Davis, farm manager of City Slicker Farms, at the West Oakland Farm Park.

Joseph Davis, farm manager of City Slicker Farms, at the West Oakland Farm Park.

Ever since the purchase last year, the farm park has been a hub of planning and building. The organization has partnered with many groups to make it a true community effort. A few examples of their partnerships include KaBOOM!, a national non-profit that put in the playground. In Good Company, a community service project of Clif Bar put in the woodshed, toolshed and farm stand. The Crucible made the iron farm gate. Art students from the California College of Arts painted the murals and architecture students from the same school designed the chicken coop.

Rachel Rehmet (in hat) at the City Slicker Farm stand.

Rachel Rehmet (in hat) at the City Slicker Farm stand.

The property’s main building will become the City Slicker Farm headquarters and houses a demonstration kitchen, an outdoor classroom, and a community rec center. City Slicker Farms is best known for its backyard garden program that helps neighbors grow food by building and installing raised backyard beds and mentoring the new gardeners to ensure success. In its 15 year history the group has installed over 300 raised beds for the community. The new site has a woodshop where they can make the 8 x 3½ foot frames. The site also hosts City Slicker’s youth summer crew program that hires 8 local teenagers teaching them urban agriculture and life skills. City Slicker’s cornerstone program, the community farm stand also takes place at the new site every Saturday starting at 10am. A sliding scale rate from $1-3 is a way to make sure there’s affordable healthy food for the neighborhood.

A youth crew teenager moves horse manure to the garden. The manure is donated from a stable in the Oakland Hills.

A youth crew teenager moves horse manure to the garden. The manure is donated from a stable in the Oakland Hills.

City Slicker has only six and a half paid positions in its organization. It relies on volunteers and community involvement. Thursdays and Saturdays are drop-in days where you can show up and help out. Farm manager Joseph Davis has just finished setting up the drip irrigation system for new beds with the help of his youth crew and volunteers. Because the soil on the site was contaminated, hundreds of yards of soil was replaced by clean topsoil. Joseph, a former teacher first worked with City Slicker back in 2009 as an intern. He then began mentoring and was the natural candidate for the farm manager position. “Being an urban farmer is very public,” he says. People come by and are interested in what’s going on. Those interested people often come back to help out.

Joseph Davis(in red), farm manager works with the youth crew and volunteers to put in the drip irrigation system at West Oakland Farm Park

Joseph Davis(in red), farm manager works with the youth crew and volunteers to put in the drip irrigation system at West Oakland Farm Park

City Slicker latest goal is to reach out to local progressive organizations and neighbors that need community space. Cooking Matters already is using the space for classes and demos. The community garden is going strong providing raised beds for neighbors to garden. “We want West Oakland neighbors to have events here,” says executive director Rodney Spencer. “We’ve proven that you can grow food and improve the health and well being of the neighborhood. This land has been blighted and misused for decades. It’s time to give the land back.” Visit West Oakland Farm Park for inspiration and don’t forget to pick up some kale.

The community garden, where neighbors can grow vegetables themselves in 28 raised beds.

The community garden, where neighbors can grow vegetables themselves in 28 raised beds.