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Sickly trees plague east side tracts
Many of the street trees planted in the Eastgate area of Ceres are not doing well and city officials are hoping to find ways to remedy the situation.

"It is a significant problem," said City Engineer Toby Wells. "We're talking several hundred trees. But we're working on a solution."

A member of the Ceres City Council heard concerns last year from residents about stunted tree growth and other poor condition for being at least three years old. City personnel investigated and learned there were several causes and sent an informational letter out. The letter noted that in some cases the residents are not properly caring for the street trees nor maybe aware that the tree - including trimming - is their responsibility for care.

Wells said a number of issues contribute to sickly trees, which seem to be in worse shape in front of homes built east of Eastgate Boulevard. Wells said he suspects many of the tree roots simply weren't watered when home became vacant during foreclosure losses.

Trees in some areas are showing signs of mineral deficiency because of the lack of calcium, magnesium, potash and sulfate in the soil. A simple tree fertilizer can do wonders, he said.

The city's high pH content in its groundwater also is not helping matters but out of the city's hands, said Wells.

"The main reason for the trees lacking in fertilizer and being out of balance is due to the top soil being removed during construction," the city letter read.

Residents' careless use of lawnmowers and weed whackers have also inflicted trunk bark damage that has stunted growth. Tree trunk guards, which cost available about $10, would prevent that, the city said.

In other cases, said Wells, roots are overwatered because lawn watering often overruns and into the lower sections where trees are planted between the sidewalk and curb.

"Street trees are sometimes in challenging locations. They get more water than they need."

The city has planted a variety of street trees in Eastgate including Chinese pistachio, red bud, and camphor trees. Many of them were planted three to seven years ago.

"Some of the landscaping out there the homeowner has irrigation running every day so they're getting too much water," confirmed Jerry Damas, Landscape and Maintenance Superintendent of the city's Public Works Department.

"We're struggling with how do we fix the problem?" said Damas. "We know we're going to replant trees but we need to address how to not let this happen in the future."

City crews likely will not be able to identify which trees need to be replaced until they come out of their winter dormancy and spring leaves. Damas said it will be obvious in late spring or early summer which trees are dead and which ones may be saved.

According to the city, residents can help protect the trees with a small investment.

Tree 'N Vine, available at Stanislaus Farm Supply, contains a blend of 12% nitrogen, 8% phosphate, and 16% potash needed for the trees. Each homeowner should apply one pound (approximately one heaping tuna can) per diameter in inches four times per year. For example, if the tree trunk is two inches in diameter, then apply two pounds. The cost of the fertilizer runs about $25 for a 50-pound bag.

Trees up to two years old needs only enough water to keep the ground moist. After two years, water needs are less because the root system has had time to become established. A healthy lawn needs approx ¾" to 1" of water per week to maintain proper growth and good color. To determine if your lawn needs water, simply walk across the lawn and if the grass pops back up, it has plenty of moisture.