Landscape architect Tim Vine wouldn't plant a Monterey pine in a client's yard--even if they asked him to. "There are so many other great trees," Vine said. "Why plant a bad one? We've got some ethics here."
Monterey pines, frequently used by home and park owners, are a species indigenous to a coastal land strip near Monterey and Santa Cruz. The trees are transplanted from their native region and shipped to inland cities, including Palo Alto, to be used as "ornamental" trees that provide shade for parks and screens between neighboring houses.
Today, many of Palo Alto's Monterey pines, including stands in Mitchell Park and in residential areas, are being removed and replaced.
Vine, who has recently replaced large stands of Monterey pines for several of his clients, said inland cities like Palo Alto are just not good environments for Monterey pines.
"They never should have been put here in the first place," said Vine. "There's not enough water in this area, and they can be infected with all kinds of things."
Arborist Steve Scott, who works for the city of Palo Alto, said "all kinds of things" include two types of pesky beetles and a fungal disease called pitch canker, which infects many other species of California pines as well.
While pitch canker is a serious concern in coastal and East Bay cities, Scott said he knew of only one lab-tested, verified case of pitch canker in the city of Palo Alto.
The damage done to Monterey pines in Palo Alto is caused by a combination of bark beetles and poor tree care, he said.
Bark beetles, which burrow into the base of Monterey pines, set up egg galleries and slowly bore out the inside of healthy pines. Combined with water shortage, Monterey pines are in for a one-two punch that causes wilting, discoloration and death very quickly--especially in the summer time.
"Always be sure and water your Monterey pines a lot with a very deep watering," said Scott. "During the summer months, the beetles reproduce more frequently, and they tend to attack and kill healthy trees faster. You can never water them enough."
Vine said Montereys are gross eaters--and he isn't talking about table manners.
"They tend to take about twice as much water as other pines," said Vine. "Even though they grow fast, there is absolutely no reason for people to plant them. Other species of pine are fine and are better suited for this area."
John Williams, who lives in Los Altos Hills, didn't have a choice in the matter. When he and his wife Betsy bought their 45-year-old house, the front and back yards were full of Monterey pines.
About seven years ago, the family began to notice that their pines were losing bark, turning brown, and getting notches in the tree trunks. The family gradually removed each tree as it died, but the beetles spread quickly to surrounding trees.
The Williams family is currently paying a hefty fee to have Vine remove and replace their pines.
"We've removed about 30 trees, and it's not a cheap process," said Williams.
Because the tall, thick pines formed a screen between the Williamses' and neighboring houses, the family's backyard view now includes a panorama of the underside of the homes on a nearby hill.
Vine is replacing the Williamses' trees with a two-layer tree plan, including redwoods and poplars. The poplars will grow faster to replace the screen, and the redwoods are planted for aesthetic purposes, said Vine.
Though the process of removing and replacing Monterey pines is time-consuming and expensive, Vine thinks there may be a positive side.
"This is a good opportunity for people to find interesting trees to replace Monterey pines with," said Vine.
Besides redwoods and poplars, Vine recommends replacing Montereys with a plant called Myrica California, which does especially well in shady areas. He also recommends any 48-inch box tree for homeowners with relatively small yards.
Before homeowners make hasty decisions about removing their Monterey pines, Scott recommends that they check for things like red and white nests around the bases of their trees, discoloration of needles at the tips of branches (needle discoloration in the lower, interior branches is normal), and wilting of the needles. If homeowners are unsure about whether or not a tree is diseased or infested, they should consult an arborist.
If homeowners do replace their trees, Scott recommends that they guard against replacing them with other species susceptible to beetle infestation and pitch canker.
Scott also recommends paying special attention to the way dying and diseased wood is removed. Proper removal includes either storing the chopped wood under a tarp long enough to kill beetles or mulching and chipping it to decrease the protected interior area in which beetles or disease could exist.
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