Arbor Day 2018 – Join Millions of Tree Enthusiasts

You can contribute to Earth’s beauty, clean air, and clean water by planting a tree.

I love planting trees because they are beautiful and unique—like people. On Arbor Day, have fun and do something worthwhile by planting a tree.

Arbor Day is in its 146th year demonstrating that Julius Sterling Morton’s annual tree planting day idea is ageless and calls us to action just as effectively today as it did on April 10, 1872. On the first Arbor Day, over a million trees were planted in Nebraska and a new tradition began that now encompasses the world.

If you are interested in reading about the history of Arbor Day, the Arbor Day Foundation, or how the oak became the United States national tree, you may enjoy Arbor Day 2013 – Plant a Tree. If you are looking for information about why trees are important, consider reading Arbor Day 2017 – Hug a Tree, Plant a Tree.

Why is Arbor Day a Good Day to Plant a Tree?

The sheer number of organizations hosting tree-planting events on or near Arbor Day makes it easy for you to get involved. Enter the name of your town or county and “Arbor Day” into an Internet search window and then select an activity that appeals to you from the list of results.

In many cases, all you need to do is show up or sign up and then show up. Groups looking for volunteer tree planters will usually provide the trees, tools, and at least one person to direct the work. They may also offer food and entertainment for after the work is done. Arbor Day tree planting activities are a great way to get outside with your family and friends and do something that is good for people and the planet.

Tree-planting projects can be small or large. Perhaps your children’s school is planting trees for shade around the lunch area. Maybe your apartment complex has an area perfect for a lemon tree (get permission from the landlord). A local park may be looking for people to help plant trees to beautify and cool the park. A community that has suffered a fire or flood would probably appreciate extra hands to help replant areas where the trees have been lost. State and national parks are often seeking volunteers to help replace trees that have died from fire, drought, or disease.

Another option, if you have a yard, is to focus your energies on planting trees at home. That is what I do.

Planting, Growing and Protecting Trees at Home

We moved from Southern California to the Central Coast ten years ago. Our yard is mostly wild and receives a lot of furry and winged visitors. About five years ago, my spouse and I began a land restoration project around our home with the mission to encourage native plants and trees, discourage invasive plants, and rebuild the soil’s health so it can retain moisture, prevent erosion, and provide nutrients for the plants and trees.

Planting and protecting trees is an important part of our informal and ever-shifting master plan. Flexibility is key in our yard because many trees and plants volunteer to grow wherever their seeds land. For instance, we leave Monterey pine and oak seedlings and carefully weed whack around them in the dry season. However, brooms and thistles are dug out and put in the green waste bin because if left to their own devices they will take over.

We plant most of our trees either in April around Arbor Day or in December as part of our buy one, plant two Christmas tree tradition. Here are a few tree stories.

Avocado Tree

We planted our first avocado tree seedling sometime in 2012. My avocado loving spouse had grown the seedling from a pit from an avocado we bought at the farmers market. Unsure as to whether deer would eat it or not, we planted it in the small fenced-in area behind our house (a former occupant probably had a dog). In the early days, we periodically hiked up the hill with a watering can to give it a drink. It grew slowly.

In 2013, for Arbor Day we planted a second seedling grown from another farmers market avocado pit. Unfortunately, I had unknowingly selected a location near a vole tunneling project and they dug it up. It could not be revived.

My spouse grew another avocado seedling that we planted in a different location for Arbor Day 2014. About the same time, the first avocado tree received an unwanted haircut from a deer. I recounted this incident in my 2014 Arbor Day post. We hand watered the now shorter tiny tree and the new seedling and weeded around them but the seedling did not make it.

Undaunted my spouse grew a fourth avocado seedling and we planted it in the fenced area where it seemed happy but then dried up and died.

You may be thinking this is not the most inspirational tree planting story but it does have a happy ending. The picture above on the right shows the original avocado seedling now as a small tree. Plus it has been joined by three acorns that volunteered to become oak trees. They all made it through the worst of the drought with occasional watering and seem to be working out how to coexist.

Oak Trees

Oak trees grow among Monterey pine trees in the forest and in our yard. I knew oak trees grew slowly but it seemed like the oak trees in our yard were growing substantially slower than a snail’s pace. The oak tree leaves are leathery with pointy spiked edges so we did not think the deer were eating them and we had never seen deer eating leaves on the trees. The trees did not seem to be diseased so we were puzzled.

Until one day in 2013, I was looking out our home office window and noticed a deer munching on one of the oak trees. Aha, deer do eat oak leaves. We had just never caught them at it.

There are mature oaks trees in our neighborhood and of course, in the forest so clearly if an oak tree can get through adolescence to adulthood it can hold its own with the deer.

Fencing in a few oak trees seemed like a good idea. We bought some 4-foot tall wire fencing and posts at the hardware store, then selected five oak trees in different locations around the yard. My spouse reported that hammering the posts into the ground was excellent upper body exercise. I helped with putting the fencing around the posts and closing it with small pieces of wire (we have to open them each year during weed whacking).

To us, the results were miraculous. Protected from grazing deer the trees grew taller and fuller each year.

In the left photo above, you will see part of Monterey pine tree that died later during the drought. The right photo shows a Monterey pine seedling volunteering near the old tree’s stump.

In 2017, we decided to expand our oak tree protection project by enclosing ten more trees, some less than 12” tall. Several of the original trees had outgrown their circular fencing so we expanded it.

California Buckeye and Islay Cherry Trees

I am trying to learn about native plants and trees so last year we joined the San Luis Obispo Chapter of the California Native Plant Society and this year we joined the San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden. Being surrounded by botanists and native plant gardeners is both daunting and inspiring (I wish I had taken Latin in college).

For Arbor Day 2018, we decided to visit the botanical garden spring plant sale to look for a native tree or two to plant in our yard. I choose a California buckeye tree seedling that is about 24” tall and my spouse opted for a 6” tall Islay cherry tree seedling.

We planted the deer resistant California buckeye seedling in between two protected oak trees and near a tiny coast redwood tree. I am hoping this fast-growing tree will grow quickly and perhaps provide a little shade for the struggling coast redwood I planted two years ago in a spot that is probably too sunny for it.

The Islay cherry seedling found a home next to the stump of a Monterey pine tree that had beautified the area for many decades but died. We hope the old root system will help the Islay cherry with water retention and that it will be company for the Monterey pine seedling growing nearby.

I do not know how long it will take the tree seedlings we have planted to reach maturity or how many years it will take the protected oak trees to grow above deer nibbling height. We may not be living here by then. It does not matter to me because planting and caring for trees is something you do for yourself and the people who come after you.

I hope you will join me and other Arbor Day fans by planting a tree in your yard, participating in a local tree-planting project, or donating a tree for someone else to plant.

Featured Image at Top: Boy sitting beneath a Big Linden Tree Reading a Book – Photo Credit iStock/Solovyova

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Making Water Conservation a Way of Life – Indoors

Water conservation is a gift that keeps on giving.

Once you make water conservation a part of your daily life, you can almost effortlessly save water and money, month after month, year after year. It all adds up.

During the 2012-2017 drought in California, our small town on the Central Coast worried about running out of water. The water company imposed severe water use restrictions. Residents, businesses, and visitors all contributed to a massive reduction in the town’s water use. We made it through the drought.

This is the third post in a three-part series about making water conservation a way of life.

In the first post, I shared six years of our household’s water data to illustrate how water and cost savings can add up over time. The second post focused on ideas for making your yard both beautiful and drought resistant.

The third post is about indoor water use habits and water saving devices. My intent is to show you what is possible so that you can come up with your own ideas that will suit you and your family.

To me, water conservation is like eating a healthy diet. The best approach is to make changes and do things that you can do for the rest of your life.

Changing Water Use Habits and Installing Water Saving Devices

Picture your morning routine. Chances are you do certain things each day, almost without thinking, like making your bed, starting the coffee maker, or taking a shower. You probably have water use habits you learned over years or decades that you could change or stop.

Without spending any money, you can evaluate your water use habits and implement some water saving ideas. Purchasing and installing water saving devices can substantially increase water conservation, but you can still participate even if you buy nothing.

During the drought, we experimented with various behavioral changes. Some things worked and some did not. Over several years, we adopted water use practices that we could envision ourselves doing forever.

Doing Laundry

Changing laundry habits required significant reprogramming for me. We took a two-pronged approach to conserving water in the laundry room. First, we attempted to generate less laundry and then wash only full loads. That was easier said than done.

Creating less laundry meant being more thoughtful about getting dressed and undressed. For instance, instead of automatically tossing a t-shirt in the laundry basket, I had to learn to consciously decide whether it could be worn again or not. I became accustomed to wearing the same pants for several days or purposefully wearing a pair that I had worn earlier in the week and hung up in my closet.

I began washing towels and sheets every two weeks instead of once a week and I still do.

Back when I learned to do laundry, sorting and washing by color and fabric was important. If you threw a red shirt in with white socks, you might end up with pink socks. Today’s colorfast and blended fabrics can often be washed together (read the labels) making it easier to do full loads. Nowadays, I sort laundry into full load piles and I separate items by fabric weight before I put them in the dryer to make drying more efficient.

Fortunately, no one in our household ever requests extra laundry loads be done because their favorite whatever is in the laundry hamper.

Washing Dishes

If you have a dishwasher, use it.

A standard kitchen faucet pumps out 2 gallons of water per minute or more so if you run it for just 10 minutes while doing the dishes by hand you will have used 20 gallons of water. Older dishwashers use about 10-15 gallons of water per cycle and new models reduce water use by 50% or more.

Using the dishwasher was not a problem for me, but I was an over rinser. It was a hard habit to break. To find the sweet spot for our dishwasher I tried by putting in dishes with varying amounts of food left on and then seeing if they got clean or not. I also learned how to load the dishwasher to make sure the spray nozzles could reach the insides and outsides of the dishes.

Water and Energy Efficient Bosch Dishwasher

Our water conservation efforts got a boost in 2013 that put a dent in our wallet. The pump on our home’s original 23-year-old dishwasher died in a puff of smoke.

We considered having it repaired but decided to buy a new water and energy efficient dishwasher. It cost $570.00 plus tax and installation.

If you do not have a dishwasher or just want to do your dishes by hand, consider switching out your old kitchen faucet to a model that saves water every time you turn it on.

Showering and Bathing

Taking long, hot showers or taking a bath in a bathtub is not consistent with living in a drought-prone area.

In 2012, I decided to time how long it took me to take a shower (on average) so I could figure out how much water I was using. A standard showerhead pumps out 2.5 gallons of water per minute or more. At that rate, a 10-minute shower uses 25 gallons of water. A low flow showerhead uses a maximum of 2.0 gallons per minute and many models use less.

Low Flow Handheld Showerhead
Low Flow Handheld Showerhead that I Installed.

We decided to try a low flow handheld showerhead and I found one that used 1.6 gallons of water per minute for $45.00, which I installed. I am not the least bit handy so this demonstrates that almost anyone can do it. A handheld showerhead makes rinsing off easier, saving more water, so we decided to replace our other two showerheads.

As the drought worsened, we had to double down on water conservation so we probably took more basin baths than showers for a time. To take a basin bath you put your bath mat in front of your bathroom sink, fill the basin with water, wet a washcloth and soap up, and then use the water in the basin and your washcloth to rinse off. I did not like this at all.

I started practicing taking showers as quickly as possible without being ridiculous and eventually, this just became a normal way to take a shower. At one point, I decided to try taking a shower every other day unless I had been doing something that involved getting sweaty or dirty. Surprisingly, the condition of my skin and hair actually improved with less showering. On non-shower days, I would wash my face in the morning and before I went to bed. I still do this.

Flushing Toilets

Toilets are water hogs accounting for about 27% of indoor household water use. Older toilets use 3-5 gallons of water per flush or more and often develop slow leaks over time that end up wasting a lot of water. Newer models use 1.6 gallons per flush and high-efficiency toilets use 1.28 gallons per flush.

In 2014, we tried the “if its yellow, let it mellow” toilet flushing policy for a while but it did not seem like a good long-term strategy. Neither did putting a brick in the toilet tank or installing one of the retrofit kits that were being marketed as inexpensive ways to make your old toilet more water efficient.

Dual Flush High Efficiency ToiletWe decided to replace our three old leaky toilets with new high-efficiency toilets. At $560 each plus tax and installation, this was an expensive investment (the water company gave us a $25 rebate per toilet).

The toilet user pushes the lever one way to flush with 0.9 gallons of water and the other way to flush with 1.28 gallons of water (there is a label on top of the toilet tank).

After more than three years, the toilets work flawlessly and are well on their way to paying for their acquisition cost in water savings. Even if we moved tomorrow, I would be happy to have provided the next occupant with toilets that will continue conserving water for decades.

If after reading this post, you feel like racing to the nearest home improvement store to buy a high-efficiency toilet, great, if not that is okay, too.

Perhaps trying some water conservation habits is right for you. All it takes is the willingness to question the way you use water and to try out water saving ideas until you find the ones you and your family can live with. In a severe drought, you can up the ante by dusting off some of the ideas you tried and decided against (like basin baths).

I realize that many people rent an apartment, house, or condominium so dealing with a landlord or facility manager may present a challenge especially if you want to convince them to install water saving devices. If anyone has experience with this, please share with other readers.

Regardless, you can reduce your water use through behavioral changes without involving your landlord. If utilities like water are included in your rent, then you might not reap the financial benefits of reducing your water use, but that does not mean it is not worth doing.

Water conservation is a gift we give to ourselves and all the living things sharing the planet with us.

Featured Image at Top: Water Drop Falling into Water Making Concentric Circles – Photo Credit Shutterstock/science photo

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