Shade Trees: FAQ

shaded home

Why is SMUD giving away free shade trees?

Once properly placed shade trees mature, you can save as much as 40 percent on your summer electric bill and help conserve energy during SMUD's peak usage period. Shade trees also improve our air quality, provide beauty and privacy, improve property values, and absorb storm runoff.

How will I know the best places to plant trees for energy savings?

A Community Forester from the Sacramento Tree Foundation will set up a site visit at your home to help you select appropriate trees based on the amount of room in your yard, soil conditions, and SMUD's requirements for energy savings tree placement. More on planting

When is the best time of year to plant trees?

The shade tree program distributes trees to be planted twelve months of the year. Availability of tree species is best in late spring, summer, and early fall. During the hot summer months extra care should be taken when loosening the root ball and providing deep watering on a regular basis. More on planting

How is the tree list chosen? I don't see some of my favorite trees!

Local arborists and other tree experts selected SMUD's shade tree program trees. The trees are chosen for their longevity, adaptability to local soils, strong structure, and a minimum of insect disease, excessive litter, surface root and mistletoe problems. More on tree choices

Why are there no fruit or evergreen trees?

Fruit trees are generally small trees with limited shading potential, need more maintenance and care, and may not live long in our heavy clay soils. Check with local nurseries for selection, care and guidance.

SMUD's shade tree program provides only trees that lose their leaves in the fall (deciduous) because they provide shade in the summer but allow winter sunshine to warm your home, and thus lowering your winter heating energy costs. More on tree choices

How many trees can I receive?

You may receive up to ten trees for each home. If ordering a large number of trees, it may be wise to receive only a few at a time. This can be discussed with your Community Forester.

Where do I pick up my trees?

Your free SMUD trees will be delivered to you with stakes and ties. You do not need to be present, and you can arrange with the Community Forester for the week you would like them to be delivered. Since hundreds of trees are being delivered, you will not receive a phone call prior to delivery unless there is a problem.

How large are the trees?

The trees are in what are called No. 5 containers. They may be four to seven feet tall, depending on the time of year and stock on hand. More on tree choices

How fast do the trees grow?

Some trees tend to grow faster than others, but it depends on how you plant, water and care for the trees. You may get shade in five years, depending on the tree and its distance from the house. Many fast growing trees are not offered by SMUD's shade tree program because the trees have large invasive surface roots and weak branching structures. More on tree choices

Who plants the trees?

You are responsible for planting the trees or arranging for the tree planting. If friends, relatives, or gardeners plant the trees, make sure they plant them exactly as the directions specify. More on planting

Can I move the planting location of the trees?

No. The trees have been placed in accordance with SMUD's requirements for energy savings. If you need to move a tree because of pipes or other problems, call the Community Forester for guidance. It is a good idea to dig the holes before receiving the trees and/or plant them right away in case you run into problems.

HOWEVER, before you start digging, make sure that the spot chosen for your tree does not have any underground lines that would endanger you and others taking part in the planting. To find out if there are any dangerous underground lines where you're planting, call SMUD's Underground Service Alert four working days before you dig. The toll-free number for the free service is: 1-800-227-2600.

How long do I have before the trees need to be planted?

The trees need to be planted as soon as possible, within a week of delivery. If you need to delay planting, arrange with the Community Forester for a later delivery. Store the trees in the shade and water every day during hot summer months. If you do not water the trees daily, the trees will die if left in small plastic containers for a prolonged period of time. Also, check for too much moisture during the winter months.

I have hardpan. Can I plant my tree?

There is a difference between hardpan and compacted clay soil. A chunk of true hardpan will not dissolve if left in a bucket of water overnight, or if saturated in the soil after several heavy rains. If a shovel easily penetrates the soil after rains, it is not hardpan.

The depth of the hardpan varies greatly, even within an individual yard. Most people don't reach hardpan until a depth of 18 inches or more. Claypan, or compacted clay soil can be broken up when thoroughly soaked. It is particularly important in shallow hardpan areas to manage water carefully and check moisture levels with a shovel before watering.

Should I add soil amendments to the planting hole?

No. The program planting guidelines ask that you dig a four-foot wide hole and a central pedestal of undisturbed soil. This is particularly important for compacted or clay soils conditions. Research has shown that if you add soil amendments to the hole, you create a well or sump into which more water will drain. The roots tend to stay in the area of amended and wet soil rather than penetrating sideways into the surrounding native soil. Consequently the tree may not grow as fast, or die due to root rot.

Do I water my trees the same way I water my lawn?

No. Lawns should be watered twice a week in summer and one inch of water per watering (For instance, place tuna cans around the lawn to record the length of time necessary to obtain an average of one inch of water).

Shade trees must be watered deeply. Deep watering means that, when checked with a soil probe or shovel after 12 hours absorption, the water has penetrated the soil gradually to a depth of at least six inches. Due to runoff, it may be necessary to space the tree watering an hour or two apart.

The soil for shade trees should be moist to a depth of one foot. Please, check moisture level with a shovel before watering. If soaking wet, do not water. If dry and unable to reach a depth of one foot with a shovel, deep water by placing hose against trunk and letting it trickle very slowly over night or all day. Young trees (in the ground 1-3 years) are usually watered once a week in non-rainy summer months.

What can I do if the area is soggy?

First, examine why the area is soggy. Is there a leaking pipe? Is water draining from the neighbor's yard? Do you water more than twice a week during the rainless months? Is this a low or drainage area between houses? If you can't control the water, this may not be a suitable place for most trees. Ask your Community Forester about which trees may survive in soggy conditions.

What should I do if water is standing around the tree?

It is important to follow the tree planting directions so the top of the root ball (root crown) is placed 1 to 2 inches above the soil level. There should be no soil placed on the crown or top of the root ball. The tree can be replanted higher if recently planted (within three months) by placing a shovel below the root ball and gently lifting the tree, preferably with another helper supporting the root ball. If not sunken too deeply, you may be able to drain the standing water away by removing plants or lawn, mulch, berm, or by digging a trench to drain the water away from the crown.

Why don't you recommend rocks around the tree?

Rocks absorb the heat from the sun and transmit it down to the roots, which can literally bake them. A four to six inch layer of wood chips or other organic mulch placed four inches from the trunk keeps the roots cooler during the hot months so the roots grow for a longer period than without mulch.

Can I use Roundup to kill the grass around my tree?

No. Roundup may damage the tree if the spray hits the leaves, through which the herbicide is absorbed. It is best to manually weed around the tree, because grass has a chemical that retards the growth of young trees. Also, using a string weeder improperly can severely damage the trunk of the tree and even kill the tree. The use of a 4-6 inch thick layer of mulch helps prevent establishment of weeds and provides the cool conditions the roots need.

Don't all trees need to be staked?

No. Trees will grow faster and stronger and develop better taper and root system if allowed to sway in the wind due to the release of growth hormones. If the tree stands straight without leaning, staking is not necessary. If the tree needs to be staked, check the ties and stakes every few months to see if they're still necessary. Usually trees do not need staking for more than a year.

Should I leave the thin stake attached to the trunk?

No. The nursery stake and ties should be removed immediately because it holds the tree rigidly and doesn't allow it to sway in the wind. It acts like a crutch and ultimately weakens the tree. Please, remove the thin stake attached to the trunk immediately after the tree planting.

What should I do if my tree is broken by kids or in the wind?

A young tree will produce a new vigorous leader or leaders, even from a relatively young root system. Select the most vigorous or straight leader and remove the other(s) with a sharp pruner.

Is it harmful to top trees?

Yes. Tree topping is inappropriate and a harmful practice that weakens the tree growth and structure. Please, do not top SMUD shade trees.

How do I know if my shade tree is dead?

To check if the tree is dead, scratch the tree bark with your fingernail. If it is green, the tree is alive. You are having a problem with your shade tree but the tree is not dead. Please, check the caring for your trees instructions to make sure you followed the directions correctly. Pay special attention to the watering information. Most likely you are either over- or under- watering the tree. As participant of SMUD's shade tree program, you can call Sacramento Tree Foundation's Stewardship Hotline at 916-974-4304 for additional guidance if necessary.

Do you replace dead trees?

SMUD does not give replacement trees. You may be eligible to receive from SMUD coupons for $10 off the retail price to be used at participating local nurseries to buy new trees. To request your tree replacement coupons, please call Sacramento Tree Foundation's Stewardship Hotline at 916-974-4304.

Will I be notified or called when someone is going to inspect my trees?

SMUD will notify you with a letter in advance if your trees are randomly selected to be part of the SMUD's Quality Assurance inspection. Your signed Tree Care Agreement (TCA) gives SMUD permission for the tree monitoring.

Who should I contact if I lost the Sacramento Tree Foundation's Community Forester's business card and I need to reschedule or cancel an appointment or tree delivery?

Call the Sacramento Tree Foundation at 916-924-TREE (8733) for fastest service. Please, do not call SMUD.

Related Topics

  • The District offers programs to provide equal opportunity to all segments of the business community.
  • SMUD is nationally recognized as a leader in renewable resources and electric transportation.
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