Master landscaper Robert Kourik is experiencing some doubt. He's slated to give a bare root tree planting workshop at SHED on Feb. 15, but is this the year to establish new bare roots? With California experiencing a record drought, the constant water that saplings need to get established gives even this veteran some pause.
"It's pretty difficult to justify unless you're using gray water or catching water from your shower before it gets hot," he says. "It's a tight situation."
But not all is lost with the bare root season. Drip irrigation done right can squeeze the smallest amount from your taps and keep your trees in trim until water regulations lift or the skies open. "Drip irrigation doesn't use that much water," Kourik says thoughtfully. "But it's still water."
And eventually, it's still food. Planting your own trees for your own kitchen allows you control in how it's tended, something you don't always have knowledge of when purchasing from large commercial growers.
Kourik estimates that two minutes of drip irrigation a day might be all it takes to keep your bare root trees alive — particularly if you place the irrigation properly. A common beginner's mistake is to concentrate the drip around the tree's trunk. In fact, spacing the irrigation components out from the trunk make for a hardier tree, because it forces the roots to spread out to seek their sustenance.
"You can cut your usage back by 70 percent if you put the water at the right place, not near the trunk, and use a lot of mulch," Kourik says. "Putting water near the trunk results in root bondage, and you run the risk of killing the thing all together."
The author of 11 books, including the newly revamped Drip Irrigation for Every Landscape and All Climates, Kourik wrote the defining guide to edible landscaping back in the '70s. And of course, when Californians discuss the '70s, we must discuss 1976, the year of the last massive drought.
Back then, Kourik was one of the first landscapers to try gray water irrigation for his clients, admitting that the system he jerryrigged wouldn't be appropriate today. "It used too many water systems," he says.
And, he cautions, gray water should be handled with care. Kourik suggests not using it to water edibles that might be splashed or otherwise soaked by the stuff. Tomatoes, which hang from a vine, are a good choice.
If you are going to plant bare root trees this spring, Kourik advises building a small moat around the trees in tandem with the drip line. That way, if you hand-water them, the water will spread out from the trunk just as your drip line intends.
Kourik had to change his profession during the 1976 drought. Year-round traditional landscapers suffered too severely. As we anxiously wait for the skies to pour, what can we learn during this drought?
Robert Kourik is slated to give a bare root tree planting workshop on Saturday, Feb. 15, at 11am. $25. Check for details and pray for rain.