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Sacramento tree program made for the shade

Huge sycamore trees line up at McKinley Park in East Sacramento. Sycamores are among the trees offered through the Sacramento Shade program.
Huge sycamore trees line up at McKinley Park in East Sacramento. Sycamores are among the trees offered through the Sacramento Shade program. Sacramento Bee file

Like many Sacramentans, Laura DeYoung loves her trees.

Large sycamores protect her Wilton home from the scorching summer sun. With months of pink blooms, crape myrtles add splashes of bright color. With the arrival of colder weather, maple, oak and liquidamber trees now put on their own show with brilliant red and gold fall foliage.

But it’s that green summer canopy that DeYoung really values.

“I love the shade,” she said. “They’re huge trees! They shade the whole house. That keeps it much cooler in summer.”

And best of all? They were free. All that shade came courtesy of the Sacramento Municipal Utility District and the Sacramento Tree Foundation as part of their Sacramento Shade partnership.

The nation’s first large-scale program of its kind, Sacramento Shade recently celebrated its 25th anniversary with – what else? – a tree-planting ceremony at SMUD headquarters. Since its start in 1990, the program has delivered more than half a million free shade trees to SMUD customers.

Fall is the best time to plant trees. Winter and spring are also excellent.

Pamela Sanchez of the Sacramento Tree Foundation

“We’re very proud to have helped Sacramento become the ‘City of Trees,’ ” said Sacramento Shade program manager Misha Sarkovich.

Shade trees do a lot more than look nice. Put in the right place, they can save home and business owners money on cooling costs. SMUD estimates that shade trees – with five years’ growth after planting – cut cooling costs by 40 percent. What’s more, they provide that cooling shade during the hottest parts of the day when electricity demand is at its peak. So far, Sacramento Shade has helped SMUD customers save 15 gigawatt hours, enough energy to power 20,000 homes.

Sacramento Shade continues to provide free trees to SMUD customers.

“Fall is the best time to plant trees,” said Pamela Sanchez of the Sacramento Tree Foundation. “Winter and spring are also excellent.”

From about 30 available varieties, the most popular trees requested are crape myrtle, Zelkova, Shantung maple and Eastern redbud. All trees in the shade program are deciduous; they lose their leaves in winter. That allows the sun they block in summer to come through during colder months, warming the home – and saving more energy.

“Crape myrtles are so popular because they’re smaller trees and can be planted close together,” Sanchez said. “So many properties now have small gardens and don’t have room for a really large tree.”

The foundation expects new tree requests as replacements for those lost during the four-years-and-counting California drought.

“We know we’ve lost a lot of trees in Sacramento,” said the foundation’s Matt Van Donsel. “We know a lot more are struggling. With the prolonged drought, we don’t know yet how much stress those trees were exposed to and how it will affect their lives. Even with El Niño, we will be seeing the drought’s effect on trees three, four, five years from now.”

Trees hit hardest by the drought were coastal redwoods, birches and maples, he added. “People are worried; those trees were definitely stressed.”

Fall planting helps new trees put down deep roots – an important asset for drought survival. Trees that get off to a good start have the best chance at long, tall, shady lives.

As a testament to their healthy starts, most of those half-million trees planted as part of Sacramento Shade’s program are still thriving.

DeYoung’s trees were among the first planted during the program in 1990. At that time, the home was owned by her mother and DeYoung was just a child. They have a lifelong connection.

“That’s what I really love about them,” she said. “I was probably 8 years old when they were planted and now I’m 34. I wondered, ‘Will I ever see them full grown?’ I watched them go from skinny sticks to these big magnificent trees.”

Debbie Arrington: 916-321-1075, @debarrington

Get free trees, help

▪ Customers of the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) may receive up to 10 free shade trees via the Sacramento Shade program. To get your trees, call the Sacramento Tree Foundation, 916-924-8733, or click on smud.org/shadetrees. A trained arborist will visit your home or business and suggest tree varieties and placement. The free trees, usually delivered within five business days, come with stakes and ties; tree recipients do the actual planting.

▪ Try the Sacramento Shade tree placement tool at arborday.org/smud. This tool lets you pick the right tree for the right place and includes a link to order free Sacramento Shade trees directly online without a home visit.

▪ Sacramento Tree Foundation offers a free guide to the best trees for the Sacramento Valley. Find the Greenprint Tree Guide online as well as other tree tips at sactree.com.

▪ Sign up for a free tree care and pruning clinic at 10 a.m. Dec. 12 at the Carmichael Library, 5605 Marconi Ave., Carmichael. Advance registration is required at sactree.com.

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