PASADENA, Calif. — When Amy Cannon moved into her Altadena home last year, she inherited a sprawling yard along with quite a few plants. An orange tree sits in the center — there's also a cherry tree, a young fig tree and a nectarine tree, along with oaks circling the property line.
It's a tree lovers paradise, but Cannon said she became concerned because some of her fruit trees were struggling throughout the hot summer months and the extended drought in Southern California.
"The trees, when we moved in, had been neglected, but definitely August is hitting them really hard. I'm trying to walk the line of keeping things alive but also being as water-conscious as we can be," she said.
To educate herself about fruit trees and understand how to take care of her plants better, Cannon signed up for a class with Fruitstitute, a company that tends to people's fruit trees around Los Angeles.
They have been hosting regular tree care sessions in Pasadena's Arlington Gardens, where attendees pay a $50 fee to learn about how to best water, mulch and prune their citrus trees. Each class includes a lecture and hands-on pruning experience in the garden.
A recent session was led by fruit tree specialists Capri Kasai and Samantha Sergeant who said fruit trees are being impacted by the California drought.
"A lot of the time, a mature fruit tree has already tapped into a water source," Sergeant said. "Over time, people get used to the tree just being prolific all on its own because it has tapped into a water source. So, a tree that has normally been extremely functional all on its own and an asset is showing signs of decline."
But with diligent care and attention, Kasai and Sergeant told the group, fruit trees, and particularly citrus trees, can thrive in California — even during a drought.
After walking participants through some of the science behind fruit tree care health, Kasai demonstrated how to sterilize pruning tools.
"Generally speaking, when you're, you know, cleaning off your tools or sterilizing your tools it's to kill any bacteria or pests that might still be living or harboring on the blade. You really don't want to transfer that to a tree that is otherwise healthy," Kasai said.
As the day progressed, everyone had the chance to practice a proper "pruning cut," which Kasai said should be done at a joint, where a branch meets another branch, versus a "heading cut" where a branch is cut off in the middle.
"You want to give your tree the most hospitable environment, which is really good soil health and also proper pruning cuts, so you're not inviting pests and disease to your tree."
Joanna Golvinsky, the founder of Fruitstitute, said fruit trees do need extra care and support, particularly when it comes to drought conditions.
"One of the things with fruit trees and how they differ from ornamental trees is that they've been designed by humans. I always say you're not going to find a Meyer lemon in the forest," Golvinsky said. "They've been designed by humans for commercial production."
Golvinsky explained that fruit trees need special care, good soil, and efficient water usage to thrive. It might sound like a lot of work, but it's worth it in the long run, she said. Healthy trees bear delicious fruit and cool down the climate.
"Trees provide shade so that plants and soil don't get fried. But also, where there are roots, there's life. The more extensive your roots system is, the more water those trees are bringing out to all the soil biology."
According to drought.gov, Los Angeles is currently facing an extreme drought, with parts of the state facing exceptional drought. Water reservoirs are running low.
The drought, climate change and continued high temperatures are concerning to Cannon.
"I was having a sleepless night last night about the recent climate report," she said while practicing her pruning on one of the orange trees in Arlington Garden. "There's only so much we can do as individuals."
But taking care of her trees helps the big picture, Cannon said, even in a small way.
"It does feel like a reciprocal relationship with our trees, where we take care of them, and they take care of us," she said. "That's been really rewarding to be a part of in this challenging time."