The First Sin, Arizona Ash, Watering Trees

Arizona ash ‘Modesto’

Arizona ash

Ginkgo biloba

It is well known that a tree was involved in the first human sin, when Adam and Eve disobeyed God by eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Yet there was a sin not widely publicized that came before this. It was a sin that also involved trees, but it was actually committed by the Earth itself.

To understand what happened, it is useful to look at the original Hebrew in which the Bible was written. The Hebrew word for tree is etz, but etz also means wood. Thus, in the Biblical account of tree creation and development, the word “wood” may be substituted wherever the word “tree” appears. So on the third day of creation, when God commanded the Earth to bring forth “fruit trees bearing fruit,” many commentators explain this to mean “fruit wood bearing fruit” or wood that was fruity and edible, tasting just like its fruit. But the Earth rebelled and, in its disobedience, simply produced ordinary “wood bearing fruit.” It was not the same sweet and succulent “fruit wood” that God had commanded the Earth to produce, but just wood, the dry and tasteless woody trunks and branches that we have known ever since.

The difference between edible and non-edible wood on a fruit tree has been described as a metaphor for the ideal world that God sought to create and the less than perfect world that came to be. In an ideal world, there is no argument about whether “the ends justify the means” because there is no real difference between them, just as there would be no qualitative difference between wood that tasted like a peach and actual peaches growing from such fruity wood. Meanwhile, though, we inhabit a world where the means are often hard and flavorless, much like dry wood, and our entire focus is on the fruit of our labors. The challenge is to make the process of growing fruit, of reaching a goal, as sweet as the ultimate fruit itself.

I got to thinking about trees after receiving the following email from William Huber of Winnetka:
“Do you have any advice on watering big trees during the drought? I was told years ago that the root system of my trees is so large that my neighbors are watering my trees. But my neighbors aren’t watering any more. I have two Arizona Ash trees that I planted around 1965, and some newer trees in my parkway strip. Any suggestions for watering them?”

Arizona or velvet ash (Fraxinus velutina), so called because of its down-covered, velvety shoots, is one of the toughest trees you can grow. Although a riparian or river dependent species in its desert habitat, it is not affected by heat or cold, exhibiting hardiness down to minus ten degrees Fahrenheit. As for providing the water it needs, you would be advised to slowly soak it and there are three techniques that come to mind for doing so: soaker hose, drip irrigation tubing, and a slowly trickling garden hose. Soaker hose, made from recycled tires, is a spongy hose that leaks water throughout its length so you just lay it down in the area that requires soaking. Drip irrigation tubing — and I recommend the Netafim brand with in-line emitters — is also just laid down where you want it to water. Finally, a slowly leaking garden hose may be utilized as long as you are prepared to move it around so that the water is evenly distributed throughout the root zone.

In all cases, the area you want to soak is known as the drip line, an imaginary circle that corresponds to your tree’s canopy perimeter. Judging from the photo you sent, a portion of the drip line, in your case, appears to fall beyond your property line. However, as long as you water over the drip line on your side of the fence, the water applied will be sufficient to sustain your tree. The beauty of the water treatments recommended is that they do not require underground sprinklers so you can just attach your soaker hose or drip irrigation line to your hose bib as needed and then remove and store it away so it does not interfere with everyday activity around the tree. If you give your tree a good soaking at this time of year, you should not have to do so again until next spring. Most of a deciduous tree’s root growth takes place in the fall, even while its leaves disappear.

I have to compliment you on the shapeliness of your tree. Considering its age of around half a century, it really does show pride of ownership. Ash trees have brittle wood so that unpruned trees with congested branches are prime candidates for breakage in winter storms. When ash branches break or when there is heavy pruning, rank growth sprouts up which is weak and highly susceptible itself to breakage. In addition, stub cuts on broken branches provide entry for disease organisms.

Incidentally, although they are not planted too much nowadays because of their susceptibility to disease and insect pests, you still occasionally see a cultivar of Arizona ash known as ‘Modesto.’ This ash is recognizable by its furrowed bark and foliage that turns gold as we get deeper into fall, a metallic shine seen on ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) leaves as well.

Tip of the Week: There is a new local website,, that you should know about. It has been set up by Yvonne Savio, who ran a highly successful master gardener’s program for many years through her work as Los Angeles County’s farm and garden advisor. This site is a valuable resource for local gardeners as it provides information regarding ongoing programs and upcoming events that are of horticultural interest. In addition, there is a listing of internships and jobs for people already working or interested in working in the green industry. Register at the site to receive regular updates. Savio also writes a blog on the site and provides gardening tips for each month of the year.

large ash tree, courtesy of William Huber
Modesto ash and ginkgo photos by Joshua Siskin

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