TLC for Urban Trees
“It takes five years to plant a tree.” So says Alden Kelley of the Tree Society of Orange County. This is especially true for trees planted in an urban setting. In a post last week Grist highlighted the fact that though there are many tree planting drives and programs with tens of thousands of tree seedlings, many young trees don’t survive. Clearly, putting in the last shovelful of dirt around the young tree is not the last step.
Why do urban trees live only a portion of their natural life span? Many factors are in play and TreePeople, an L.A.-based community care tree team, educate and train volunteers to address them. For one, urban soils fare poorly compared to forest soils in terms of nutrition, porosity, and irrigation. Tall buildings block sunlight essential to a young tree’s growth. Vehicles and pedestrians also tend to damage the growing trees at times due to collisions and vandalisms. Plant Amnesty shares six ways of how to kill a tree, especially an urban tree. These include improper, misinformed care of the young tree (pruning, topping, etc.) and poor planning resulting in cramped spaces for the growing tree among others. Cities and Environment‘s study shares different kinds of factors that affect an urban tree’s survival. Biological factors include planting depth, soil compaction, animal waste, and trunk wounds among others. The presence or absence of these determines whether a tree will survive to grow into maturity. Stewardship factors are also important and include careful planning of the tree’s proximity and location on the streetscape and building levels. Urban design factors include presence or absence of tree care signages, gravel, litter and debris, etc.
TreePeople lists tips and advice on how to properly care for urban trees to ensure their growth and survival. Their Green teams also make maintenance plans based on a carefully developed tree care checklist. The goal is to ensure the trees planted are properly cared for after the fanfare of the tree planting drive is gone.
Another post by Grist also features Guerilla Grafters, covert agents slash graft punks. The group, based in San Francisco, is bringing the fruit function back to ornamental trees stripped of their fruit bearing ability. Grafting fruit bearing branches to ornamental trees (so the vascular tissues of both will merge) is considered illegal because city officials do not particularly cherish the thought of rotten fruits falling on the sidewalk.
Yet Guerilla Grafters and TreePeople’s efforts to care for urban trees highlight urban trees’ benefits for cities and its people. Urban trees beautify the urbanscape and create a sense of place. They reduce runoff by breaking rainfall through their branches. They help reduce soil erosion, recharge groundwater, provide shade, and for some tree species, provide fruits for food. Not to mention they absorb CO2 from vehicles on city streets. TreePeople’s interactive page on the benefits of trees can be seen here.
Truly, for us to enjoy their many benefits it will take more than a day’s work to plant an urban tree. It will take years of planning, maintenance, and a whole lot of TLC.
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