Ministry of Controversy

Street Trees: Friend or Foe?

Street_treeMy neighbors just told me that the sugar maple to the right, which is at the border of my property, is coming down.  The city came out and had a look and said that it’s sick. 

Now, a lot of the giant old sugar maples that line the streets in this part of the world are sickly.  They’re having a tough time adjusting to warmer temperatures and the insults of modern life.

That’s not to say that these trees wouldn’t live on indefinitely, if allowed to. In fact, I’m entirely skeptical about the goodwill of government bodies when it comes to trees. I suspect they are all in the pockets of the power and phone companies and would just as soon take them all down to keep them from interfering with their lines. Can you believe we still run these primitive lines from pole to pole above the ground and butcher trees to protect them?  In a century in which we have iPhones?

We had another giant property-line sugar maple taken down a few years ago.  This one was in the backyard. It was beautiful, with a round crown that shaded the entire yard–though the tree-cutters showed us a rotten core and said it was sick. Removing it was a sickeningly violent act.  When the torso touched down, it shook the house.  The stump bled a flesh-colored sap for a full year.

It was terrible, but it allowed me to garden the yard. 

My husband laments the loss of these old giants. I am really skeptical about whether trees of this size belong in cities. When the one in front goes, I’ll feel bad for a minute and then plant a pair of sweet cherry trees I can eat off of.   

Posted by on April 25, 2008 at 1:23 pm, in the category Ministry of Controversy.
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12 responses to “Street Trees: Friend or Foe?”

  1. Matriarchy says:

    I am a former zoning and code enforcement officer. Be careful – if you plant new trees in the right-of-way, they are often subject to restrictions as to what kind, and may have to be approved by an appointed arborist or municipal engineer. Trees that produce “street trash” or are considered messy or fragile are often disapproved. So are trees that grow limbs too low – they affect passing vehicles and cars parked under them. Fruit trees often have low limbs. I also see a utility pole next to the tree – they may disapprove replanting any tree at all. Can you put the fruit trees in your front yard instead? Espalier them along your front property line to avoid over-hanging the sidewalk. You don’t want to have your municipality come along and yank out the trees you just bought, planted, and nourished.

  2. Les says:

    We just had a Sugar Maple taken down by the city. It bordered my house and the property behind us. It is not one I planted, nor would I ever plant a Sugar Maple in zone 8a. We did enjoy it though, especially in the fall. For years the sapsuckers have also been enjoying it too, and I feel that may have been part of its decline. Whoever planted this tree, stupidly put it directly underneath the power lines. It had alot going against it. In our city, the strip of ground between the sidewalk and the street is city property, although I am responsible for keeping this area well maintained, and I know what ever I put in that area runs the risk of being dug up for utility work. My front back and sides are full so this no-man’s land is my last frontier.

  3. Michele Owens says:

    Matriarchy, thank you. I’ve considered all this stuff–I will keep the fruit tree’s limbs trimmed up. And I won’t be planting where the utility pole is, just in the former shade of the maple. It’s worth a try. The city actually doesn’t maintain the sidewalks, hell strip, or curb, so I might get away with it.

  4. Matt K says:

    i’m too idealistic – plant another sugar maple. it’ll be a problem in what, 40+ years?

    small trees are too frequently the choice of people who fear commitment.

  5. Lori says:

    It bled sap for an entire year?!! Are you sure you didn’t kill an Ent? 😉

  6. nandina says:

    I also have experience with municipal trees. One common unnoticed cause of street tree demise may be slight pin hole leaks in long ago laid gas pipes running beneath them. Experience has taught me to check with the gas company and if the area is serviced with gas request a check for leaks. Caught and repaired early enough the tree(s) usually recover and continue to grow.

  7. eliz says:

    I love/hate our old maples. We have tons here and they cause me so many gardening heartaches.

    Yet, my love/hate affair has rapidly tilted toward the love side in recent years. I am speaking mostly about silver and birdseye. They are so beautiful, and in the end I’ll take them over a bunch of tomato pants any day.

  8. eliz says:

    Ha. Plants, I mean. Though tomato pants would be funny.

  9. Michele Owens says:

    Sorry to be so brutal. I’m definitely a frustrated farmer, so big trees are the enemy for sucking up light and water. In an ideal world, there would be room for stately trees streetside and everything else I like, including fruit and flowers. In an ideal world, I would live in the country.

    Lori, I think my backyard tree was an Ent. It was magically beautiful. I didn’t remove it–it was on the property border and its trunk was growing into my neighbors porch. They removed it.

    I never would have killed something so beautiful–but it did make my yard ungardenable, a wasteland of dusty shade where nothing grew but hosta and spiderwort.

  10. Chris says:

    You assume the risk of trees being trimmed or cut down if they are planted in a utility easement or in the road right of way. And sometimes you can’t tell how wide the road right of way is unless you look at the road commission map. Let’s not rant too much about road right of way. If there wasn’t road right of way we’d all be landlocked.

  11. PeonInChief says:

    Our city encourages tree planting, as temperatures in the summer regularly top 100 degrees. What the city doesn’t do, though, is require the kind of setbacks that would allow large trees to grow well. And some trees are just not good in built environments.

    But I’m willing to give up a lot of vegie-growing territory for a yard that’s habitable during the summer months.

  12. PeonInChief says:

    Our city encourages tree planting, as temperatures in the summer regularly top 100 degrees. What the city doesn’t do, though, is require the kind of setbacks that would allow large trees to grow well. And some trees are just not good in built environments.

    But I’m willing to give up a lot of vegie-growing territory for a yard that’s habitable during the summer months.

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