Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
June, 2008
Regional Report

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Dead branches eventually present a danger to pedestrians.

Street Smart About Trees

The street trees in San Francisco are in deplorable condition. Some have broken limbs, some have great gouges in the trunk, some are staked incorrectly, and many are just doornail dead. Street trees say a lot about a city and the people who live there. The residents of New York City cherish their street trees, and it's not uncommon for neighborhood gardeners to plant colorful annuals in the basins. Paris is renown for its beautiful, shady boulevards. The lyrics "springtime in Paris, chestnuts in blossom" evoke a vivid mental image. What could be said about Van Ness Avenue? "Bleeding bark, buggy branches, oh baby!"

When I was a beginning gardener working for the city of Napa, we planted and maintained street trees all over town. The Magnolia grandiflora trees that adorn the 6-mile-long boulevard on Soscol Avenue are my babies. We dug all those holes, planted the trees from 5-gallon cans, and then every week throughout the summer months for two years we ran hundreds of feet of hose from quick couplers in the ground to water them. If there were weeds growing in the basins, we pulled them. If there was a broken branch, we removed it, the same with broken stakes and ties.

I understand that city coffers are not what they once were before the days of Proposition 13. However, that doesn't mean the street trees deserve to be neglected. It's not enough for the city to just plant a tree on the sidewalk and then walk away. All young trees require water until they become established. They need the lower limbs pruned to encourage the canopy to grow above the height of the tallest semitrailer. Young trees need staking for the first year, then the stakes have to be removed or the ties will girdle and strangle the tree.

Citizen Tree Stewards
City governments no longer have the financial reserves to support a park department in maintaining street trees. They can barely keep the doors to the police and fire departments open. What I propose is for the home, and business, owners to maintain the street trees once they have been planted. The city could provide and plant the trees as in the past. But once planted, a tree becomes the responsibility of the property owner. If you are a landlord, you will be responsible. If you are a business owner, the trees along the street that grace your property will be dependent on you for their lives.

One idea is to set up neighborhood tree committees and give local residents some sort of an incentive to maintain the trees on their block. For example, each neighbor could be responsible one week per month to water, pull weeds, and do minor pruning. I know this sounds corny, but it would give urban residents a chance to meet their neighbors as well as beautify their city.

Trees shade us in the summer and improve the very air we breathe. The least we can do is give them the care they need to survive our urban environment.

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