Addressing Street and Front Yard Tree Issues in Cities

For many years, I have seen cities in my area planting the wrong street trees in the wrong places. This folly has been a boon to my tree service business, but, overall, removing perfectly good trees because they have been planted in the wrong place is a bad thing for the tree, for the environment and for people’s pocketbooks.

So yesterday, I had a meeting with a City of Wilsonville planner to discuss with him ways to improve street tree placement in our city and some strategies on how to preserve existing mal-placed street trees. Below were my talking points. It was an excellent meeting, and hopefully something good will come of it.— Nathan

All well-informed people agree that we need to plant trees for the benefit of the planet. All of our lives depend on it for many reasons. 

In Genesis 2:15, we read,

Then the LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it.

This is a standard English translation of this verse. If we look at the original Hebrew of this text that is behind the English, this verse could read,

Then the Yehovah Elohim took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend, serve, by implication to worship the Creator by taking care of and to keep, guard, protect, attend to, regard, preserve, reserve, save the garden.

This expanded translation sheds a whole new light on how the Creator expected man to take care of the environment. What it doesn’t say is to rape, pillage, recklessly exploit or indiscriminately remove trees from the garden!

Taking care of the garden (the earth) was the third command that the Creator gave to the first humans. Tree care and preservation is a divine mandate!

Even though my roots as a tree care professional go back more than 50 years, I started getting a clue about the importance tree preservation about 20 years ago when I began educating myself about tree preservation. Then about 12 years ago I became an ISA Certified Arborists and obtained my ODA Commercial Pesticide Applicators license and purchased the equipment to fertilize and care for ailing trees. I realized that we were removing too many trees that could be saved, so I learned how to save trees by returning them to health. Since then, we have saved hundreds of trees from the chain saw. HalleluYah!

It is our responsibility as stewards of the environment to plant the right tree in the right place, so that we don’t have to remove a valuable tree later.

The wrong tree in the wrong place causes no end of damage to hard surfaces (roads, driveways and sidewalks), for utilities (street lights, sewer and water pipes, irrigations systems), and this can result in thousands of dollars of damage to private and public property, potential legal liabilities for everyone, and thousands of dollars in tree mitigation including pruning, root cutting and removals, and, finally, often a perfectly good trees has to be removed resulting in one less oxygen-producing tree on planet earth all because people put the wrong tree in the wrong place.

In many cases, the policies of most cities are at odds with each other spelling disaster for trees. This is because of the move toward urban infill and the raising costs of development fees necessitate smaller bulding lots sizes, which, sadly, obviate the practicality of planting large trees in these small properties. The result is a clash between large trees on small properties, causing no end to infrastructure (driveways, walkways, utilities, streets, curbs, street lights). This is not good for anyone, except the arborist who makes money off of this folly. 

We must think decades forward when it comes to planting trees. The average person, including city planners and land developers aren’t experts in the area of aboriculture. How can they be? They’re not working with trees every day for decades. A good arborist who has been working with trees for decades in the local area can be an invaluable resource to a city for determining which trees should go where. Wilsonville is currently seeing the folly and reaping the consequences of misplaced street trees in nearly every neighborhood because city officials and developers who weren’t experts in arboriculture planted the wrong trees in the wrong place.

Ideally trees need a certain amount soil volume and good soil if they are to last a long time with minimal costly care ( We must educate people to plant the right tree in the right place with the right soil volume and soil conditions that favor healthy trees for decades.

This means that city governments needs to lead the way by example by planting the right trees in the right places and educating (or even “requiring”) its citizens to do the same (for the health of the planet). Most people only have a vague idea of how important trees are to human survival. I’m a decades-long tree care professional, and that was my attitude too until I started educating myself about how more trees are being removed from our planet than are being replaced, and about how human survival depends on trees. This all translates into the reality that we need to plant as many trees as possible as quickly as possible.

So what can cities do to preserve trees from destruction—especially street trees?

  • Put together a realistic street tree planting list that puts the right tree in the right place. Many city governments have compiled street tree planting list that are unrealistic. For example, in many cases, large trees (e.g. oaks, red and Norway maples, ornamental plums, ornamental cherries, ornamental cherries, lindens, sweetgums, etc.) are often recommended for narrow planting strips between sidewalks and curbs.
  • Review GNTS’s Street Tree Recommendations list where we list about 130 tree species that are suitable for various space considerations.
  • Instruct people on how to properly plant trees.
  • Instruct the citizenry on the importance of trees. Sadly, too many people still view trees as a nuisance because of the mess they make, so they want them removed. It is true that some trees have to be removed for various logical reasons, but too many trees are removed simply because they “inconvenience” people. This, in my opinion, is not a good reason to remove a tree. Taking down a tree unnecessarily is like cutting off a piece of one’s lung and expecting to still be able to breath at full capacity. For example, when people tell me that they want to remove a tree because of the leaf mess it makes in the fall, I tell them to get a bigger leaf blower and to start a compost pile in the corner of their backyard, and then use the compost as a mulch around the base of their trees to improve the health of the same trees (not to mention saving money on barkdust!). City government can help to educate people on the importance of trees. 

Some cities are doing this. More can always be done, though. Government needs to spend more time educating people, and less time attempting to control them. I believe that most people love trees and see the need to preserve them, although they don’t know why. In my experience, when they’re informed about the importance of trees and tree preservation, their attitudes toward unnecessary tree removal often shifts.

Protect existing street trees from destruction by recommending creative strategies to redesign sidewalks and driveways that will ebb and flow around trees as the City of London has done with its sycamore trees.

1 thought on “Addressing Street and Front Yard Tree Issues in Cities

  1. Roberto Rodriguez

    I completely agree with you, It is a noble cause by the city to go around and plant trees and offer this service for the neighborhood around town. But like you said most of the time they plant trees without thinking about if they will benefit or are an actual good fit for the surroundings. Another example of this is in Los Angeles, if you walk up any neighborhood in the suburbs. The roots have completely destroyed the sidewalks.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *