In the Garden:
Northern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
September, 2012
Regional Report

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A well planned commercial parking lot leaves room for cars and trees.

Try a Little Tenderness -- for Trees!

The condition of the landscape trees around the Bay Area is appalling! Look in any parking lot and you will see a poor tree that has been scraped and bumped so that it has little or no chance of survival. I think that the people who design these outdoor spaces must think of trees as a disposable commodity. The poor trees rarely have enough space in the concrete to allow for roots to develop properly. I often see young trees staked improperly with the ties cutting into the bark. What are we teaching our young people? How can they learn to value a tree as a precious, life-giving gift?

Landscape trees not only make neighborhoods look better and improve property values, they also provide habitat for birds and wildlife, generate oxygen, and reduce ambient street noise. They provide shade in the summer, making urban areas more comfortable. Do you know anybody who wouldn't park in the shade on a hot day if such a space was available? Then why do people insist on banging their bumpers into young, unprotected trunks? Think how that must feel!

A Solution?
Is there a solution to this kind of arboreal abuse? I think there is and it lies in the hands of us gardeners. If you see a tree tie that is girdling a young tree, loosen or remove it. Healthy young trees don't need staking after their first year in the ground. If you notice that a trunk has been wounded, wrap it with a paper bag or whatever you happen to have on hand. Small broken limbs can be trimmed and tidied with a pocket knife or pruning shears. I always carry a pair of pruning shears in my car, but that's because I garden in several different locations. When I see a poor little tree with a hanging limb I always try to make a repair. Offer the last few drops of your bottled water to a tree. Even if it is only a tiny bit, it's better than nothing.

The whole subject of improper pruning makes me shiver! Many cities and counties no longer have the funds to maintain street trees. However, as the saying goes, "the squeaky wheel gets the grease." If you see a street tree with a low hanging or broken branch, call your local Public Works Department. If the tree is in a parking lot, talk to the property manager. Keep calling until the problem has been resolved. Also, if you have street trees in front of your property, drag out a hose and give them a drink from time to time. The trees will appreciate it.

Ultimately landscape designers of urban areas need to do a better job of planning. Large stones or heavy fencing should protect islands and median strips where trees are planted. The planting beds should be large enough so that a car bumper can't reach the tree trunk. Enlarging the planting bed to protect the tree will also provide more soil surface area, which will allow for more water, oxygen, and nutrients to reach the roots. Of course, precious parking places might have to be sacrificed and people might have to walk a little further, God forbid!


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