Planting trees is a good thing, we can all agree. Trees bring beauty into our lives, provide shade, lower summer temperatures, clean the air, help manage stormwater, and sequester carbon from the atmosphere that would otherwise contribute to climate change. Tree planting has accelerated in my town over the past decade. I just wish some of it had been done more sustainably.
Both a nearby shopping plaza and our main public library have planted trees, including red maples and pin oaks, in raised beds. In both places the trees are suffering a slow death.
The idea of the raised beds must have been to keep cars away from the trees. Curb-like granite edging protects each bed. The problem is that each enclosure was filled to the top with soil, raising the ground level at least 10 inches above the surrounding asphalt.
With our sandy New England soil, the raised beds just create even faster drainage. As a result, the poor trees are gradually dying of thirst. They get no supplemental watering and no pruning. Instead of an enhancement, these trees are a sad sight. This spring, after a particularly hard winter for trees as well as people, many of the trees at the shopping plaza and the library are down to their last live branches.
|What did this tree do to deserve this fate?|
It’s a waste of time and money and a shame to plant trees in adverse conditions and then neglect them throughout their short, sad lives.
In contrast, the local Tree Conservancy offers to plant street trees in the strip between sidewalk and street. Thanks to our city’s director of urban forestry, the planting is done right--and not in raised beds. Volunteers do the work of planting on the condition that for each tree, a neighbor or group of neighbors commits to water weekly for the first two years and keep the surrounding mulched area weeded. A drip irrigation bag is wrapped around the base of the trunk to be filled with 20 gallons of water approximately once a week from spring to fall.
This partnership between the Conservancy, the city, and individual citizens has enabled the planting of hundreds of trees in recent years. The trees start out with the best chance of a long and healthy life. That’s sustainable.