Trees - Valuable Urban Infrastructure
Recently, TMACOG fielded some member questions about urban trees. The information we uncovered is valuable to elected officials and private property owners.
Do Trees Make Effective Barriers for Road Noise?
That’s a qualified, yes. Jamie Kochensparger with Lucas Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) says that a walk through the woods shows you that trees baffle noise. However, Jim Carter with Wood SWCD notes that you would need to plant a lot of more mature trees to have an immediate benefit. Seedlings (12” to 18” above roots) could need 6 to 8 years of good growth before they would make a difference. Arbovitaes and other evergreens are best for year-round sound protection. Carter said that seed and fruit bearing trees (dogwoods, chokeberry) should also be considered. All the tree experts note that soil type is important to selecting trees for a site.
Stephanie Miller, regional urban forester with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, can help officials select trees for a particular site. She said, “Vegetation and trees absorb and break up the sound waves” while flat walls reflect sound. From a cost standpoint, she added, “They’re a LOT less expensive to install and maintain.” Mike Libben with Ottawa SWCD noted some other advantages. “Trees obviously have environmental benefits in producing oxygen, habitat for birds and animals and, with the right plant type, can help with stormwater reduction.” Planned use of trees is part of air pollution prevention planning.
Who is Responsible for Maintaining Trees?
In general, trees in parks, boulevards, municipal cemeteries, and on the tree lawn (the grassy strip between sidewalks and road) are the responsibility of the city or village. Tree experts say that trees are valuable urban infrastructure and should be considered as important to a municipality as roads and sewers. Trees will also outlive most other urban infrastructure. State departments of transportation maintain trees planted in medians of state highways.
Recently, insurers have made it clear to cities and villages that they will not pay for damage caused by trees when that damage could have been avoided with basic care and maintenance. Many municipalities have an arborist on staff and some larger communities consult with an urban forester. Arborists focus on tree planting and care; an urban forester addresses a population of trees. Stephanie Miller praised the value of professional tree management. She said, “Once a city gets a professional urban forester on their staff, it will be one of the best investments they will ever make. The urban forester will be easily paying for themselves in reduced emergency cleanup, healthier citizens, greater stormwater management, and significantly fewer headaches to local officials.”
Grant Jones is the arborist for the City of Bowling Green with a master’s degree in horticulture. He and his staff work with every division of city employee, from sewers, to sidewalks, to the city-owned electric utility. He says that “Where there are trees, we have a role.” In addition to pruning and fertilizing individual trees, Jones looks at the urban forest. The Emerald Ash Borer that killed off so many urban trees was a reminder that the urban forest should have a diversity of species. He noted that it is also helpful to have a diversity of ages of trees. A lovely city avenue of older trees may see them all coming to the end of their life at the same time, whereas thoughtful planting and replacement can maintain the living environment.
Trees in yards and on private property are the responsibility of the property owner. In general, the property owner is responsible for trimming trees and keeping them in good health. Stephanie Miller said, “Too many people plant trees with little knowledge about correct species, proper planting, and proper care. Trees are like humans, kittens, and puppies, they each need specific care, training, and attention to thrive and grow to be good mature organisms.” Homeowner insurance policies usually cover property damage caused when a tree is blown down or falls because of ice or snow. Insurance usually does not cover a tree that falls without damaging a structure.
Trees that are close to electric lines or other utilities strung between poles are subject to trimming by the utility. In some cases, a property deed may have an easement that allows a utility to access and trim trees on private property. In August of 2003 a massive power outage affecting the eastern United States happened when an overloaded electrical transmission line drooped into foliage and an alarm system failed to alert operators to redistribute the electric load.
When Should you Plant Trees?
Small seedlings should be planted in the spring when there is plenty of ground water available. You could also mulch the seedlings to hold water and keep weeds away from the trunks. Support stakes may help the young trees grow straight and withstand storms until they grow solid roots. Remove the supports after the first year. A gator bag is one way to guarantee a supply of water for slightly bigger trees.
In the fall before the ground freezes is a good time to plant larger trees, Jamie Kochensparger said. “Fall planting allows the roots to grow and get established without the stress of trying at the same time to produce leafage while surviving winds. For autumn planting, though, you would need to purchase potted/balled & burlapped or larger local-dug trees.” Support stakes can also be helpful for the first year for trees planted in the fall.
How to Learn More About Trees
Northwest Ohio has a lot of resources when it comes to tree information and care. Ohio is one of the only states with professional urban foresters who will work directly with villages and cities – for free – on their own turf. Stephanie Miller, regional urban forester with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources said, “Ohio’s Urban Forestry Assistance Program is the envy of most states and I’m fortunate to be a part of it.”
Landscaping firms are sources of expertise and often have relationships with a Master Gardner, a trained volunteer who will share their knowledge. University Extension services are another resource that is particularly useful for identifying disease and pests and recommending treatment. Many professional tree trimming services contract with cities and villages to manage municipal tree care programs.
Every county in Ohio also has a Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) that is staffed with conservationists and natural resource experts. SWCD staff sell trees and shrubs at low cost in annual spring sales. They often work with municipalities on large planting projects and help rural areas with windbreaks. Lucas SWCD has coordinated orders of both seedlings and larger potted trees for such projects as the James Colbert Park in Vistula and Sylvan Prairie for Olander Park System.
Mike Libben of the Ottawa SWCD reports that they have a wildlife specialist on staff and available to work with homeowners and municipalities to answer their questions and help plan a good tree planting program. The Ottawa SWCD has had an annual tree sale for more than 50 years and has donated trees to every fourth grade student in the county for most of those years. Cities and villages in the county may be eligible for discounts for large purchases of trees.
Thank You to:
Jim Carter, Wood Soil and Water Conservation District (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Grant Jones, Arborist, City of Bowling Green (email@example.com)
Jamie Kochensparger, Lucas Soil and Water Conservation District (JKochensparger@co.lucas.oh.us)
Mike Libben, Ottawa Soil and Water Conservation District (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Stephanie Miller, Regional Urban Forester (email@example.com)