It makes cents to train your trees

This tree was definitely whacked with a tree trimmer. PHOTO BY: Community Canopy
This tree was definitely whacked with a tree trimmer. PHOTO BY: Community Canopy

A story recently came across the urban forestry desk, titled “An Urban Forest in Peril.” It seems that the Lexington, Kentucky urban forest is in serious trouble. Lexington’s treescape has been declining over the past decade. Culprits include insects, disease and climate change. But, mostly, we are to blame. Lexington is not alone.

Have you noticed a decline of trees in your community? Many urban forests throughout the nation are in serious trouble. Even as well-meaning citizens and politicians in our municipalities are committed to and are planting trees, there often follows a shocking amount of tree mortality.

Unfortunately, money spent to plant and maintain trees in parks and on street rights-of-way, is also spent to pay people to destroy those trees. What? How is that possible?    

Trees in our parks and on our streets are frequently and repeatedly struck by large mowers and string trimmers, killing or shortening their life span. Other trees are improperly planted or piled up with mulch volcanoes, contributing to decay and death (see photo). Many newly planted trees are not watered until they are past the point of recovery from wilt.

Trees, much more valuable than grass, often take second place to turf, both in the level of maintenance they receive and in the training necessary to ensure they are cared for correctly or even that they are simply not irreparably damaged.

Fortunately, damage is easily avoided, but it takes education. Instead of spending money to replant trees that are inadvertently killed by untrained employees, cities would be wise to invest in training mower operators and other city personnel and contractors to properly take care of trees.

The time it takes to cut through the bark of a tree with a string trimmer is less than a minute, but it will cost much more than the price of the tree when it comes time for replacement; figure in the cost of removal, along with costs for transporting and planting the replacement tree. There is also the loss in terms of time, since it is now necessary to start the tree-growing process all over again.

The time it takes to train personnel, whether full-time or seasonal, saves time and money in the long run and is an investment in the long-term sustainability of a community forest.

The conclusion of the Lexington report is that the city should immediately correct those expensive procedures that contribute to the ultimate death of trees. Rather than planting trees destined to die, training should be provided for full-time and seasonal staff.

In the event that mowing or landscape work is accomplished through contracting services, it is expected that incorrect planting or damage to trees during operations will have direct financial consequences to a business.

Until tree planting, care, and maintenance are done correctly, a community is wasting time, energy, the good-will of its citizens, and money.

DNR’s Urban and Community Forestry Program can help. We provide training to municipalities’ interested in learning how to take care of trees. If you are interested in scheduling a workshop in your area, call us at 800-523-8733.

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