There is something about a lighted tree that warms the heart and soul. As many of us will adorn the trees in our yards with festive lighting this season, many cities and towns will follow suit by lighting trees downtown or in city parks.
Lights on trees can be lovely, but lighting can also create issues for trees and municipalities.
Wrapping strands of lights tightly around trunks and branches is a tedious, time consuming and costly process for a few short weeks of display. This can lead to lights remaining on trees for many months or even all year! If lights are not removed, they can girdle the tree as it grows, causing stress and dieback.
Tree lighting displays often rely on a staple gun to affix lights. Staples will not harm mature trees with thick bark, but many downtown street trees are younger and smaller with thin bark. A staple may not seem like a big injury but dozens of staples can add up to a bigger impact, especially when done annually.
Then there’s the fact that anytime you’ve got a person futzing around in a tree, a few branches are bound to get broken.
Aside from tree issues, municipalities may wrestle with providing electricity to lights in a way that is visually discreet and doesn’t create public safety issues or attract vandalism. Cities and towns may also be challenged by who pays for it all—staff time to install and remove lighting, the cost of lights and materials, and the increased electric bill.
Nonetheless, here are a few tips to balance healthy trees with holiday lights:
- Less is more. Use fewer lights on a limited number of trees for fewer issues and lower costs
- Use LED lights. They are brighter, generate less heat and use less electricity
- Consider “up-lighting” the tree with small floodlights from below. In new landscapes, permanent fixtures can be built away from trees trunks’ and hardwired below ground; in existing landscapes temporary fixtures are relatively easy to install and remove. Light colors can be changed to match the season
- Put lights on other things. Buildings and streetlights are other infrastructure that commonly support lights and decorations
- Avoid wrapping lights around branches and twigs and instead drape lights around the outside of trees’ canopies
- If you must wrap your lights, then wrap only the trunks. Many street trees have 6 to 8 feet of clear trunk below the canopy. This can give a uniform look without needing a lift or a ladder to install lights. Trunk bark will be thicker and more resilient to damage
- Affix lights to trees with a thin, flexible material that will degrade on its own if not removed right away. Attach lights in as few locations as possible to achieve the desired result
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