Roots ‘a Rotten

What a Day

Remember those Norway Maples on the street. This residence had two trees removed about 10 years ago. Funny story about them, but it was not funny at the time.

I spent years writing to the city about trimming the trees of all the dead limbs, some precariously dangling over my office and vehicles. You know what I mean, proper tree maintenance for the health of the tree and the safety of the residents. Pretty sensible request. When the strong winds blew, I had to  evacuate my office.

Well, one day while working on a client’s site, I came home for lunch to find that the city forester and crew were cutting down one of the trees with tree-hugging neighbors circling it like sharks.

They were impeding the workers progress, arguments and accusation a flying. The do-gooders were refusing to move from the path of the heavy equipment.

I did not know what to do, other than to say continue, since you morons already topped the tree and stupidly selected the wrong, healthy tree to remove.  Not the sick and dangerous one of course, no, the full, and leafy green one.

The worker’s argument was that the home owner demanded THIS tree was to be removed. I ran inside past the school of angry sharks to my office and returned to present copies of the letter stating that the other tree was to be trimmed, and not be cut down and made into match sticks.

The workers stood there with mouths agape, then realized somebody was in trouble. Phones started dialing. Voices got louder. It is never anybody’s fault in the case of a monumental blunder.

Now they are in a real pickle. The sad, beheaded tree is still standing. Neighbors thinking it still can be saved, the situation became like a bad comedy act. The tree was done, but the angry mob insisted it remain.

Of course the terrified workers had no idea how to proceed and keep a semblance of peace, so they threw the ball into my court. I had to say,” Take down the tree.” The neighbors turned. I was now the object of their wrath.

For years I was known as the tree-killer. A petition went around that no other tree on the street was ever to be removed. Not only did one of my trees come down, but both, the healthy one and the sickly one.

For years, the city was afraid to come out and touch a tree. Instead of taking down the carpenter ant infested, maple declined, bad trees, they let them remain. They remained until a few storms brought them crashing down in a thunderous roar, and the ground shook violently when this happened. Luckily no property or person was damaged or killed.

A new attitude quickly developed after the third tree fell. No one wanted to press their luck any further. “Take down the trees,” the neighbors cried. Not those individuals that were tree hugging, but the petition signers called the city. My neighbor got hers down. Across the street too. A few up the block and one down.
It really is a shame that the trees had to come down, because they make this street what it is and has been for around one hundred years. The catalyst for their rapid demise was the installation of new storm drains, repaving of the street, and a patchwork of new sidewalks.

So all the remaining trees were irrefutabley damaged. Roots were completely sliced off on the street side, to 48 inches below grade. Did those workers ever think they were creating a dangerous situation with trees over 60 feet high? Probably not. Most construction workers only see the job in front of them, the work they are paid to do, not to concern themselves with the work they create for others in the future.

Now we have large gaps in the repetition of the street trees. Of the trees still standing more that 70 percent should be removed due to ill-health. Our block club is working on replacing some of the trees next year and each year thereafter. But they will never be the majestic Norway Maples, they will have to be a better suited street tree.

Maybe a fast growing Celebration Maple. Not the prettiest of the maples, but a sterile cultivar; no helicopters is a huge selling point. A cross between a silver maple and a red maple, it is a strong branching, street tree of many municipalities. Still it has many leaves to rake.

Well, back to my illustration and what it has to do with the trees. You may have guessed since most of you are very knowledgeable gardeners.

For all the properties that had trees removed, the grass has a hard time surviving. The decomposition well below the ground is sucking up nitrogen at record pace. Pretty much the same for the trees still standing, the ones I mentioned with half the roots removed and left to rot. Not only are they rotting, but slow as molasses. I am finding tree roots all over the yard, everywhere I dig, and these babies run deep. You would think that they pull out easy, but no they don’t. I sometimes have to get out an ax. Ten years gone, and they still are a pain in the neck.


About Garden Walk Garden Talk

I love to photograph, paint, draw, design, garden, travel the world, and pass on a few tips and ideas that I learned through experience as a Master Gardener and architect. I am highly trained in my field and enjoy my work each and every day. I garden in Niagara Falls, NY in zone 6-B. Find me at:
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8 Responses to Roots ‘a Rotten

  1. Ginny says:

    For 23 years we lived in a neighborhood where the streets were lined with majestic willow oaks. The same thing happened – with storm drains, pruning for power lines, street repair, etc. Two hurricanes came through and many of those majestic oaks toppled over on houses and into the street.

    • Sometimes the municipalities make the mistake of not caring for these old and glorious trees due to budget cuts. It is a shame, but they also never really took into consideration the size that the trees would eventually assume. The four foot wide grass strip could never support the trees when roots get cut on both sides. Hurricanes are just bad luck for the trees. Too bad for the resident’s homes, though. Our trees came down in 60 to 70 mph winds.

  2. Karen says:

    You, a tree killer?? Oh, dear! I love your illustrations, they add so much to the story! (All those sharks circling, ha) I can only imagine the way you felt when you came home to a mob scene, the wrong tree butchered and confused guys with chainsaws. What a day that must have been! People do get emotional over trees, me included, but it would be nice if common sense would prevail more often, wouldn’t it? I hope there wasn’t a wood chipper nearby, this scene could have gotten very ugly!

    I know maples are almost impossible to garden around or under with all of those roots, I hope they can find a better variety of street trees for your area. I don’t live in the city, but I see the more common practice lately in new neighborhoods in the ‘burbs is to mix things up a little bit and plant different species. The streets will never mature to the magnificence of all the ‘Elm Streets’ of decades ago, but then hopefully, the mix of trees won’t all come down with the same ailment and need to be removed entirely, either.

    Thank you for such a fun post on a not-so-fun experience!

    • You are right, it was a bad day for me. I was blind-sided because there was no warning by the city to say they were coming. The neighbors intercepted them after the tree topping, too bad for the tree. That one would have still been here today. I did plant two Ivory Silk Lilac trees out front to replace the two lost. I just did not put them on city property because of the reckless snowplows.
      As per the maples, I agree, but the neighborhood wants to maintain the same type of tree, minus the helicopters. Maybe I should have made another recommendation. I personally do not like how greedy maples are and the amount of leaves produces and dropped in fall.

  3. Maria Killam says:

    Wow fascinating story. It sometimes amazes me that it can’t go by accident the right way–nope it tends to go in the other direction. Sigh.

    • I read you blog everyday, and see you run into snafus like this too. It comes with the territory in business, but this was personal. And oh, was it personal. At least I am not a ‘tree killer’ any longer. Funny how things turn around.

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