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The Survivor Tree

Believe it or not, this week marks the 20 anniversary of the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City.  One notable survivor of that fateful event is an elm tree which sat in a parking lot across from the Murrah building, and which is now the centerpiece of the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum. The following link is a short NPR interview with Mark Bays, the Oklahoma State Urban Forestry Coordinator, who played an important role in the tree's stewardship and survival.

The Survivor Tree

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Spring Green 2

As leaves bud out, a vibrant green envelops us. As the green comes to you take a deep breath and internalize the brilliance of green.  The Chinese refer to the spring as part of the Wood Element, and the associated color is green. According to traditional Chinese medicine the seat of the wood element within the human body is the liver and gall bladder. While that connection is not intuitive to the western mind, I enjoy the connection because it gives me a way to incorporate that green within my body. You may also bring the green into what many know as your third eye, a place just above the bridge of your nose and between your eyes. The third eye is a place you bring not just the color green but the full multi dimensional energy of green including its smell, sound, touch. It is here that you can access it in the dark of night or other moments you choose to access it to be further enveloped in green. Last year, I shared the following about spring green.

Spring overwhelms me. I attribute this to trees coming out of dormancy with such vibrancy. It is difficult not to notice the curtain of green envelop you, particularly on wooded lots. The green is not just overwhelming in color, but also in volume. Once wide open views become views into the color green and your vista contracts from expanse to the tree nearest to you. In the southeast, we are often exposed to this shocking transition in our surroundings as the Southeast has many, many, deciduous trees. This in opposition to the wide open vistas I grew up with in the West, so it is not surprising that my initial reaction to the spring tree phenomena is one of being closed in upon. However, having lived in the southeast for 20 years, I have been able to temper this initial reaction with one of wonder. The wonder of green, of a tree's abilities to spring forth such massive amounts of energy, and simply the wonder of trees. The contraction also has the affect of turning your spirit back towards you, creating a feeling of introspection. Trees shade us, but also impose their wills into the space around us in the form of leaves and green. It is as if a waterfall of green spouts out of nowhere and immerses you into it as if you were swimming in a lake. I take this annual rite for what it is, and try to swim and splash within it without the panic of losing the vista around me.

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From in Dallas, TX

We know it can be tempting to take care of much needed tree pruning on your own. Often, we just hire the guy down the street that's "handy with a chainsaw". Who doesn't want to save some money? Problem is, poor "cheap" pruning can permanently ruin the look of your valuable trees and often leave them susceptible to storm damage, disease and ultimately decline and death. Here are five of our top common pruning and trimming mistakes we see on trees around the DFW area.

  • Topping: This is usually one of the most obvious and ugly of tree pruning mistakes. It happens a lot with crapemyrtles (known as "crape murder") and other trees that were too large for the place they were planted. With crapemyrtles, it's also done because people think it will get them more blooms (it won't). Topping involves cutting away a large section of the top of a tree's crown, or all the leafing branches across the top half of the tree. What you're left with is a very ugly deformed specimen with severely weakend branch structure.
  • Bad Timing: There are good times to prune and bad times to prune; it depends on the species and condition of the tree. In Texas, for example, oak trees should not be pruned from February through June, due to the spread of oak wilt disease. If a tree is already stressed, it should not be heavily pruned. You should always have your trees inspected by a certified arborist before you let anyone take a chainsaw to it, unless you're willing to lose the tree completely.  Pruning west-facing branches isn't a good idea in the heat of the summer; when you remove large limbs that shade the tree from the hot western sun, you can cause sun scald on red oaks, maples and other susceptible species. Sun scald results in wounds and damage to the trunk bark that can severely damage your tree.

Oak Wilt Disease

  • Improper Cuts: A very common tree trimming mistake when removing branches is to cut them off too close, or flush, to the main trunk. By doing this, you remove the branch collar; an area of tissue with specialized cells that help heal the wound. You'll recognize it as a small swelling, or bump, right where the branch meets the trunk. The callous that the branch collar cells creates will prevent disease from entering the trunk. When you cut that branch off flush to the trunk, you're opening a wound that can allow in disease and pests, putting your tree on a path to an early demise. Bark tears can occur when the proper steps are not taken when removing large branches. If you make the wrong cut in the wrong order, you can end up with a large branch falling and tearing or splitting your main trunk.
  • Over Pruning: No more than about 15% to 20% of a mature tree's foliage should ever be trimmed off at one time. In fact, 5%-10% is usually adequate. When you remove too much of the canopy, you'll leave the tree unable to produce enough food, transfer nutrients and structurally support itself. People often over trim and thin their trees in hopes of getting the grass beneath to grow properly (which rarely happens).  If you have multiple trees in an area where you'd rather grow turn, often a better practice is to remove selected trees to let in more light, and perform structural pruning on the remaining trees so that you can have both healthy trees and turf.

Broccoli Tree

  • Raising the Canopy Too High: Otherwise known as Lion's tailing, or as we like to call them "Broccoli Trees". Again, unskilled labor often removes far too many large lower branches in an effort to raise the canopy and grow more turf grass. What you end up with is a very tall bare trunk with a small amount of foliage canopy left at the top. It looks like a lion's tail, or stalk of broccoli. You can read more about this pruning mistake and the problems it causes HERE.
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Parks & People: Shade is the Secret

Park Pride of Atlanta hosted a conference this week at the Atlanta Botanical Garden with keynote speakers Peter Harnik, Director of the Trust for Public Land's Center for City Park Excellence and Cynthia Nitkin, Senior Vice President at Project for Public Spaces. 

These articles by the Saporta Report summarize the conference theme, Parks and People.

Parks can ignite growth in cities 

by Maria Saporta

As more people move to the City of Atlanta, having quality parks is key

by Saba Long

Examples of the latest techniques in park building were discussed, including the Atlanta Beltline. (Another great example is Ellis Square in Savannah, a park on top of an underground parking garage.)

In her presentation, Cynthia said the key to having a great park is offering food, free wi-fi, seating and shade.

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The Fate of Trees

The Fate of Trees: How Climate Change May Alter Forests World Wide

This is an interesting read from Rolling Stone on the impact of climate change to our forests.  Its not a very rosy picture.  25% of the worlds land surface is covered by forests, which are great consumers of the carbon we produce.  Increased mortality from heat stress, drought, insects, fire, urbanization can be expected as we move towards mid century.  It becomes a clear imperative that we protect and enhance our urban forests.

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The new trend in re-development is for most lots to be teardowns (even of solid brick homes in good shape) to accommodate mega-houses with detached garages which is the new building trend. The footprints of the new homes are so large compared to the original houses that all the older trees are cut down because their root systems cover much of the lot area, and most alarmingly, there is no room for even newly replanted trees to reach the healthy canopy size of the trees lost, there is simply not enough space left on the lots.  
Previous infill in the 70's and 80's left enough space on lots for trees to grow back, this is why some of our neighborhoods that had less trees in the 70's are now recovering some canopy. But the new trend precludes canopy recovery for future decades -- which is not healthy for the City, because it exponentially increases the heat island effect, ground level ozone, poorer air quality, lower oxygen levels, and increases stormwater management problems and degradation of streams to the point of loss of species, physical loss of land, and increased infrastructure costs.
Allowing over 50% of Atlanta's landscape to be converted from green, resource-positive pervious surface (trees/forest) to resource-negative impervious surface (roads/bldgs) is simply un-sustainable, and this needs to be addressed a comprehensive way that includes the tree ordinance, zoning codes, and watershed management regulations which must work in concert rather than in conflict with each other. 
For example on the 145 Norwood site, over 30 trees are planned to be cut in order to create a detention pond. The detention pond is needed because all the large historic trees will be cut, and the ground they stand on will be replaced with so much impervious surface and stormwater runoff that a detention pond is needed. Cutting more trees in order to solve a problem caused by cutting trees just makes no sense, but it is becoming the new trend, already a common practice in the City of Decatur neighborhoods adjacent to ours.
There is no reason we can't build decent, even luxurious homes and still retain the trees that hold our soils together to prevent excessive runoff, that keep us healthy, and that make Atlanta's neighborhoods special. 
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11 Principles of Urban Tree Preservation

  1. Design with nature not against nature.
  2. Forest front property has value.
  3. If it feels wrong to exchange money for healthy trees it probably is wrong. Your intuition is valuable.
  4. Change tree ordinances to make tree removal in new development and renovations the exception, not the rule.
  5. Trees are anchors to life, life that is irreplaceable in our lifetime.
  6. Trees are like streams, we don't allow just anyone to dam or redirect them.
  7. Replants are not the equivalent to existing healthy trees.
  8. Not all trees are equal, have a way to measure species, contribution, and condition of trees.
  9. We cannot expect people not to remove trees in the Amazon when we cannot protect them in our own backyard.
  10. Developers and builders are not the enemy, we are. If you leave a $100 bill on street and it gets taken, whose fault is it?
  11. Aim high and own it, similar to how a developer wants 22 houses on one acre, we want want builders to design around healthy existing trees.

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I am tired of trees being removed for no reason. Trees are the anchors of mini ecosystems that are irreplaceable in our lifetime, yet we choose to obliterate them at the whim of the latest fad in home building. I do not hold just builders and developers accountable, but ourselves as well. How many of us would allow the destruction of trees for a price? Often we are given the false choice of trees or new home. I know this to be a false choice, trees can be built around, it is called a basement or even better elevate the home above the critical root zone. The foot print of a home is flexible, so why do we insist on building in a way that is destructive to the trees? We could be selling forest front homes, but instead too often we choose to wipe the land clear of any living soil and topography. Trees on residential lots need to be protected, we need to make it happen. I argue that the quality of living will be higher around the trees plus we will be preserving a diminishing resource, a micro native ecosystem in the Urban Area.

Most municipalities were rezoned 30 years ago to accommodate what was important back then, building higher density along through fares. Lets rezone using tree ordinances and restricting the removal of trees in new construction.  If we cannot protect forests in our urban areas,is it fair to ask to have them protected in the Amazon. Often we feel hopeless in the onslaught of global warming, well here is your chance to have your voice heard in your local area. Ask to protect your local trees through stronger tree ordinances, where tree removal is the exception and not the rule. 

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Urban Trees make a difference across the Nation.  Over the next 50 weeks, we will be sharing one story from each state.  We'll start with Alabama.

Alabama Tree Recovery – Offering Hope and Restoration for Tornado Victims

Many homeowners in Alabama can now look out their windows or down their city lanes, and see small trees growing toward a much fairer leaf-adorned sky. However, they remember the darker days, the devastating winds and toppling trees. The Alabama Tree Recovery Campaign is a story of restoration and hope, of many volunteers and organizations working together to replace trees torn and destroyed by violent winds.
In the months following April 2011 when dozens of tornados ripped across Alabama, the Alabama Forestry Commission joined forces with the Arbor Day Foundation to begin a multi-year, large-scale initiative to restore trees to the stricken communities. Through the Campaign, over 60 communities in 24 counties received seedlings and assistance in replanting their lost urban forest. After its third and final year of distribution and planting, more than 85,000 native tree seedlings of more wind resistant species will be in the ground, growing to replace those lost to catastrophic winds.
Although Alabama Forestry Commission employees and Arbor Day members delivered the seedlings, the number of trees would not have been planted without countless local volunteers and homeowners who applied their own sweat equity and learned the proper way to locate and plant trees. The campaign was made possible by financial contributions from individuals, private foundations, and corporate sponsors across the nation and globe including Alabama Power Foundation, Apache Corporation, Australia-based Cotton On Foundation, Daniel Foundation of Alabama, Davey Tree Expert Company, FedEx, NASCAR, and Protective Life Insurance.
In the words of one resident, “The outpouring of volunteer energy following the storm needed to be matched by an outpouring of goods and ideas. One such match was certainly the Alabama Tree Recovery Campaign. In addition to local donations, [it] helped provide the first signs of hope to our area. I describe the transformation of Tuscaloosa as running from devastation immediately following the storm, to desolation as the debris was removed and the loss and emptiness became more fully apparent. The arrival of new trees into yards where houses were being rebuilt and onto lots where the future was, and even now may remain uncertain, brought back dreams and hope…. The trees symbolize perfectly the progress we make as a society to create vast and wonderful improvements to our lives, a process which takes vision and work over time. I appreciate the resources the Tree Recovery Campaign has provided to the process.”
Another resident noted, “It was remarkable to hear the many associations that people had with their trees. They would say how they miss the shade their trees gave during the summer, how much hotter their homes are and how much more expensive it is for them to run the air conditioner. ... How they missed the birds and wildlife that used to come to their yard, but they haven’t seen after the storms. How they were surprised at how much more water runs off their property and practically floods their streets, and how fast the rain water flows and washes away areas of their yard and driveway. It was amazing to hear the many memories people had associated with their trees and their emotional ties to those trees: kids playing and climbing on them, feeders and art hanging from them, photos of families (generations, even) that were taken underneath them.”
While the cleanup and rebuilding in these communities will continue for years to come, the opportunity to support the Alabama Tree Recovery Campaign remains. For every dollar donated, a seedling will be added to those already planted and help in the healing process.

For more information:

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Paying for Green Infrastructure

Getting to Green: Paying for Green Infrastructure, Finance  Options and Resources for Local Decision-Makers summarizes various funding sources that can be used to support stormwater management programs or finance individual projects.  Each type of funding source is illustrated by several municipal programs and contains a list of additional resources.  A comparative matrix is included which describes  the advantages and disadvantages of the various funding sources.

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Tree Recompense & Developing Differently

Recompense in most tree ordinances are gravely understated. The recompense for the removal of five trees on a recently permitted one acre construction site was $5000. The five trees happened to be healthy white oaks, one with a diameter of 59 inches, with potential life spans of hundreds of more years.  The ecosystem benefits (green house gas mitigation, air quality improvements, and storm water interception) using i-tree averages more than $1500 per tree annually. That would be $7.5K annually in perpetuity for the life of the trees. Moreover, using the Guide for Plant Appraisal-9th Edition and applying the trunk formula method, commonly used to appraise the monetary value of trees considered too large to be replaced with nursery or field grown stock, the 59 inch white oak alone would be valued at $70,977.00. My point being that a $5000 recompense is ridiculous. I equate it to going to your bank and depositing $1000 and then the next day asking for $70,000 saying you are entitled to the 125 years of compound interest in one day.

The point of recompense for me, is to encourage alternative designs that work around trees. Some municipalities have adopted conservation overlay districts allowing more flexibility on setbacks and building height allowing more open space in exchanged for denser development. I have also witnessed these districts misapplied. Ultimately, to build with trees we need to develop differently. Banks want to finance the same cookie cutter approach but often that approach comes at the expense of the land and trees. I believe demand is out there for designs that work with nature and not against it. To do this, we need a recompense that reflects more the cost of the loss than is currently being applied. By readjusting recompense to reflect the true cost of trees we better balance the need to live with nature in urban areas with the need to build new homes. 

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The Jewish New Year of the Trees is celebrated on February 4th.

This Jewish Arbor Day falls in the middle of the Jewish month of Shvat, the 15th day of the month. Today, this holiday is often celebrated by planting saplings and also by participating in a seder-meal in which the produce of trees, including fruits and nuts, are eaten.

The “My Jewish Learning” website provides this information: “Planting a tree–a concrete, practical act–has represented hope since ancient times. On Tu Bishvat in Palestine, trees were planted for children born during the previous year: for a boy, a cedar, with the wish that the child would grow to be tall and upright, for a girl, a cypress, which was graceful and fragrant. Later, branches from the cypress and cedar of a bride and groom were used to make the huppah (canopy) for their wedding ceremony. The planting was associated with two of the most important times in an individual’s life, birth and marriage, two occasions when we concentrate on the possibilities for the future.”

Here’s a link to another article about the holiday.
By Susan Larson, Gwinnett Daily Post: Putting down roots for a green history month.

To plant a tree in Israel, go to the Jewish National Fund at

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Trees Win

Last week the trees won for the first time in my 16 years advocating for them. A small but focused group has been working to protect healthy existing significant trees in new developments. As the economy has picked up more and more large healthy trees are being destroyed as single lots are subdivided into many lots or an old home is demoed to build a bigger home on a smaller lot. Typically, little consideration has been given to healthy significant trees as they require extra consideration when building around them. They also interfere with changing the grade on the site. They ironically interfere with storm water detention ponds. I say ironically because, as we know trees intercept and transpire water, and they are being replaced by the antiquated and expensive detention strategy. Most tree ordinances allow their removal in exchange for replants that could take 100s of years to come close to the benefits of the trees removed.

However, for the first time to my recollection, a development was temporarily stopped in its tracks for 7 large white oaks on 1 acre. The local tree commission voted that the project be deferred for 120 days for time to consult with the legal department and/or submission of a more environmentally sensitive design. While only a temporary victory, the small group hopes to pursue alternatives that will accommodate the trees and a portion of the development. The developer was not happy, and is appealing the decision. The small group will also pursue that.

The trees were originally in the backyard of a single family home. It was later purchased by investors and subdivided into 11 lots by building a street with a col de sac  down the middle of the property. A detention pond was built in the back which from a land use perspective is like two more houses being built. In the plan presented, all but two of the trees were slated for removal including a champion tree 59 inch white oak. The fee for removal of the five trees was $5000.00 which could be fulfilled by planting trees back on the property equal to that amount.

What made the difference in this case? First, the trees had representation from an attorney. Typically the trees cannot afford an attorney as their public benefit is spread over many people, and those interests are not usually coordinated. Developers almost always have an attorney. Second, the trees had a good argument. In this case, while the developer met the detail of the ordinance (paid $5000), they did not meet the intent, which is stated under the purpose of this ordinance as: "To protect environmentally sensitive areas." An arborist was hired to present the benefits of the these particular trees and uniqueness as a sensitive environmental area concluding: "This stand of white oaks is both unique and healthy in its current state. Its most important tree, the 59-inch champion, has a potential life span of 100’s of years if left undisturbed. The other, younger white oaks are all in excellent condition and in the prime of their lives."

Much of the urban forest has been destroyed in similar boom economies, but as we recognize the important benefits of larger trees and the near impossibility to replace them at a time when they are most needed, this case might be a sign of the times. A time where development works with large existing healthy trees balancing the needs of development with the benefits of sensitive and irreplaceable natural resources.

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Press Release Contact: Michelle Sutton, City Trees Editor:

The Society of Municipal Arborists (SMA), comprised of urban forestry professionals worldwide, has chosen yellowwood (Cladrastis kentukea) as its 2015 Urban Tree of the Year.

The yearly selection must be adaptable to some harsh growing conditions and have strong ornamental traits. It is often a species or cultivar considered underutilized by urban foresters. The Tree of the Year program has been running for 19 years, and recent honorees include ‘Vanessa’ parrotia (2014), live oak (2013), Accolade elm (2012), and goldenraintree (2011).

Columbia, Missouri Natural Resources Supervisor Brett O’Brien says, “Remarkably adaptable to our state’s weather and site conditions, yellowwood is a tree which is not particularly rare but in my opinion is certainly not planted in our area nearly enough. It could be that it is not popularized because in un-irrigated turf areas it’s apt to be a little slow; in my experience I have found that in landscape beds or irrigated areas it grows fairly quickly.”

Indeed, the consensus is that yellowwood does well in a variety of urban conditions so long as it gets adequate water. It’s best used in parks, wide tree lawns, or, with pruning, in narrow tree lawns. Yellowwood is hardy in Zones 4a to 8b and is native to East North America. It is a medium-maturing tree in the legume family that matures at 30-50 feet tall and 40 to 55 feet wide. It can handle high soil pH (up to 8.2) and is considered relatively pest free. Cornell’s Urban Horticulture Institute says yellowwood is easy to transplant B&B or under 2-inch caliper bare root.

This tree has elegant year-round beauty. O’Brien admires the “pendulous fragrant white flowers, reminiscent of wisteria” and “the smooth, elephant-grey to light brown bark of the tree’s trunk as well as the lustrous reddish-brown stems.” He says that a favorite yellowwood of his is located in downtown Columbia on the west side of a red brick building, in an unforgiving site where the tree spends the early morning in deep shade and late afternoon in blazing sunlight. Nevertheless, the yellowwood has thrived. 

O’Brien says, “Yellowwood trees admittedly have a maddening branching habit, generally doing fine until the tree is about chest height, when multiple leaders and included bark become quite common. Judicious and timely pruning can help, though at a certain point, it is probably reasonable to just accept that good branching structure is not this tree’s strong suit. Yellowwood’s other positive attributes clearly outweigh this one idiosyncrasy and I would suggest that the value and benefit this beautiful tree provides makes consideration for planting worthwhile in many urban areas.” 

A pink-flowering cultivar ‘Perkins Pink’ is available but may be challenging to find.

The SMA recognizes the underutilized and strongly ornamental yellowwood for its service to urban forests and encourages its use when matched appropriately to site and as part of a diverse urban tree inventory.

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