APLD CT DESIGNER FORUM -- March/April 2012

Street Trees

By Deborah Roberts

Chances are, trees had a major impact on your life last year. If you didn't lose a tree, you probably suffered through power outages likely caused by a tree falling on utility lines.

The problem of trees impacting utility lines is such a pervasive issue in our state that Jeffrey Ward, PhD, chief scientist at The Connecticut Agricultural Station, was asked to prepare an analysis of the state's street trees for Gov. Malloy's Two Storm Panel. In the report, "Connecticut Street Trees: A Preliminary Analysis," Ward offers several recommendations to mitigate future storm-related damage, including the "planting of trees with shorter mature heights" near utility wires.

Choosing the Right Tree

Does that mean you shouldn't plant any large trees? Definitely not. Trees are an essential component of every well-designed garden. Large trees, in particular, lend of a sense of permanence while adding height, shade, shadows and drama to your garden. Not to mention the beneficial habitat they provide for wildlife.

Just don't plant a large tree, generally one with a mature height of 30 feet or more, near the street or utility wires. If you do have the space for a large tree, take special care in choosing not only the right tree but also the right site. Planting a large tree that takes decades to mature is truly an investment for future generations.

Richard Rosiello, of Rosiello Designs in New Milford, suggests looking "at what features of your yard you want to accentuate; whether to frame a view, provide shade, or perhaps connect to a borrowed view. Often the excitement of planting a tree is undertaken without considering the tree's mature size and eventual impact on the overall design of the landscape."

Ward recommends planting a large tree in an area where it will not need to be pruned excessively, which will help accentuate the natural form and structure of the tree.

Investing in the Future

When it comes to large deciduous trees, Oaks ( Quercus ) are among the most majestic. Lelaneia Dubay, of Dubay Designs in Hartford, recommends planting White Oak ( Q. alba ), the queen of the oaks, in part because "no other tree species supports a more diverse range of life. This aspect of choosing plants for your garden is of utmost importance for the health of your small slice of the ecosystem."

European Beech ( Fagus sylvatica ) is a magnificent tree for all seasons. With its slow growth habit, it can be planted initially as a large shrub. "I often plant them near trees that are in decline so that in years to come, the beech will fill the gap when the older tree departs," remarks Mary Ellen Pirozzoli of Verdesign in Ridgefield.

Katsura Tree

Katsura Tree ( Cercidiphyllum japonicum ) is favored by Mary Jane McCabe of MJ McCabe Garden Design in Northford, who observes, "in autumn the leaves turn amazing shades of yellow and orange and, as they fall to the ground, they give off a lovely scent of burnt sugar."

Instant Gratification

Small trees, maturing around 25 feet tall, are easier to incorporate into garden settings and are ideally suited as street trees. With so many readily available options, it's easy to find a tree that will flower or provide interest during almost any season.

Cercis canadensis

Dubay recommends an early spring-bloomer, our native Eastern Redbud ( Cercis canadensis ). "Pink flowers cover the tree in the spring, followed by reddish purple leaflets that grow into bluish-green heart-shaped leaves, which then turn yellow in the fall," remarks Dubay. Eastern Redbud is adaptable to a range of soils and prefers a slightly shady site.

Blooming in late spring, our native Green Hawthorn ( Crataegus viridis ) is a good substitute for crabapples since it is less prone to many diseases. Green Hawthorn is hardy and resilient but prefers full to partial sun and well-drained soil. "Spring flowers, followed in the fall and winter by small orangey-red fruit which persist well into the winter makes 'Winter King' a reliable cultivar for Connecticut gardens," says Rosiello.

Chionanthus virginicus

White Fringetree ( Chionanthus virginicus ) is a shade tolerant, low-maintenance tree with several seasons of interest. Widely adaptable, it prefers full to partial sun and moist, acidic soil. Pirozzoli suggests using "the multi-trunk variety in flower gardens where a profusion of fringy blooms compliment any perennial near it."

Heptacodium miconioides

Seven-son Flower ( Heptacodium miconioides ) is a uniquely attractive specimen tree that blooms in the fall. McCabe likes to use it because "when little else is in bloom, fragrant white flowers cover this multi-stemmed tree. The added benefit of salt tolerance makes this a great tree for shoreline planting."

With a little thought and planning, you can choose the right tree for your garden. Consider visiting a local arboretum, such as the Bartlett Arboretum in Stamford or the Connecticut College Arboretum in New London, to observe mature specimens of the trees you're considering.

Deborah Roberts is garden coach, writer and principal designer at Roberts & Roberts Landscape & Garden Design in Stamford. Debbie is a founding member of the Connecticut Chapter of APLD.