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Thread: Downtown street trees

  1. #1
    Cyburbian SW MI Planner's avatar
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    Downtown street trees

    What are the best trees for a small downtown? Most of our buildings are 2-3 storys tall, and the now the trees are short and squatty (technical term), and hide a lot of the first floor businesses. I'm thinking taller, columnar trees would be best. Any suggestions?

    Thanks!

  2. #2

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    Your thinking seems logical-make sure the branch patterns are also "high." The only caveat: where is most of the signage? If the signage is on the second and third stories, squat may be better. (Pretty self-evident, sorry :/)

  3. #3
    Corn Burning Fool giff57's avatar
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    A city here in Iowa ended up taking out their taller trees because they hid the signage and the Art Deco archtecture.
    “As soon as public service ceases to be the chief business of the citizens, and they would rather serve with their money than with their persons, the State is not far from its fall”
    Jean-Jacques Rousseau

  4. #4
    Cyburbian SW MI Planner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by BKM
    Your thinking seems logical-make sure the branch patterns are also "high." The only caveat: where is most of the signage? If the signage is on the second and third stories, squat may be better. (Pretty self-evident, sorry :/)
    The signage is on the first floor, and now the trees hide everything. Does anyone have any specific tree suggestions?

    Oh, and I also want to avoid flowering trees and trees with berries.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian jordanb's avatar
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    A lot of downtown Chicago streets have these little, pathetic anemic trees. I don't know if they come that way or if it's because of the car exhaust, but they don't cover up the signs. One thing to consider would be to replace them with planters containing flowers (BTW: what don't you like about flowering trees?) or other short plants.

    If you have a parkway with a wide-enough strip of grass, you might be able to get away with putting big oaks in. I've never seen that done on a commercial street, but if you keep the limbs cut far enough up, they won't cover the signs, and may make the streed very pleasant. But then you have to put up with them until they're big enough to cut enough limbs off of the bottom.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian Emeritus Chet's avatar
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    I used to work with a forester that recommended Kentucky Coffee Trees, if they will grow in your zone. The have a leave pattern that provides a difused light and sight lines to pass through, and they are a smaller species.


    Just his 0.02.

  7. #7
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    Your tree selection is going to depend quite a bit on climate and soil conditions. No matter what you plant, ensure that there is adequate root space. The usual problems are that the soil is too compacted, and there is too little area for water infiltration. There are techniques to alleviate this using engineered soil or root systems. One of the cleverest and most attractive downtown designs I have seen is in Palmyra, Wisconsin. I used to have some pictures in the gallery, but I guess they are gone now.

    The technical issues haveing been addressed...

    - Elms (ulmus americanus) were always a good choice as they had an upright form with relatively high branches, forming a gothic arch over the street. I miss the "church" streets I knew as a kid.

    - The maples (amur spp.) you see so often are a bad choice because they are so thick, create a lot of debris, and tend to obscure the buildings. The same is true with most ash (fraxus spp.)

    - Tulip poplar (lireodendron tulipefera) might be an interesting choice if your conditions would support it. It is tall and fast-growing. It is a dominant tree of the Ohio River basin. It has stunning blooms like white tulips, but does not begin to bloom until about twenty years old.

    - You could go with something a bit radical, though you would probably want to do so in the context of an overall landscaping plan. Sumac (rhus spp.) can be grown in a tree form, and I have seen it used in a couple places. It can have a bit of a gangly look and will not get very tall, or provide much shade, but it will be distinctive and the seed clusters offer winter interest. You could couple it with our native witchhazel (hamamelis virginiana), which blooms in november after it has dropped its leaves. Sassafras (sassafras americanus(?)) would be another unique choice.



    Edit: Chet's suggestion of the Kentucky Coffee Tree (cladastrus lutea(?)) is a very good one. The do tend to create more litter than some trees, but it is an open form, fast-growing, and drought-tolerant. I will be planting one in my new yard.
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  8. #8
    spokanite's avatar
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    Does anyone know why the streets of DC are predominantly planted with Gingko trees? Is it for the above reasons (e.g. smaller leaves, more narrow canopy, hardiness) or is there something else relating to an overall design element?

  9. #9
    Member Wulf9's avatar
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    My basic rule for downtowns is - no wimpy trees. Go for trees with a full crown. Trim them up so they expose store windows, but not necessarily high enough to expose above-window signs.

    On the argument that trees block signs - the answer is that trees block automobile-oriented signs - higher up on the building. In a pedestrian downtown, pedestrian height signs are most important. People in cars don't buy things. People on foot do.

    Scrawny trees make the downtown look bleak. I prefer big green crowns, even if trees are deciduous and bare part of the year. Stay away from "evergreens" or trees with thin or gray leaves.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian ablarc's avatar
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    Plant the tree that God plants. Find out what native tree with the right growth pattern thrives in your area without human intervention.(i.e. as a "weed"). That's the one that is happy to be there and will grow fast without much attention.

    When Charlotte's streetcar suburbs were laid out by Olmsted, the Willow Oak was selected: that is the local weed; everyone has a few sprouting on their unmowed lawn. A better street tree cannot be imagined, and Charlotte is renowned for its magnificent tree canopy. When the downtown main street was recently rebuilt that tree was (naturally) chosen.

    Resist the temptation to mix species; on a downtown street, that leads to visual chaos.

  11. #11
    Cyburbian jordanb's avatar
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    Resist the temptation to mix species; on a downtown street, that leads to visual chaos.
    But it can also save the place from becoming a barren wasteland if a disease rolls through.

  12. #12
    Member Wulf9's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by jordanb
    .

    But it can also save the place from becoming a barren wasteland if a disease rolls through.
    If they are all killed by some factor, replace them with a better species. Monterey CA had a lot of trees killed by a freak frost. They replanted all, and it was only a few years to get a canopy back.

  13. #13
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Cardinal
    ...Chet's suggestion of the Kentucky Coffee Tree (cladastrus lutea(?))...
    This will teach me to try to remember the scientific name without looking it up. The Kentucky Coffee Tree is Gymnocladus dioica. I should also note that it gets a seed pod, and I think you said you were looking for trees that did not litter. Maybe my mistake was a Fruedian slip. Cladastrus lutea is yellowwood, a tree that, if it will grow at your latitude, might be a very nice choice.
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  14. #14

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    No one has mentioned the green ash, which should, if properly pruned, fill the bill and should be hardy in your clime. Lindens are also a possibility, though they may not get tall enough, fast enough.

  15. #15
    Cyburbian SW MI Planner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Lee Nellis
    No one has mentioned the green ash, which should, if properly pruned, fill the bill and should be hardy in your clime. Lindens are also a possibility, though they may not get tall enough, fast enough.
    Were in the quarantine area for the emerald ash bore, so no new ash trees for awhile. The village about 5 miles from here had to remove tens of thousands of trees from the golf course.

    I think we are going to have a landscape architect revise our current list. We have a list of 38 trees, however, it doesn't break down DT street trees, park trees, ROW trees, etc. Once I get it, I'll post it.

  16. #16
    Cyburbian
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    As others have said, the trees you plant should be determined on the local climate, soil type, size of planter, water needs, etc. My personal favorite is the London Plane Tree, although it does drop some seed pods and has a ton of leaves to clean up in the fall. The plane tree needs a good sized park strip or planter to thrive in. I think the minimum size parkstrip would be 10 fet wide by about 30 feet long. The kentucky Coffee Tree is also a good tree, but grows relatively slow and can be messy.

    Do you salt your roads in the winter? If so you need a tree that will not be impacted by deicing salts. The list of trees that our city has listed as good street trees are:

    Washington Hawthorne
    Redbud (multiple varieties)
    paperbark maples (messy)
    American Hornbeam
    Smoke Tree
    Amur Maple
    Golden Rain
    Golden Chain
    Sunburst Honey Locust
    Seedless Honey Maple
    Red Horse chestnut (messy)

    There are also a number of decorative fruit trees that don't produce fruit, but do produce flowering buds in the spring. Many of them are smaller trees (generally less than 25 feet tall).

  17. #17
    Cyburbian
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    Gingko is a popular tree because it is very tough and hardy--it can withstand urban pollution (exhaust), less-than-ideal soil and water conditions, road salt, and the occasional mild encounter with a snow plow. They're also beautiful, especially in the fall. Just one word of warning: go with male trees only. Most land plants are hermaphrodites (make both pollen and seeds), but individual gingkos are either male (pollen-producing) or female (seed/fruit-producing). Gingko fruits smell rancid and are messy.

    Yellowwood could be an excellent idea in Southern cities (maybe northward into the Ohio Valley and lower Mid-Atlantic) with sufficient rainfall. It's a beautiful tree, and getting pretty scarce in the wild, so building up a planted population sounds good to me. I don't know how hardy it is re:typical urban conditions (soil aeration and water penetration) though, so you should look into that first.

    Tulip trees grow to immense sizes in the wild (the woods around my house are mostly only 40-80 years old, and several of the tulip trees are already 100+ feet tall with trunks a yard or so across). In the less favorable conditions of a city they might grow slower and to a more manageable size.

    Sycamores (which include London Plane and other planes) can get a bit messy. So can maples, especially Silver Maple.

    Ailanthus/Tree-of-Heaven is a very messy, smelly (if the leaves or green twigs are even lightly bruised, let alone torn by wind or pruners), non-native weed whose roots tend to penetrate water and sewer pipes a bit more often than most trees'. Not only would I recommend NOT planting it, but given the time and a volunteer or two I would identify and rip out any that are growing as street trees or in empty lots.

    You can still plant American Elms, despite Dutch elm disease, as long as you keep your pruning tools reasonably clean and don't plant elms right next to each other. Plant them too close and their root systems may merge, allowing the disease to spread directly from tree to tree (which is how it killed so many elms so quickly years ago.)

    Cardinal and cololi have offered some good suggestions, but the best one was ablarc's: look at what grows already in your area. Then narrow down the list--with a little help from your local forester/botanist/nursery--based on things like appearance, hardiness, and growth form and what works best on each street.

  18. #18

    elm trees

    One thing to consider regarding elm trees. In my "real job" as an employ of a grading company, we do some septic system work. The root system of most elm trees is unbelievable. How much root migration can you stand and what damage to surrounding pavements and building foundations will result?

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