Trees Urban Gardening

This Tree Is Your Tree!

By Julie Boudreau

In highly urbanized environments, such as large cities or industrial districts, it is not uncommon for a municipality to take charge of tree planting. It makes sense. This is often the best way to ensure a good greening of these areas which are very often covered with paving stones, concrete and asphalt. After all, planting trees is one of the best ways to demonstrate resilience to climate change. It’s a way for cities to get involved in this regard.

Image: Julie Boudreau

Even if these trees are the property of the city, citizens are invited to take care of those which are near their place of residence. This is particularly the case for tree squares.

What Is a Tree Square?

A tree square is simply the space of ground that is often trapped between the sidewalk, driveways and street edge. On all sides, the tree square is surrounded by concrete, granite or asphalt. It’s not always a perfect square. More often it is a large rectangle. In horticulture, they are also called planting pits.

Very often, these trees belong to the municipality. It is therefore the municipality which is responsible for planting, pruning and cutting dead trees in these tree squares. In short, it takes care of the major work, but it is also responsible for general maintenance.

Trees That Need Love

And this is where the citizen can have a role to play. Very often, the municipality has so many trees to maintain that interventions are kept at a minimum. Which is not bad, because with a good selection of species as a preamble, a tree is perfectly capable of growing on its own.

However, the care provided by a citizen can make a big difference. According to studies, left to its own, a city tree lives on average 7 to 15 years. This is tiny compared to the normal life of a happy tree which can vary between 60 and 400 years, depending on the species and living conditions! Thus, a citizen who gives a little love to their tree patch can only prolong their life but perhaps also allow this tree to reach full maturity.  

Image: Julie Boudreau

Adopt Your Tree Square!

Yes, like a little orphan. More and more municipalities and districts of large cities are encouraging citizens to get involved in the great cause of urban greening. Involvement programs are put in place so that citizens adopt their tree square. Thus, they commit to taking care of this small green space. For some people, the tree patch becomes the only place where it is possible to garden!

In general, adopting a tree square simply means taking care of this space and, if possible, planting flowers there and maintaining them. In return, several municipalities offer plants, seeds and mulch free of charge. “Parents” have access to free training in horticulture. Sometimes they provide a sign or even snow removal markers.

Check if your municipality offers the possibility of adopting a tree square or invite them to develop such a program!  

Image: Julie Boudreau

Taking Care of a Tree Square

The first step is to do a good spring cleaning. By collecting trash and dead leaves, the place suddenly becomes less inviting for neighbors who pile up waste. Yes, we tend to get dirty where it’s already dirty!

Then it all depends on the tree! If it’s a young plantation, you will be lucky enough to benefit from fairly loose soil, which will allow the planting of vegetables or annual. In these pits, you can easily add compost, plant, then apply a layer of mulch.

However, with mature trees, it’s a different story. It is almost impossible to grow annual flowers near large trees. Often the pits are completely overgrown with roots. Also, I do not recommend raising the ground using a border. Even if you immediately add a few centimeters of loose soil, the root mat will quickly take hold and you will have to start all over again. The idea of raising the ground therefore has its limits and, in addition, it forms a mound around the tree, which makes watering more complicated in the long term. It is therefore preferable to favor a ground level that is just a little below the curbs. This way, rainwater flows towards the tree.

Also, around large trees, it can be more interesting to turn to ground covers. In these landlocked gardens, plants cannot conquer the world! They are imprisoned in their little tree square. Also, to fight against Goliath the tree, we need little Davids who have a lot of ambition.

If There’s One Thing to Do, It’s Water

Does the idea of planting flowers or taking responsibility for maintaining a small plot of garden scare you? Know that the most beautiful action you can take is to water. Even without officially adopting your tree patch, it’s an excellent idea to provide it with watering, especially in periods of extreme drought. Water stress is a major source of tree decline and mortality in urban areas. Generous watering can make a big difference.  

The Many Benefits of a Landscaped Tree Square

For the gardener, the tree square is often a great opportunity to express creativity! Some projects are very original! But the tree square plays multiple roles.

First, on a social level, it develops a feeling of belonging to the neighborhood and many citizens are proud to live on an ornamented street. The beautification of tree squares is often contagious. All it takes is one citizen to get started for others in the street to follow. Thus, tree squares act as embellishment for the neighborhood. And the more beautiful the neighborhood, the less vandalism, violence, and negativity there is. This is proven by science! City trees and tree plots therefore have a positive impact on the quality of life.

Image: Julie Boudreau

Then, a landscaped tree patch helps the tree! We water, we fertilize, we collect the waste… All this benefits the tree, the central element of these developments. By planting around young trees, trees cease to be bicycle racks and we limit the compaction of the soil around the tree.

Compaction is another element that contributes to street tree dieback. For plants to thrive there needs to be air in the ground. In addition to depriving the soil of air, a compact surface prevents water from penetrating the soil.

Then we arrive at the ecological services that trees provide in an urban environment in a broader perspective: air purification, beneficial shade, effect on psychological well-being, wildlife habitat, windbreak effect, etc.

In conclusion, the only thing missing for the total well-being of trees in urban areas is better awareness among drivers of snow removal vehicles! They alone take about 7 to 10% of the trees, year after year. These winter accidents cause irreparable damage which can discourage a citizen who has been tending and pampering his tree for several years.

Image: Julie Boudreau

Julie Boudreau is a horticulturist who trained at the Institut de technologie agroalimentaire in Saint-Hyacinthe, Québec. She’s been working with plants for more than 25 years. She has published many gardening books and hosted various radio and television shows. She now teaches horticulture at the Centre de formation horticole of Laval. A great gardening enthusiast, she’s devoted to promoting gardening, garden design, botany and ecology in every form. Born a fan of organic gardening, she’s curious and cultivates a passion for all that can be eaten. Julie Boudreau is “epicurious” and also fascinated by Latin names.

1 comment on “This Tree Is Your Tree!

  1. Many significant municipalities of California installed street trees for new developments (of multiple houses or other buildings), and many still do. However, many years ago, they stopped maintaining such trees. Unfortunately, many property owners removed such trees rather than maintain them, even if doing so resulted in minor fines. Now, municipalities are very protective of such trees, but expect those who own the properties that such trees inhabit to assume all associated liability. It can be frustrating for those with problematic trees.

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