Horridculture – Street Tree Neglect

P90717Many municipalities enforce tree preservation ordinances. Whether we agree with them or not, these ordinances are designed to preserve significant trees that are assets to the community. For the greater good, local governments have made it their business to limit what we can do with our own trees on our own properties. There are many advantages. There are many disadvantages. We arborists see it all.
Street trees, by general definition, are those that are close enough to a curb to shade a roadway and parked cars. In suburban and urban neighborhoods, many street trees are within parkstrips, which are the narrow spaces between curbs and sidewalks.
Neighborhoods of tract homes are typically outfitted with uniform trees of only one or two cultivars, that were all installed at the same time, as the homes were completed. Some neighborhoods of homes that were built individually are also outfitted with conforming street trees that were installed as parcels were subdivided. Most of such trees were installed as contingencies to development of the sites.
Since such trees were required by the associated municipality, they used to be maintained as such, just like any other trees in parks, medians or other public spaces. Municipalities that lacked tree preservation ordinances protected street trees as the public property that they were considered to be. Those who owned homes that were outfitted with such trees were not allowed to cut them down or even prune them without permission.
In some ways that sounds like a pretty good deal. The problem was that for many municipalities, it did not last. As the maintenance of maturing trees continually became more expensive, resources that used to be allocated for the maintenance of street trees were diverted to other projects. Although they do not like to talk about it, many municipalities no longer maintain their street trees, or do so selectively.
The aging trees remain. Many get cut down secretly by property owners who get frustrated by the lack of maintenance. Most are well maintained, but at the expense of those who own the properties where such trees live.
Most of us probably do not mind paying to have our street trees pruned when necessary. However, it is frustrating for those of us who must contend with some of the more problematic trees, and trees that are unusually expensive to maintain. Furthermore, property owners must assume the expense of repairing sidewalks, curbs and driveways that are damaged by roots, as well as damage to anything that limbs fall onto.
Municipalities that once required the installation of street trees, and that should still be encouraging residents to protect and appreciate their urban forests, are no longer able to assume the liability associated with street trees.
These pictures show two large limbs that fell from a big Canary Island pine onto two parked cars in Leimert Park of Los Angeles. A concerned citizen had contacted the Los Angeles Department of Public Works a few times about the tree, because one of the two fallen limbs had broken off quite some time ago, and was entangled with the other limb that broke and fell shortly before these pictures were taken on Sunday morning.P90717+

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Horridculture – Parking Lot Islands

P80120kWhat a waste of space! What a waste of water! What a waste of time for the mow-blow-and-go ‘gardener’ who charges money to mow and edge it, but are too inept to suggest planting something that might actually be pretty, or shade the parking lot. There are a few of these between parking spaces marked for ‘compact’ cars, because it is cool to discriminate against full size cars that can not pull far enough forward to get out of the way.

Even between a Buick and a Chrysler, it is nothing to look at. It looks like something went seriously wrong with a grave site that was supposed to get a slab ‘over’ it (not ‘around’ it). It could be a Chia Pet litter box. There are much better spots to picnic at the park down the road. Whatever it is, it is not much better than the swales that are required in modern parking lots. It has potential to be a tripping hazard, but is not quite as dangerous.

I would make one of only two suggestions.

1 Pave over it. If there is not some building code that limits the area that can be paved, this might be thee most practical long term solution.

2. Landscape it responsibly. Yes; ‘responsibly’. Turf grass is just lame. Those trendy carpet roses that mow-blow-and-go ‘gardeners’ typically plant snag the clothing of those coming and going from the cars they park there. Since parking lots get warm, I would recommend shade trees with complaisant roots that are compatible with pavement. Such shade trees also should get tall enough to not obscure the signs on the buildings.

Parking lot islands contain some of the most deplorable landscapes. Trees commonly get hacked down below signs rather than pruned up and over them. Even if they get properly pruned with up-dos, their canopies must be carve around security lighting. Most problems result from negligent maintenance. Some problems result from design glitches. Realistically though, parking lot islands are very difficult to landscape well.

Horridculture – Tree Removal Permits

P90703There are mixed emotions about tree removal permits that so many municipalities need to issue in order for a ‘heritage’ tree to be cut down legally. Most of us want to believe that in America, we have certain rights to do what we want to on the properties that we own. Obviously, that makes the most sense. However, if it were that simple, many more prominent trees that are collective assets to the larger communities would be removed.
As an arborist who writes the reports needed to procure these permits, I see it both ways. There are many trees that are worth preserving for the Community, and there are probably many more that must be removed for the safety of those who live around them.
I sometimes hear of common homeowners who get fined for removing a tree without a permit, just because they were not aware that it was protected by an ordnance. Most have lived in their homes longer than such ordinances existed. Most planted the tree that they were fined for removing.
Conversely, I also hear about developers who just remove whatever trees get in the way of their developments, and then just pay the necessary fines. It is nothing to them because they make so much money from the development.
The picture above is a site that one of my former employers worked on just before I left my job because it was too morally challenging. You can see that there are no significant trees. The tree crew removed all of them.
I was not aware of it of course. The Home Owners Association did not want to pay for my inspections and reports, or for the permits to remove all the big sycamores in the front gardens there. Nor did they want to replace the removed trees with something more proportionate, as the local municipality would have required. They were not worried about getting caught, since everyone there wanted the trees gone.
Now realistically, I would have had no problem writing reports recommending the removal of all the trees, because they were ridiculously disproportionate to their particular application. You can see how tiny the front gardens are. It was just easier and less expensive to cut the trees down illegally, and then not be required to replace them with trees that would have later died ‘accidentally’ anyway. (The tree crew excelled at that too.)
In the end, it is disgraceful that the trees that were required as a contingency when the site was developed years earlier are now completely gone, and will not be replaced, . . . and that no one seems to care.

Horridculture – Metasequoia glyptostroboides

P90626The easier name is ‘dawn redwood’. I just used the big and fancy Latin name because that is how landscape designers with something to prove say it. If the big name does not impress clients, an explanation of how rare it is, and that it is one of only a few deciduous conifers, will likely do the job. Even back when it was still a fad, I got the impression that was its main function; to impress clients.
It is not even a particularly practical tree. If it gets too big for its situation, it is difficult to contain without disfiguring the canopy. Because the priorities for most were conformity to a fad and to dazzle a client, not much thought went into their appropriateness to their respective landscapes. Consequently, many went into landscapes that were not big enough for them.
Although deciduous, dawn redwood does not even get good color in autumn. It just turns rusty brown, and quite frankly, looks dead.
It is true that there are only a few deciduous conifers. However, the dawn redwood stopped being rare shortly after it became a fad. I mean, how rare can it be if every landscape designer with something to prove gets to plant one?! Isn’t that what happened to the formerly rare yellow clivia after it became a fad?
The only one that I work with now happened to be planted before dawn redwood became a fad. I suppose that makes it okay. It is quite tall now, and has plenty of space to mature. However, I can not help but notice how silly it looks with all the other surrounding coastal redwoods. Although very different, it is similar enough to look like a coastal redwood with some serious problems, especially when it seems to die every autumn.

Horridculture – Security Clearance

P90619A well designed landscape should be an asset, not a liability. It should beautify and enhance the function of outdoor space, while harmonizing with associated indoor spaces. In order to continually do so, even a very well designed landscape requires maintenance so that it does not become so overgrown that it becomes unsightly and obstructive.
Some landscapes require less maintenance than others. There happens to be very few that can be allowed to grow wild, but only because their components are allowed the space they need to do what they do naturally. It is not fair to incorporate plants merely because they are appealing, and then expect them to conform to unnatural constraints without some degree of intervention.
As an arborist, I often see trees that must be pruned for clearance from roofs, gutters, walls, windows, lighting, utility cables and roadways. It is normal for trees and large shrubbery to encroach into such features. Furthermore, it should not be much of a problem if such trees and shrubbery are maintained properly.
The landscape in the picture above contains several desirable plants that could, with a bit of effort, be maintained within the very limited space; New Zealand tea tree, Chinese wisteria, golden bamboo, Heavenly bamboo (Nandina), star jasmine, Spanish lavender, fleabane, oxalis and a small juniper. Some of these might not have been identified correctly, and there may be more in there, but it is impossible to distinguish from this picture.
The golden bamboo and Chinese wisteria are probably a bit excessive. However, there is a nice arbor above that would be ideal for the Chinese wisteria if someone would be willing to put the effort into pruning and containing it. It takes serious commitment to contain golden bamboo, but it is possible, and might perhaps be justifiable to retain a more tolerable quantity of its handsome form outside the window that it is in front of.
One of the most obvious problems with this landscape is that it is so crowded that the various components are barely indistinguishable from each other, and lack the space to perform as they would like to. This is about clearance though. As you can see, the collective plant material has been pruned only to maintain clearance from around the lower part of the doorway, and from the pavement of the parking lot. So much more is needed.
Anyone getting out of or into a car parked next to this landscape must duck under the New Zealand tea tree or Chinese wisteria. The upper part of the doorway is not much better. Vertical clearance needs to be restored and maintained. The New Zealand tea tree seems to have some serious potential anyway, and would likely be very appealing if pruned to expose the main trunk and limbs.
Furthermore, there are windows behind all that mess! Unless someone really wants privacy and dislikes curtains, those windows should be exposed to allow sunlight in. All this obscuring vegetation darkens and cools the interior, which increases reliance on electrical lighting and some sort of heating. Besides, it just looks trashy.
Not only does the vegetation inhibit sunlight coming into the building, but it also inhibits light coming out from the building. The lighting that is barely visible at the top of the pillars flanking the doorway is there to illuminate the parking lot at night. Another doorway outside the left margin of this picture, is for ATM machines, so is outfitted with security lighting, which is almost inoperative because of the lack of pruning for adequate clearance.

Horridculture – Pesticides

P90612‘Cide’ as a suffix that designates something to be killed. ‘Insecticide’ kills insects. ‘Miticide’ kills mites. ‘Molluscicide’ kills molluscs such as snails and slugs. ‘Herbicide’ kills herbaceous plants, which are presumably weeds. These examples and other chemicals that kill things that are considered to be pests are collectively known as ‘pesticides’. Many are potentially useful in the garden, since that is where so many familiar pests are problematic.
Most modern pesticides are designed for physiological characteristics that are unique to the targeted pest. They therefore kill only very specific pests, but are generally harmless to other organisms. For example, horticultural oil, which is one of the simplest of all insecticides and miticides, kills insects and mites by obstructing the exoskeletal pores through which they respire. It is harmless to those of us who conduct respiration by means of lungs.
In fact, most (although not all) commonly available pesticides, if used properly, are relatively safe for those who are not the targeted pests. (Rodenticides that remain toxic to predators who eat afflicted rodents are some of the exceptions, but that is a topic for later.) That is why I have no compunction about using such pesticides. When necessary, I would use them on the farm, in the landscapes that I so often work in, or in the home garden.
However, such pesticides are almost never necessary. Seriously. I would not refrain from using them, but the need for such use almost never presents itself. Insecticides and, to a much lesser extent, miticides are sometimes applied on the farm (although I have not been there to apply any in a few years). I applied a minor fungicide for rust on English daisies in a landscape more than a year ago. Otherwise, pesticides are almost never necessary.
It is not that there are no pests. There most certainly are. Roses get aphid. Rhododendrons get thrip. Snapdragons get rust. We just deal with such pests without much pesticides.
There are so many alternative horticultural techniques to use instead. We prune roses so aggressively in winter that they regenerate faster in spring than the aphid can keep up with. We prune rhododendrons to eliminate much of the congested and sheltered inner growth where thrip tend to proliferate. Snapdragons are so susceptible to rust that we probably will not grow them again. Pests are not eradicated, but are reasonably controlled.
All too often, the problem with pests is not the pests at all, but improper horticulture.

Horridculture – Fruity Fads

90417Pluots, plumcots, apriums and peacharines! Who comes up with this stuff?! Aren’t good old fashioned plums, apricots, peaches and nectarines good enough? Who decides that these weird hybrids are somehow better than their parents? Some of them are actually quite weird, or downright ugly. Several do not even look like they would taste good. It may be an acquired taste; but I have all the good taste that I need without acquiring any more.
Some old classic cultivars (cultivated varieties) of fruit were develop centuries ago. More have been evolving from those ancestors since then. Some were intentionally bred from parents with desirable qualities. Others just grew incidentally where their seed fell, and were found to be somehow better than their parents. Some were merely discovered as natural occurring mutants, and perpetuated for their superior qualities. It is a slow process.
So, putting two different kinds of fruits together, or finding an aberration of a single type of fruit, is nothing new. Tangelos were created by hybridizing Mandarin oranges with pomelos or grapefruits. Ever-bearing ‘Eureka’ lemon was perpetuated from a mutant of the seasonally bearing ‘Lisbon’ lemon. This is how cultivars evolve and develop. Generally, newer cultivars become popular because they are somehow superior to their ancestors.
Yes, somehow ‘superior’ to their ancestors. Who decided that a hideous hybrid of a plum and an apricot was somehow better than either a perfectly good plum or apricot? Furthermore, what evidence was there for such a weird claim? Even farthermore (if that is a word) how and why do so many people believe this evidence?
I was still growing citrus (trees not fruit) back in the early 1990s when the ‘Cara Cara’ pink orange was popularized. Yeah, a ‘pink’ ‘orange’. It is really just a pink mutant of the formerly more popular ‘Washington’ navel orange. We could not grow enough of it. It was just too popular. Some people really seem to believe that it is somehow better than ‘Washington’ and other navel oranges. I can’t argue. They certainly know what they like.
To me, it has a milder flavor than ‘Washington’. Yes, it tastes about as bland as it looks; pink.90320thumb

Horridculture – Unpruned Fruit Trees

P90529They do not come with instructions for their maintenance. Deciduous fruit trees, particularly the stone fruit trees (such as cherry, plum, prune, apricot nectarine and peach) and pomme fruit trees (such as apple and pear), can be procured as easily as nasturtium seed or petunias. Whether bare-root in winter or canned (potted), they very often get planted into gardens where they are expected to produce their fruit as easily as daisies bloom.
Instructions for planting that come with bare root stock are useful for getting those particular trees started, but mention nothing about how even brand new trees need to be pruned after installation, and will need specialized pruning annually every winter thereafter. The same applies to rose, raspberry, blackberry (all varieties), grape, and to a lesser extent, fig, pomegranate, persimmon and several other fruit producing trees, vines and shrubs.
The problem with the stone fruit and pomme fruit trees is that they were bred to produce an unnatural abundance of unnaturally large fruits that are too overwhelming to sustain as they ripen, and too heavy to support. The others are in a similar situation, but are somehow able to continue to produce and generally support their own weight as they get overgrown and congested. Roses deteriorate and succumb to disease as they get congested.
This is why annual winter pruning is so important. Such pruning concentrates resources into fewer but superior fruits, rather than too many inferior fruits. It also limits and contains (closer to the main trunk and limbs) the weight of the fruit, so that limbs are not so likely to break as fruit develops.
These wimpy stems hanging vertically from the weight of the maturing apricots might be able to support the weight of the fruit, but the excessive fruit will be of inferior quality.P90529+

Horridculture – High Fences

P90522There is no doubt that fences are useful for a variety of functions. They exclude deer from the garden. They confine livestock. For suburban homes, they enclose a relatively safe space for children and pets. Fences should be designed according to their intended functions. Those designed to exclude deer might be as simple as coarse mesh on posts. Those enclosing backyards might be more refined and compatible with the landscape.
Over the years, conformity to modern suburban and urban landscapes, as well as modern architecture and lifestyles, has changed the standards of how fences are designed. Low picket fences do not adequately obscure the scenery that adjacent and often dissimilar landscapes contribute to a view. Where common vegetable gardens might have been, most of us want private outdoor rooms, with a distinct style of landscape.
It seems that everyone wants privacy nowadays. Those who have no need for privacy will get it anyway because no one will build fences that will not provide it. In the 1950, fences were commonly four feet high, and not every backyard had them. By the 1970s, they were more commonly six feet high, and standard for almost every backyard. Now, fences are expected, and many are seven feet high or higher, with lattice on top!
Modern architecture and lifestyles are part of the justification for such tall fences. Low profile older homes on formerly suburban lots are commonly replaced with two or more larger homes on smaller subdivided city lots. They are much closer to each other than the older homes were, with only narrow spaces between upstairs windows, where even eight foot high fences will not provide privacy.
So, not only do much larger homes on much smaller parcels mean that there is much less space for gardening, but taller two story (or taller) homes with weirdly high fences mean that more of the very limited space available for gardening is shaded!

Horridculture – Fake Environmentalism

P90515Fake environmentalism is a HUGE topic, so for now, will be limited to fake environmentalism as justification for the eviction of homeless encampments.
The yellow triangle in the picture above was the site of the Hero’s Camp, which was more commonly known as Ross Camp, and located behind Ross Dress For Less in Gateway Plaza in Santa Cruz. It is gone now. This satellite image was taken by Google Maps prior to the development of the Camp. I did not get pictures of the camp while inhabited, but you have likely seen enough other camps in the news to imagine what it looked like.
It really was as big as it looks, and really did exhibit all the problems that you hear about in the news, although not to such an exaggerated degree. Not everyone there used syringes to inject illicit narcotics. Not everyone there was an alcoholic. Not everyone was violent, from somewhere else, or a criminal. This is not about such issues anyway. It is about how the two hundred or so unhoused people who lived here affected the environment.
Was there trash? Of course there was. Was it more than what two hundred people who live in homes generate? No. Houseless people do not generate as much trash as the housed, simply because they lack resources to purchase the commodities from which so much trash is generated. The houseless certainly do not waste as much as the housed. Their trash just happens to be more visible for outsiders who do not know any better to see.
Furthermore, what is so typically described and perceived as trash is actually the belongings of those who live in such camps. Without closets, cabinets or furniture, our belongings would look about the same, except much more voluminous. When we take just some of the belongings that we don’t want or need and put them out in front of our homes, it is a garage sale, and likely amounts to much more than individual homeless people own.
The satellite image from Google Maps below shows the neighborhood where my grandparents lived in Felton, less than seven miles north of where the picture above was taken. Their old home is right in the middle of the picture. There were not so many other homes there when they arrived, just as World War II was ending. They lived a relatively modest lifestyle, on a small suburban parcel. They were not concerned about the environment.
Why should they have been? Even now, the people who live in homes here can generate as much trash as they want to, and no one will complain about it. They can fill their homes with their belongings, and put them neatly away in closets, cabinets and drawers. There are alcoholics in this neighborhood, as well as a few who are addicted to illicit narcotics. Some are criminals. Some are violent. Few are native. Again, this is off the main topic.
None of that is visible in this satellite image anyway. What it shows instead is how the lifestyles of those who live in homes are more detrimental to the environment than the lifestyles of those who lack homes. This picture is the same scale as the picture above, so you can see that only a few homes would fit into an area comparable to that in which about two hundred unhoused people lived. Only a few people live in each of these few homes.
What that means is that two hundred people like those who lived at the Hero’s Camp live dispersed over a much larger area, on land from which trees and vegetation needed to be removed. They all live in homes that are made of wood derived from trees that grew in forests. These homes are furnished with synthetic plaster, carpet, paint, glass, vinyl, metals and all sorts of materials that needed to be quarried, processed or manufactured.
It doesn’t end there. These homes consume energy for heating, lighting and whatever else that gas and electricity are used for. Cars driven by those who live in homes are also constructed from raw materials, and then need fuel to function. Water is consumed as if it were not a very limited resource. Much of it gets mixed with soaps and detergents before going back into the environment. Chlorine volatilizes from chlorinated swimming pools.
Then there are the landscapes and gardens, the parts of domestic lifestyles that we actually believe to be beneficial to the environment. They contain exotic (non-native) plants that compete with native species, and interfere with natural ecological processes. Irrigation of the landscapes stimulates redwoods and accelerated decay of oaks. Soil amendments, fertilizers and some of the pesticides change the chemistry of the soil and ground water.
Just compare these two pictures. As bad as the mess at Hero’s Camp was, the two hundred people who lived there were less detrimental to the environment and the local ecosystem than those who live in just a few of the homes visible in the picture below. Those who claim to be concerned about the environment should be more concerned about the ecologically detrimental lifestyles of those who live in homes than those who lack homes.P90515+