Over the years, the more I've learned about trees and shrubs, the more I notice the neglect and abuse of those important anchor plants all around me. In many cases, the abuse starts young, with new plants being improperly staked, which can result in lifelong damage. (Most new trees don't require staking at all, except to prevent tipping in windy areas or on sloping terrain.)
But urban trees in particular are subjected to a wide range of tortures that can damage their immune systems and radically shorten their lives. This can include such evils as inept pruning—or no pruning at all—as well as that all-to-common (and ultimate) crime against trees: topping. They can even do themselves in with root-strangling (surface roots that grow atop their neighbors, effectively chocking them off.) Speaking of roots, another major threat to trees and shrubs involvess root restrictions from pavement, buildings, and other barriers. In addition, let's not overlook root damage caused by pedestrian and vehicular traffic and heavy objects that compress soil within the feeder root zone. And let's not even get into pests and diseases.
In most cases, the abuse isn't intentional; it's simply the result of taking for granted the urban forest that is such an important part of our daily scenery. Before a devastating ice storm "cured" my blindness some years ago, I was as guilty as anyone of this lack of arboreal awareness. No more.
These days, the more I learn about trees, the more difficult it is to ignore what these magnificent plants go through as they struggle to survive, often in extremely stressful circumstances. With eyes wide open, I accept my individual responsibility to, in the words of Dr. Seuss's Lorax, "Speak for the trees."
Becoming tree-aware has enriched my life with a fascinated awareness of—and appreciation of—the lives and complexities of these beneficial giants. But let me tell you, it can also spoil a good walk.