Some greenery among grey

January 18, 2023 · 4 minute read
Some greenery among grey

Have you ever pulled into a shopping center and felt a little depressed for some reason? Sitting in your car as you peer across the endless concrete wasteland, you may come to realize the lack of a natural landscape. You don’t see any greenery, and the few tree wells present are actually tree coffins, full of dead or declining trees, slowly becoming a desolate wasteland. The beauty of a lush and vibrant atmosphere has been completely overlooked by the development, and you are left feeling sad and unwelcome. How did we get here?

In most municipalities throughout the Central Virginia region, new development of both residential and commercial properties come with requirements for landscape and tree installations. In many cases, these buildings cannot be occupied until these regulations are met. While these local regulations are wonderful at ensuring that new plants are added to promote the development of future canopy coverage, it typically puts trees in areas that normally would not have them, and often creates a maintenance issue that most tree owners don’t understand. For this reason, tree care can be an afterthought on a commercial landscape, seen as an unneeded cost that falls well below lawn care, irrigation, and even snow removal.

If the trees are small enough, landscape maintenance companies tend to take over the tree care as well as the plant and shrub care, though proper arboricultural practices are seldom the goal. Limb raising and building clearance are usually the only focus, and once the limbs are above 12 feet, the landscape companies will no longer work on them. It is usually at this point that maintenance falls off, which is when newly developing trees need pruning and care the most. Trees are much like children, in that a poorly raised child or tree will have a very hard time turning into a strong and successful individual. Left to their own devices, bad habits (poor architecture), bad behavior (out of control growth), and a bad disposition (safety issues) will undoubtedly develop with unmanaged maturity. In respect to trees, it is essential that they be maintained as they mature, in order to keep a healthy and contiguous urban canopy.

It is highly likely that if you are reading this, you are on the residential side of tree care, where it is you and/or your family that make the decisions about trees on your property. It is almost completely up to you what decision you make regarding your trees, as you have to weigh the pros and cons of every decision when it comes to tree care and management. Things are not usually so easy for the manager of commercial landscapes. Budgets have to be developed, multiple bids must be obtained, risk must be assessed, and the number of decision makers can balloon. With all of these factors, it is not surprising that the care of trees often falls to the side and attention is only paid when something goes wrong – leading to the idea that trees are more of a costly liability than an asset to the property. With a small amount of proactivity, managing trees in a commercial setting can be much easier.

When considering what to do with your commercial property, you could start with an inspection of the entire property from an arborist. Their job and duty as a tree care technician is to identify and mitigate the potential risk of damage or injury to the structures and people on the property, while keeping in mind the health and longevity of the tree. Trees that need to be removed or pruned will be included in an itemized estimate that leaves the owner / manager of the property with the decision of how to proceed. A responsible tree care company will work to minimize the risks and have a plan for the remaining trees on site, usually followed up by routine yearly inspections. These inspections and evaluations will help to save money over time. They’ll most likely lead to reduced maintenance, and will act as some protection from liability in the event of a freak tree accident on the property. By establishing a record of maintenance and care of the trees, it can be much easier to show that the property owner was not negligent.

But why does any of this really matter?

Richmond is a beautiful city, and one of the greatest features we have (aside from the James) is a wonderful urban canopy that keeps our city a little bit cooler and a whole lot more attractive. I know that if you are reading this right now, I am preaching to the choir. You likely understand the beauty and need for our trees to maintain the charm of our city. If you are a homeowner who manages the health and safety of a tree or trees on your property, you are a small part of one of three major groups who maintain our city’s trees. The other two managing groups are commercial and municipal, which make up large swathes of the urban canopy. It can be monumentally hard to make changes on the municipal side, as budgets and bureaucracy are hard to change.

It is highly likely that you or someone you know works in an office park, lives in an apartment complex, or shops at a grocery store or mall, all of which likely have trees. Even if you are not a commercial tree manager, it can be easy to influence change by simply acknowledging the trees and the benefits they provide to you and your community. A small amount of appreciation and knowledge can go a long way to improving a large portion of our urban environment.