Tree Health

Street Tree Health

Do you ever have an incredible feeling when you walk down a certain street?  You know something has made you feel that way, but you just can’t place it. Then, you look up. Above you, big majestic urban street trees line both sides of the sidewalk, arching overhead. It’s as if you’ve walked into a natural cathedral, full of dappled light. There’s no denying it.  Trees make life better, so we must all work to keep them healthy. Here are a few ways you can help.

Street Tree & Tree Trunk Protectors

  • Tree guards: Install tree guards to keep pedestrians from compacting the soil by walking in the tree pit. It also prevents car doors from hitting the trees and keeps bicycles from being locked around their trunks.
  • Signs on trees: Don’t staple and nail signs to trees. Staples and nails create wounds that can cause problems later.  Remove banners and posters. Even banners and posters that are secured with tape can harm the trunks of trees. Taping signs to trees can hold water behind the tape and damage the bark.
  • Trees do not heal: Cutting into the bark and breaking off branches all harm the tree.

Cultivate and mulch the soil around street trees

  • Loosen the soil: This allows water to freely drain down to the roots.  It not only helps the tree, it makes your tree pit look fresher.
  • Add compost: Add a thin layer of nutrient rich compost. Do not add more than 1/2-inch soil to a tree pit. Additional soil will compact the roots and not allow the tree to get the oxygen and water it needs to thrive.
  • Use mulch: Mulch conserves water and moderates soil temperature. Wood chips or bark mulch sold in garden centers is best. As it decomposes, it increases the soil’s fertility and richness. When you use mulch, make sure you move it away from the base of the tree trunk.  If it is too deep around the trunk, it can cause the tree bark to rot and invite pests or diseases.  Decaying tree bark all around the tree will destroy the cambium layer and ultimately kill the tree.

Watering trees

  • Give your tree a long drink: It’s important to water your tree if there’s a draught in the summer. Young street trees need 15-20 gallons a week in late spring through summer, especially during hot, dry and/or windy weather. Allow the water to slowly soak into the soil for deep root watering.

Value our street trees

  • A doorman can be a tree’s best friend: Their duties place them where they can keep an eye on the trees to protect against dogs, careless truck drivers, bikes and other harms. If you have a doorman or superintendent, encourage them to keep an eye out for the trees in front of your building.
  • And so can children: Both parents and teachers can help children care for and appreciate trees. Children living in the city may not have large gardens to plant in, but children often have a street tree in front off their school or building. Invite your children to help you plant flowers and water the trees and garden. Always remember to wear gloves and have fun.
  • Don’t “wash” your tree: Washing your sidewalks with water is great for gardens and street trees.  However, detergents can leak into the tree bed and harm the trees and flowers.  Steam cleaning your sidewalks can also harm your tree because the hot water can run into the tree pit and damage tree roots.
  • No garbage please: Please don’t place garbage bags out for collection in the tree pit. If you live in a building, explain to your superintendent and porters, that by doing this, the bags compact the soil and can leak harmful detergents and chemicals into the tree pit.
  • Curb your dog: Dog urine and waste kill’s trees. Contrary to popular belief, it does not fertilize them.


For other ways of protecting your street trees and flowers, visit the many resources online and in your community for local knowledge and recommendations to ensure your urban gardens will thrive.

A special thank you to Trees New York for contributing to this section.

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