Everything You Need to Know About Street Trees!

Everything You Need to Know About Street Trees!

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The Boulevard! Defined by its overlapping canopy of high-arching tree limbs that cool and shade your drive. Enveloping you in class as you drive down the shaded living tunnel they create. Once great street trees like Elms, Maples, Oaks, and Sycamores are the reason so many streets carry these names! The allure of the street tree sets entire neighborhoods apart from the rest! Whole communities can be associated with a prominent type of tree planted in their area! 

But with the need for wider streets, more traffic, and on-street parking access, the room allotted for the once-mighty street tree has almost next to nothing! Now Maple Avenue, Elm Drive, and Linden Street carry those names long after their namesakes were lost to storms, insect infestation, or burgeoning population growth.

Bringing Back the Street Tree!  Trees in a driveway

The late 1800s saw the rise of the street tree, the need for parks, tree installation, and urban beautification. Today, properties large and small benefit from streetside plantings, shade, aesthetic beauty, and all of the following benefits that a few trees can have on your entire neighborhood.

The key to all new street tree urban plantings is diversity! Gone are the days when we line a street with all the same trees. A nice, diverse, urban forest will better be able to withstand insect and disease pressure because it won't affect all of the same trees in a row.

Property Values

You’ll see a rise in your property value with each tree you and your neighbors install! Not just fantastic at reducing cooling costs, but also improving the resale value of your home too! Everyone in some way keeps up with the Joneses. While we don’t expect you to get all your neighbors together and plant the same tree to get the same effect, it’s amazing the domino effect planting one or two trees in your yard has on the entire neighborhood! Even if just your property has a tree or two, it will benefit everyone on the block!  Dawn Redwood

Physical, Emotional & Physical Health 

These living air conditioners improve air quality, reduce pollution, dampen sound and calm the mind, body, and spirit! Lower pollution, and carbon dioxide and clean the air naturally with these living air filters! You’ll be more prone to slow down, take a deep breath and relax when surrounded by these big green limbs. Heart rate and blood pressure drop significantly. Check out the Many Health Benefits of Gardening in our Garden Blog.

Tree-lined streets are nicer to walk the dog and ride a bike along. People tend to be more active along cooler, more oxygen-rich spaces. Surrounding yourself with trees and plants reduces cortisol levels, reduces depression and anxiety! Helping with both mental, emotional, and physical health, trees are a fantastic way to help you and future generations feel better!   Small Town Neighborhood

Slow Traffic & Calms Road Rage

Another direct effect a tree-lined street has is on traffic and drivers themselves! By not just cooling streets, the trees cool hotheads and slow down traffic. The calming effect can be seen in many traffic studies and in our mental health!

Try planting an outstanding blooming tree or unusual tree no one else has seen before in your area for a real traffic-slowing effect!

Slows Water Runoff & Filters Water

Slowing water as it pours over pavement and ground reduces flooding and erosion. All that water dumping into the sewers and drains carries rubbish, chemicals, and other things we don’t want in our groundwater. Clogging drains and utilities with debris. Trees slow the rain, slow water runoff, and help slow erosion while filtering and sequestering that water before it can end up in the ground or drain system. A few trees are a great method of natural water management.  Modesto Ash

Cools Temperature

Trees lower the temperature, offer shade, and also transpire water vapor into the air. Read in our Garden Blog about the cooling effect of trees here!

Urban areas are always hotter than rural areas because of fewer lawns and trees, and the prevalence of concrete, brick, and asphalt that absorbs sunlight and hold heat longer - releasing it long after the temps cool and the sun has gone down.

Most Commonly Used Street Trees & Their Modern Alternatives

commonly used trees

Flowering Cherry Trees

Flowering Crabapple

Dogwood Trees

Large Hardwood Trees 



Unique Street Trees

Other Flowering Trees

What to Consider When Selecting a Street Tree 

Street trees need to have high drought tolerance, the ability to thrive in urban environments, very little soil, pollution, soil compaction, road salt, and utilities.

Take into account the mature height and width of your tree, and the expected canopy size at maturity. Find a tree for your growing zone, sun requirements (buildings and skyscrapers block a lot of the sun), water needs, soil type, and disease and pest resistance are all things to consider.

Also, urban trees also must contend with very narrow streets or sidewalks, fruit/nut dropping that can be messy, stain pavement, or are hazardous (slippery rotting fruit, rolled ankles on a walnut are not fun!), or even damage cars that must park beneath them.

Neighborhood in fall

Choose plants with a smaller footprint (rootprint?) and won’t mind hot ground and pavement nearby, won’t damage sidewalks and asphalt, and can tolerate the acidic conditions that concrete creates as it leaches into the surrounding soil. 

Small Space Trees

Tree grates and tree cages may help make city tree plantings look nicer and protect tree roots, but they limit the size your tree can attain. Smaller areas for plant roots and poor soil can naturally stunt plant growth. Columnar Trees have become very popular because they require less pruning on both the sidewalk side and on the street side so the trucks do not tear off the branches. 

So choose plants that remain smaller and fit the location, instead of paying hundreds on pruning to keep a large tree small. Instead, choose:

Urban Environments

One side effect of planting trees along the road is salt from winter ice and snow protection and exhaust from cars, let alone urban pollution in general, which means that trees that can tolerate this kind of environment effortlessly.   Neighborhood Street

Pollution Resistant

Salt Tolerant

Shallow vs Deep Roots/Tap Roots

Unless you have a wide area and need trees with wide shallow roots to hold soil, and stop erosion, on a slope or have very shallow ground, it’s best to avoid trees with this kind of roots that may break up pavement and sidewalks. Choosing deeply rooted trees that don’t spread out and break up surrounding ground is the best choice for tight spots between road, sidewalk, and driveway.

Power Lines/Underground Utilities

  • Redbud
  • Dwarf Crabapple
  • Smoke Tree

Insect Resistance   Sidewalk

The plight of the Elm tree is a testament to choosing a more biodiverse variety of species for street tree installation, as well as insect-resistant varieties. Once one of the most frequently used street trees was the fast-growing Elm. The entire native species was almost wiped out by Dutch Elm disease, leaving barren streets and stumps in its wake in just a few years! 

Choosing disease and pest-resistant varieties will ensure that you and future generations will not have this heartbreak.

In addition to reducing the widespread extinction of an entire species, biodiversity and not planting masses of the same type of tree will increase food and shelter availability for wildlife, pollinators, and birds!

Trees to Avoid Along Streets

Avoid trees that can grow larger than 30 feet tall or wide especially if you have power lines above.

  • Catalpa - big roots
  • Silver Maples - large shallow root systems
  • Royal Empress - big root systems
  • Walnuts/Hickory/Chestnuts - hard-shelled fruit
  • Mulberries - messy fruit and stains pavement
  • Black Locust - messy seed pods
  • Invasive plants in your area - Check with your County Extension Office

Giving Trees What They Need

After checking all the boxes for your tree's sun, moisture, and size requirements, the next step to ensure survivability for your tree in these tough conditions is proper care and maintenance.

So important always to be sure you are not planting your new trees too deep in the ground.

Careful attention to watering the first entire season to get your newly planted trees established well, then continue to water in times of extreme heat and during drought. If staking was required to keep the plant straight when planting, be sure to remove that stake as soon as the plant has established or by the end of the first year as trees grow stronger when the stake comes off and they can move around in the wind.   Trees covering street

  • Loosen compacted ground
  • Correct drainage issues
  • Fill with native topsoil
  • Water using the Finger Test Method
  • Mulch the site well - 3 to 4 inches of arborist bark chips
  • Prune to allow headroom for pedestrians & cars to park beneath

Rise of the Modern Street Tree

So plant a few trees and watch as your neighbors follow suit! Then in a few years, you’ll be able to get the dog leash, the baby stroller, and a parasol and feel like you’re promenading down your tree-lined boulevard, under the cooling shade of your own doing!

So start the trend on your block and generations to come will benefit from the fad you start among the neighbors! Nature Hills Nursery is happy to help you start with quality, resistant and hardy trees for you!

Happy Planting!

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