Backyard Trees

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

William Solecki, director of CUNY's Institute for Sustainable Cities, and Evan Mason, special projects coordinator at Landmark West, talk about the environmental benefits of green spaces behind city buildings.


Evan Mason and William Solecki

Comments [20]

Joe from New Haven CT

Great Program
1) Based on your comments, it sounds like like NYC needs either better laws or stricter enforcement of existing laws regarding impervious surfaces. This isn't just some tree hugger, nanny state rand. Increased storm water runnoff that is not properly handled will cause / add to serious water pollution and overtax existing fragile storm water drainage infrastructure. THIS WILL COST TAXPAYERS MUCH $$$$ DOWN THE ROAD.
2) It would be great if a homeowner could plant a tree elsewhere in exchange for taking out a tree that is in the way of a thoughtfully planned addition. Trees do get old, are sometimes in the way and sometimes have been planted in the wrong place (such as too close to the house)to begin with. It doesn't help the environment if some homeowner decides to move to the suburbs because he or she can't remove an overgrown tree adapt a structure to accommodate a real need. Your neighbor may have a legitimate reason for removing a tree but the city should not having a net loss of trees.
3) Beware of amateurish street tree selection and planting. Landscape architects should be consulted. You wouldn't want the Home Depot croud renovating Grand Central. Public streets and squares are no different.
4) Believe it or not urban planner William Whyte discovered in the 70's that light reflective modern glassy office building facades in NYC actually helped trees grow at their bases (light starved canyons).

May. 21 2008 05:47 PM
Ben the Citizen Pruner from Manhattan

Re: Tree Care for Everyone (no license needed)
For those looking for an easier way to care for trees, here are some things you can do without a license:

- Pick up litter in tree pits
- Install a sign that says "Curb Your Dog"
- Plant flowers in the tree pits.
- Apply mulch/wood chips/compost to the soil to enhance its quality and nutrient content
- Use a small hand trowel or other garden tool to periodically till the soil. Especially in high traffic areas, soil compaction from getting stepped upon can prevent the dirt in the tree pit from absorbing water
-Ask your super to water the trees when he/she hoses off the sidewalk.
- Quickly remove tape/string/ribbon/abandoned christmas lights, all of which can kill a tree through "girdling" (choking).
- Remove the guide wires and collars on a tree so it doesn't choke. (usually after one year) Use wire cutters and be careful!

Any of the above tasks can really enhance your neighborhood trees.

Check out for more tips and information.

May. 21 2008 11:23 AM
Ben the Citizen Pruner from Manhattan

Re: backyards and concrete and gardens

When paving has already occurred, it is probably easier to install a container garden than to convince the owners to bust up new concrete. With that in mind, I recommend trying a modest container garden.

Some tips about getting started:

= Ask permission to your super/management/landlord company to begin installing some plants in the backyard
- Use some graph paper to sketch out the space.
- Solicit the help of neighbors by posting a flyer near your mailboxes, or even knocking on doors!
- Start small and good, and build from there:
That is, try two window boxes attached to a wall or railing, or a cluster of small planters.
- As you expand add only a few new containers each season,
= Write down which plants have been successes and which failed.
- If the space is really tight, think vertical, i.e. mounting several hanging plants at different levels against a fence or wall, trailing plants, small "dwarf" trees or larger ones that grow tall and narrow
- The million trees campaign includes backyards, so call 311 and they can direct you to an information hotline. Many homeowners can qualify for free or inexpensive trees to plant on their private property.
- Many books are available on urban and patio gardening, as well as container gardening.

Good luck everybody as we green NYC!

- Ben the Citizen Pruner

May. 21 2008 11:23 AM
Ben the Citizen Pruner from Manhattan

Re: Roy Lopez's comment about tree maintenance, there is a great program I want to plug that addresses just that issue!

You can become a licensed Citizen Pruner, to gain the chance to care for city street trees.
There is going to be a huge need for Citizen Pruners to care for the many trees being planted every day. Young trees are fragile and need attentive care and pruning to ensure a good shape as they grow, and a healthy adjustment to the rough city street environment.

There's a ten-hour course, which costs I think 90 bucks, administered by the non-profit Trees New York. Their website is below.

Once you complete the course and receive your license, you can care for any street tree you like, following rules and proper techniques

I've enjoyed caring for several dozen trees on streets near my home and my shrink in midtown! for more info.

May. 21 2008 11:21 AM
Cheryl from Queens

Removal of all grass and trees and paving over front and back yards is rampant in Queens, particularly in Kew Gardens. What used to be a lovely area of tree lined streets is becoming a concrete jungle. Problems with flooding are getting worse because there is no drainage.

May. 21 2008 10:55 AM
Vanessa from Manhattan, NY

I am DYING for them to turn the west side rail yards into a second (smaller) central park! There are tons of crappy condos in this city but not enough green space. It would drive up property values in that area and be a much needed green respite in that part of the city!

May. 21 2008 10:54 AM
Roy Lopez from Bronx, NY

The biggest problem that I forsee with the Mayors' program is that the current trees are not maintained. Looks like a good opportunity to implement a community based programs for maintaining what we have, before we add to the an existing problem of too many trees, no maintenance, until an unfortunate weather situation arises that reminds of this fact.

May. 21 2008 10:51 AM
Mary from Brooklyn

There's an apple tree at 215 Adams Street in Brooklyn right by the service road to the Brooklyn Bridge. It just finished blooming and will bear fruit in the fall.

May. 21 2008 10:50 AM
jack from Upper West Side

I've inherited a brownstone in the UWS. The backyard hasn't been touched in many years. I've not got a green thumb, what should I be doing with it?

May. 21 2008 10:49 AM
adele cohen from Brooklyn, New York - Brighton Beach

As the former Assemblywoman of the 46th District here in Southern Brooklyn, I have given this subject - trees - some thought.

I suggest that landlords be given incentives such as they received to install low flow toilets to plant trees and shrub on the thousands of flat roofs.

May. 21 2008 10:49 AM
beth from Greenpoint Brooklyn

The red leaf redbuds in McGorlick Park, Greenpoint Brooklyn.

Newly planted trees with big purple-red heart shaped leaves.

Alice in Wonderland, delightful! -Beth Middleworth

May. 21 2008 10:45 AM
Debra from Jersey City

Many people do not know that most localities have zoning regulations which limit the amount of lot coverage (i.e. impermiable surfaces) and would not allow 100% coverage. Check with your local zoning office.

May. 21 2008 10:44 AM
hjs from 11211

couldn't the caller clean up after the tree if she wants it??

May. 21 2008 10:43 AM
Robert from NYC

Well the air may not be cleaner around Central park but I'd say the traffic around and IN the park contribute to that. It takes a village to bring it together. LOL

May. 21 2008 10:42 AM
Eric from Manhattan

There is a large, empty lot on my block and I wanted to know how I can turn it into a park/communal garden. I've sent an email to some people at Greenthumb, but just trying to get a handle on what is needed before I get lost in the beauracracy of the parks department. Any info would be greatly appreciated, Thanks.

May. 21 2008 10:42 AM
Vincenza from Queens

Unlike other homeowners in my neighborhood who have replaced trees and lawns with concrete, I am trying to save my very old tree in my own backyard. However, the issue is the tree seems to be out growing the space. What can I do? The tree is over 60 years old and is home to birds, squirrels, etc. It also provides great shade in the hot summer months. Any suggestions?

May. 21 2008 10:42 AM
Dan from Kearny, NJ

Is there a rule in NYC that only a percentage of your property can be covered by structure and ground cover (concrete, blacktop, pavers) to allow for rain to be absorbed rather then run-off to your neighbor's property???

May. 21 2008 10:40 AM
Dan from Kearny, NJ

There are a lot of trees in Central Park. Is the air any cleaner in and around the park?

May. 21 2008 10:38 AM
Robert from NYC

My favorite tree is already gone when they built an underground gym at Grace Church Yard on E 10 @ Bway 2 years ago there was a very old an beautiful tree in the original yard that had to be uprooted to dig up the yard to build the underground gym. What a shame.

May. 21 2008 10:36 AM
Robert from NYC

This is really an excellent idea that should be promoted in the city. I remember behind the building I lived in as a child growing up in the Bronx there was the "yard" which was completely concrete and at least one half of it, if not more, should have been used as green space as many of the other smaller, privately owned houses on the block had. These smaller home owners used this space for gardens both flower and vegetables and herbs. While this is they way the privately owned smaller houses had these gardens, the larger apartment buildings had all concrete and useless yards where maybe some of the kids in the building played jump-rope. But those were large areas that could have served that jump-rope purpose and a green space as well. That kind of situation still exists and should be corrected as proposed by your guests.

May. 21 2008 10:22 AM

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