When is the best time to plant a new tree? Yesterday.
Residential streets in Kitchissippi Ward are losing hundreds of mature trees due to intensification and the trend to huge footprint builds. Buck the trend by using your tax dollars to get Ottawa city staff to plant a baby tree in your front yard. And consider launching a neighbourhood project that informs neighbours about this positive action by sending them this post. Or distribute this flyer so they can take action on their own property.
Why is this important?
Keeping street trees alive
Mature trees in front yards are a vital part of our neighbourhoods. On the street where I live, huge maple trees create a leafy dome throughout the summer. These trees cool the street, reduce storm water run-off and remove pollutants from the air. But they are getting older and have not fared well during ice storms. Branches have broken; nearby homes have lost power. One one side of the street, aggressive pruning of hydro wires has decimated their crowns, making them unstable and shortening the trees' lifespan.
We can be the solution to succession. The City of Ottawa does not have a systematic plan to plant new trees to replace mature trees on city right-of-way. But it does have a "Trees in Trust" program that allows you to request City staff to plant a tree between the street and your home. A mature tree that's currently in place can live out its lifespan. The sapling you request and plant this spring or fall will eventually replace it. By the way, spring and fall are the best times to plant saplings.
Consider two things when you get a new tree. 1) Does it fit the space available for the sapling to thrive? 2) Equally important, is the baby tree a native species that has a history of welcoming birds and insects and small mammals to coexist with it in this ecosystem?
Request a tree--will it be small, medium or large?
Go to the city of Ottawa website or write to firstname.lastname@example.org to request a sapling to replace a mature tree or to fill a space left after a mature tree was felled for a new build.
Make sure to plant a tree that will fit into the space available. If your street has been hit hard with intensification (two houses built where one used to stand), the small space available to plant a tree should not deter you.
Owen Clarkin of the Ottawa Field Naturalists' Club has prepared a list of 79 native trees suitable for planting in urban settings in eastern Ontario. Some are small trees. Others will grow to a medium size. And some will become giants, to replace the many big trees that have fallen to intensification since 2009. Here's a short list of good-to-plant native trees, with a description. If the city doesn't have the native tree you want, request that they stock it. Tell them you'll wait. If the only trees the city offers are Norway Maple or Honey Locust or Japanese Lilac, say no thanks. Explain why you prefer native species (see below).
Examples of small trees
Gray Birch (Betula populifolia). A hardy tree with whitish bark duller than the Paper Birch
Pin Cherry (Prunus pensylvanica). Narrow crowned species, spring flowers, red fruit, reddish bark, shiny leaves. Hardy and adaptable.
Hop-Hornbeam (Ostrya virginiana). A small to medium tree. Famously strong wood and relatively disease free.
Examples of medium trees
Pitch Pine (Pinus rigida) Very hardy evergreen conifer with a broad crown.
Tamarack (Larix lacricina). Deciduous conifer fairly common near Ottawa as a wild tree. Its needles turn orange/yellow in the autumn and fall, to regrow next spring.
Examples of large trees
Shagbark Hickory, Bitternut Hickory, Pignut Hickory. All types are hardy and adaptable.
Oak (all types). They have a big tap root and will last 200 years.
Black Maple (Acer nigrum). Similar to Sugar Maple, but hardier to heat, drought and urban conditions.
Why do we recommend native species?
Many non-native species have been the City of Ottawa's "go-to" trees for too long. Trees like the Norway Maple have been planted extensively as street trees, and their prevalence means they will succumb in large numbers if a pest or fungus attacks that species.
There is no shortage of native species. And while native trees can also be impacted by pests or fungi, they are generally more resilient. When they are alive and thriving, native species provide fruits, acorns and free homes to birds, insects and mammals native to this part of Canada.
Plant a conifer
Where there are overhead wires interfering with your existing trees, consider planting a baby conifer. And don't plant the sapling under those wires.The city of Ottawa now understands the wisdom of this. As a citizen, help to end the silly practice of planting street trees directly under hydro wires.
Conifers are pointy on top and wider at the base. Because they have a compact rooting area, you'll feel more comfortable planing a confider closer to your home than a deciduous tree.
One conifer species that is not well-adapted to urban environments is Ontario's provincial tree--the white pine.
Whether you plant a leafy tree or evergreen, it's also important to care for a sapling during times of summer drought and throughout the winter. Did you know that medium to small samplings suffer less from transplanting? This means they have a better chance of surviving than trees with a large root ball. Smaller saplings will catch up to a bigger sibling within 5 years.