Arbor Day is Friday, April 29, and this weekend is a great time to plant a tree. It will enhance your property value and help beautify your neighborhood, attract songbirds and reduce storm water runoff.
A Chinese proverb states: “The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second-best time is today.”
But it’s even more important that we take care of our existing trees. Unfortunately, high-speed mowing equipment, a lack of proper maintenance and soil compaction by parked cars and heavy equipment have resulted in a tremendous loss of trees across the Bluegrass.
For example, look at the trees along US 27/68 between Lexington and Paris. When Paris Pike was widened to four lanes a decade ago, great care was taken to protect the root zone around mature trees, and precious Bluegrass topsoil was removed and set aside so that new trees would be planted in uncompacted soil.
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Paris Pike is one of the most beautiful and scenic highways in our region, and is an important generator for tourism and economic growth in Bourbon County. Yet most of the trees which were planted so carefully 10 years ago are going to die, because the mowing machines bump into the trees, skinning the bark. Once the tree is girdled, the tree will die.
It’s a real shame, because it is so easily preventable. A protective sleeve made from 6 or 8-inch diameter black plastic corrugated drain pipe would adequately protect the base of the tree from the mowing equipment. By slitting the plastic pipe with a knife, it can be easily placed around the existing trees, and the problem is solved — for very little cost.
My partner, Patty, and I have placed plastic pipe on about 100 trees in the Paris Pike median, but the sleeves we used were too small for most of the trees. If we could get some larger drain pipe donated, a group of 20 Boy Scouts or perhaps the UK Fusion group could easily save all of these precious trees in one day.
In Lexington’s city parks, the problem is careless weed-eating. Weed-eaters will also strip the bark from the base of trees. Why can’t city Parks and Recreation do a better job of proper maintenance?
Unfortunately, they hire poorly trained lawn-mowing companies. I recently watched a contract mowing service cutting the grass in Mary Todd Park. One of the mowing crew had two small children sitting in his lap as he mowed the field, putting the toddlers at risk for injury. How can we expect people to care for the trees when they can’t care properly for children? I could only shake my head as I watched this sorry scene.
I have been talking and writing about this issue for so many years, but our city government seems to regard our tree canopy as a nuisance, rather than a treasure. Urban trees help reduce crime; provide shade for walkers, runners and cyclists; reduce dust and air pollution, and can absorb as much as 75 percent of the rainfall. But instead of preserving our tree canopy, we have cut down the mature trees downtown and in Phoenix Park, and replaced them with scrawny saplings.
Certain members of the city’s Tree Board have quit in frustration over a lack of budget. We are now losing thousands of ash trees to the emerald ash borer, and the hemlock trees are next. The cost to taxpayers to remove all of these dying trees will be tens of millions of dollars, and where will the money come from?
I’ve got an idea: We can take all the trees, and put ’em in a museum and charge people a dollar and a half just to see ’em.
Dave Cooper of Lexington is an environmental activist.