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Trees and Your Community
Strategies for Sustaining the Health of your Trees and Reserve Fund
By Neil Jenkins | Other articles by Neil Jenkins
Trees ought to receive greater attention from condominium corporations. They contribute tremendous benefits to our communities: improved air quality, reduced energy consumption, reduced noise pollution by acting as sound barriers, captured water run off to reduce flooding, and increased property values resulting from improved "curb appeal". In spite of these benefits, trees are often overlooked assets for condominium corporations. This article seeks to inform fellow condominium directors with suggestions about how to manage your tree stock for the viability of the trees and the financial health of your corporation.
Boards of directors and property managers alike are pre-occupied with many competing priorities. Tree health may be the furthest from one's attention. For this author, the ice storm in December 2013 brought the subject of tree health to the fore: a limb from an ash tree infected with the Emerald Ash borer broke off and, luckily, fell away from his townhouse unit. Had it fallen in the other direction the result would have been catastrophic. The experience served as a wake-up call to pay greater attention to the conditions of trees in the community. Since then, tree care has become a focus for this author's condominium corporation.
Evaluating Tree Stock for Reserve Fund Planning
The best place to start is to assess the current condition of your tree stock. This can be achieved through a tree inventory. A tree inventory (or tree survey) provides information about the location, number, type, and condition of trees on your property. The survey is usually conducted by a certified arborist. Trees and shrubs are tagged to identify their locations. The species and sizes are recorded. The condition of each tree is assessed to identify potential stresses placed on your trees. The assessment of its condition can be used to inform subsequent actions. Your arborist may recommend one or more actions:
- pruning branches to provide clearance from buildings,
- pruning to remove dead wood,
- crown thin pruning to remove stress on limbs or to allow sun or wind to pass through; or
- removing declining or dead trees
Regular pruning done on an annual basis will spread costs into more manageable expenses. Deferring or ignoring regular tree maintenance often results in a more costly and complex pruning activity resulting from a larger backlog of work.
The tree inventory can also be used to guide decisions for reserve fund planning. The cost to replace a tree is comprised of several elements. First tree removal costs vary by the size, location, and difficulty. Budgeting $500 to $1,000 per tree may serve as a rule of thumb. There may be additional costs to grind the stump. Stump grinding is the process of cutting the stump into a mulch to remove the tree from protruding from the ground. In addition to removal costs, your municipality may have regulations governing the removal of trees. This includes fees and reporting requirements prior to obtaining approval to remove certain trees. Finally, there is the cost to plant a replacement tree. Costs vary by size and species selection, which will be discussed later. The tree inventory is a useful resource that your engineer may use to prepare your corporation's next reserve fund study. Succession Planning
Succession Planning and Tree Replacement Strategies
For many corporations your tree stock is the same age: trees planted as part of landscaping following completion of construction of your high rise or townhouse complex. Often times, developers plant a monoculture of tree species. This may have been designed intentionally to create a uniformity of the streetscape. Other times it may simply have been more cost effective to do so. In either case the lack of variety has more than one effect: the trees' lifecycles will be similar; and they may be equally susceptible to disease. Therefore, it is incumbent upon Boards of Directors to devise a tree management plan that allows corporations to plan for gradual succession planning of your tree stock.
First and foremost, the best strategy is to sustain and extend the life of the trees you already have. Maximize your existing investments with proactive maintenance, such as: pruning, as well as mulching or aerating the soil, and watering trees regularly. These modest actions can extend the life of your existing trees. The benefit is that it allows for gradual, planned renewal rather than widespread replacement. The latter is expensive and will place significant demands on your reserve fund.
Next, the condition assessment from the tree inventory can prioritize trees in the worst condition. These can be ranked first for removal. Trees can be removed at any time. In the City of Toronto, for cases where regulations require a tree be replaced for one that is removed, they require that a tree be replaced in the same or immediately following year. Replacement trees are best planted in the fall or early spring so as to reduce the stresses placed by summer weather conditions. There are advantages for filing paperwork with municipal governments if applications to remove multiple trees are done at the same time. Your arborist usually can process this on your corporation's behalf – since tree removal applications often require a report submitted from a certified arborist. Arborists can also identify where the permit process is not required.
Consider the types of trees your community would like to plant as replacements. There are a variety of factors to consider – both practical and aesthetic:
- Choosing to increase diversity of tree species for both aesthetic and practical reasons;
- Choosing the right size and canopy for the planting location;
- Selecting drought- and disease-tolerant species;
- Selecting trees supportive of wildlife (birds and pollinators)
- Leaf colour, flowers, and bark texture for trees planted in prominent locations in your community;
- Whether you want trees that bear fruit (they can attract pests);
- Providing sufficient clearance away from buildings to reduce the impact of tree roots on foundations and pipes;
- Avoiding planting under hydro wires or near fences or underground utilities
Municipalities like the City of Toronto offer recommendations for street trees . York Region and the City of Mississauga have similar resources to support residents' tree planting interests.
Lastly if you have open space in your community consider whether to add more trees to increase the tree canopy. Where your community has space adjacent to municipal streets, you can request free tree plantings from municipalities. LEAF (Local Enhancements & Appreciation of Forests) is an example of a non-profit organization which offers subsidized prices for multi-unit property owners like condominium corporations.
Calls to Action for Sustaining the Urban Forest
Increasing awareness about trees and their benefits can engage residents to become more involved in tree care. There are a variety of resources to learn more about trees and the urban forest, including the aforementioned LEAF. One way to educate residents is to devote a section to an upcoming condominium newsletter about your corporation's initiatives about tree care and the benefits to your owners. Residents can take an active role in maintaining trees by watering them regularly.
For reference an earlier Condovoice Magazine article (Volume 25, Issue 3, Spring 2020) offered suggestions for tree watering. Individual townhouse homeowners can water trees planted on their exclusiveuse common elements. Invite high schoolaged residents to water trees on common elements. Recognize their contributions towards their 40 hours of required volunteer community service.
We are living through a rapidly changing climate. Caring for trees on our properties are specific actions to mitigate some of the worst effects of climate change. Beyond the environment benefits, proactive tree care may also benefit the financial health of your corporation.