If you lived in Connecticut in 2011, chances are trees had a major impact on your life, in one way or another.
Between Tropical Storm Irene and the freak October snowstorm, if you didn’t lose a tree in your garden, you probably lost power when a tree, or part of a tree, fell on the power lines.
If a Tree Falls on a Power Line…
The impact of falling trees on power lines was so severe in our area that a report, Connecticut’s Street Trees: A Preliminary Analysis was prepared for Governor Malloy’s ‘Two Storm Panel’ that looked at how to mitigate the effects of future storms on the state.
The Connecticut’s Street Trees report was prepared by Jeffrey Ward, PhD, Chief Scientist, Forestry and Horticulture at CAES (Connecticut Agriculture and Experiment Station). The report extrapolated data on over 67,000 trees from 11 different cities in towns in Connecticut that had recently conducted an inventory of their street trees. My home town, Stamford, was one of the 11 cities.
The Report’s Findings
♦ It is estimated that there are over 1.1 million (yes, MILLION) street trees lining CT’s almost 21,000 miles of roads that are the responsibility of either your town, city or the state (depending on which roads they are located on) to maintain. No matter how you look at it, that’s a lot of trees.
♦ Almost half of those trees are maples. (Nutmeggers saw for themselves that most of the trees that came down in the October snowstorm seemed to be maples.) The problem with maples, according to the Ward’s report, is that “maples are more likely than other species to have structural defects such as weak forks and cavities that make them prone to failure from high winds, heavy snows and thick ice”. YIKES!
♦ Over half of Connecticut’s street trees are big — with a trunk diameter over 12″ — which means they are old. And the older a tree is, the more likely it is to fall down during a storm.
♦ Current maintenance standards call for pruning of the trees adjacent to power lines. But it was often the trees behind those adjacent trees or the trees across the street that caused lots of the damage.
The Report’s Recommendations
♦ Trees with “shorter mature heights” should be planted near power lines. That means trees that will grow to less than 25′ feet tall.
♦ Replace existing “maples with other species where there is a potential for future disruption of the electrical system”.
♦ Consider mandating that towns, cities and the state follow the recommendations by enacting municipal ordinances or even a state law.
I spoke with Dr. Ward about his report for an article I wrote for an upcoming issue of Connecticut Gardener magazine. He shared some other thoughts on how Connecticut homeowners can help.
♦ Evaluate your existing trees and check for signs of damage from past storms, insects or other pests. If in doubt, contact a licensed arborist for advice on how to proceed.
♦ If you are planting a tree near a power line, don’t plant the trunk directly under the lines. Try to keep the branches of the trees about 8′ away from power lines.
♦ Don’t be afraid to plant large trees (those over 40′ tall), just don’t plant them near the street. If you are fortunate enough to have the space for a large tree, Ward suggests planting an oak (Quercus) or even one of our native maple trees, sugar maple (Acer saccharum) or red maple (Acer rubrum). (Planting maples is OK, just site them properly and watch them to make sure they stay healthy.)
♦ Prune your trees when they are young and their limbs are under 1″ thick. This way, you can do the pruning yourself (you’ll save some $$). Limb up trees to about 15′ off the ground. This will allow you to mow or walk under them and will help ensure the tree stay healthy for future generations.
Recommended Street Trees for Connecticut
Dr. Ward is working with Glenn Dryer of Connecticut College to compile a new list of recommended street trees for Connecticut. Old lists have trees that are too tall, susceptible to diseases, or, in the case of Callery pear, now considered potentially invasive. I’m looking forward to seeing the revised list once it’s available because it will undoubtedly impact not only what we will see on our streets but also in our nurseries.
So what should you do now if you need to replace a tree lost in a storm? Visit your local independent nursery and ask for recommendations for appropriate street trees for Connecticut that have a mature height of 25′ or smaller.
Or, check out my suggestions for small trees for Connecticut gardens.