Hopefully the piece last week convinced you that trees provide numerous benefits to the people that use the space around them. This past weekend I took a look at the township’s largest land-owner, the school district. The schools have planted a fair number of trees, but they tend to be small, young and often placed in locations where they’ll have limited ability to grow (like in parking lots). But NPE stood out because its evident the trees there are mismanaged. Almost all of the trees at NPE are suffering and unlikely to last in their current state.
There are two common mistakes made in taking care of trees. Both practices are common throughout Garden City. The first is too much mulch. Here’s a good article from Kansas about how to correctly mulch trees. You do not want a volcano-style mound around the tree. You want 2-4 inches with a ring around the tree so that the mulch does not touch the trunk. If the mulch touches the trunk it can trap moisture and cause the tree to rot. While most trees at NPE are mulched incorrectly, this was not true at the other schools in the township. Only NPE trees are improperly mulched.
The second bad practice is topping. This is pruning trees without regard for the tree’s health, usually for aesthetic reasons, but also for avoiding power lines (which is unavoidable in much of Garden City unfortunately). Here is an article about tree topping from Purdue. Tree topping is bad for trees, it results in a shorter lifespan and leads to weaker trees that can lose branches or fall over more easily. The trees in front of NPE have been topped, and are unlikely to last long in their current shape. If trees are topped because they will grow too tall in their location, its better to remove them and plant shorter species. Topped trees will never be healthy; its better to have a shorter, more healthy tree.
NPE has few trees in the parking lot, I’m told this is because some of them have already died and not been replaced. NPE seems overall short on trees compared to WES or the middle and high school, which is unfortunate because trees are such a positive for children.
In the piece last week I related how trees provide financial benefits for the buildings they shade and cool the area around them. The trees currently at the schools provide little shade for students or the buildings. Both the WES and NPE playgrounds have no trees around (or in) them to shade children playing on the equipment, despite opportunities for trees adjacent to both locations. I’m sure its just a coincidence that one of the mostly nicely shaded areas is just outside the school district’s administrative offices at Strath Haven Middle School. Another is along the service drive and loading dock at the high school, an area that few school children probably ever visit. The district also has a nice row of trees at the high school along Providence Rd and in front of the high school. WES and the middle and high school are both surrounded by large, older growth trees on neighboring properties, but it seems the school district has never made a long-term effort to maintain trees. The school district seems to lack coherent plans for trees, or more broadly, sustainability in the way that the district’s other major institutions have (Swarthmore College, Nether Providence township, the borough of Swarthmore).
There are places that the district could plant more trees that could provide benefits. Strath Haven High School could plant trees on the south side of the building at the top of the slope. Most notably this could shade the trailer that sits at the back corner, which would probably make it more pleasant. There’s also space around the tennis courts for additional trees and vegetation. Strath Haven Middle School has space around the sides and around the fields for plantings as well. WES is more constrained for space, but there’s space around the playground for additional trees.
NPE has work to do. The back half of the lot has essentially no trees or shade. The parking lot has lost its trees. I’m told there’s supposed to be a rain garden out front, but its been mulched in and is doing little for water runoff. There’s also a bed of rather unhappy looking shaped shrubberies by the library that needs help. In order to be a pleasant place for children, NPE’s landscaping really needs major reconstruction.
To close out here’s some pictures of the happier trees in the district.