Special to Montclair Local

Montclair’s thousands of street trees are part of what makes this such a special place. Those trees that live between the sidewalk and the street create shady lanes in the summertime, sparkly snow and ice-covered sculptures in the winter, and create a vibrant show of blossoms in the spring and colorful leaves in the fall.

However, our street trees have it rough too; they have been facing more extreme storms and increased development, and are often threatened by insects and disease.

A big issue is the size of our street tree pits, particularly in our business districts. They are too small, the soil becomes compacted and oxygen can’t get to the roots. Root systems are less able to withstand drought and disturbance. While the lifespan of our backyard trees is well over 100 years, the life expectancy of our street trees is 7 to 15 years. So, here’s what we can do to help.

Spring clean: Remove the top layer of old mulch that has soaked up the winter’s worth of salt deposits. Hose out the surface of the tree bed if you can in order to further remove the de-icing salts.

Water: Mature trees are fine with 8 to 10 gallons a week. Young trees need 10 to 15 gallons weekly from May through Oct for their first two years after planting. But remember, compacted and sloped soil around trees results in run-off, so what we want is a slow soak. Drip a hose for an hour, put a few holes in a clean garbage pail and fill with water, or use a tree watering bag.

Mulch: Add a half inch or so of compost, followed by 1 to 2 inches of wood chips or other organic mulch. They will help conserve moisture and will add nutrients to the soil. But don't stack mulch around the tree trunk. Contact will rot the bark over time. Rather, leave a “doughnut hole” of space around the trunk.

Plant the bed: Planting will help to conserve moisture. Choose plants with shallow root systems; avoid large or water hungry plants that will compete with the tree. Use a hand cultivator to gently loosen the soil to a depth of one or two inches without damaging tree roots. Be careful; most of a street tree’s roots lie in the top 18 inches of soil.

Don't add soil: Raising the level of soil around the tree trunk can kill the tree. The tree bark will rot, inviting pests and diseases.

Don't fertilize: Adding fertilizer to stressed or root damaged trees can be harmful to a tree. Additionally, runoff with fertilizer from compacted ground and asphalt can contaminate our water systems. When all branches on a mature tree have green foliage to their tips, there’s no point in adding fertilizer. If that’s not the case, it is important to determine the source of the problem. So … 

Call community services to help: If your neighborhood street tree is in need of pruning, looks diseased, or is doing so well that its roots are pushing up the sidewalk and creating a tripping hazard, call the folks at the Montclair Community Services Department for help. Don’t try to remove tree roots yourself. Street trees are owned by the Township of Montclair. We have an arborist, who is around one day a week, and a tree foreman who sees to the planting of new trees. Only township personnel may prune or remove a township tree. The Montclair Community Services Department can be reached at 973-509-5711.

And we hope you had a happy National Love a Tree Day on Monday! 

Jaji Packard is board president for the Montclair Center Business Improvement District. Peter Yacobellis is a Montclair Township councilman.

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