Yesterday GM went over all the things you ought to be doing to help out our street trees. Today he’ll take up the slightly less pleasant task of going over all the things people do that they really ought not to.
#1 – Don’t Plant Anything in Tree Boxes Except Trees
Only one living thing should be planted in a tree box, and that’s a tree. This is a controversial point, since people love to plant everything from ivy to annuals to full blown bushes in their tree boxes. But these other plants take water and nutrients away from the tree, particularly young trees who are the most vulnerable.
And the problem can’t necessarily be obviated by simply watering more. In fact, that’s another problem with planting plants like annuals in a tree box. Annuals require a lot of water to survive, a lot more than a tree needs. When you water the annuals enough to keep them alive, you’re probably over-watering the tree.
Once you have a fully mature tree, it is probably less harmful to plant a few plants in the tree box. But really, a tree box is the most healthy when all that you see is thick healthy roots.
#2 – Don’t Use an Illegal Fence
District law has very specific requirements for tree box fences. They must be 18″ tall to prevent tripping. They must allow water to pass under them in order to increase the amount of rainwater being absorbed by the ground not the storm drain. Finally, they must be three sided and set back at least a foot from the edge of the curb.
While boxes like the one at the top of this post are pretty, they’re not permissible. The stones are too low and rainwater will just run around the box. Here are a couple other bad fences or borders on the exact same block:
You may be asking, well those look like just about every tree box in Georgetown. Well, you’re right. A lot of bad box fences have been installed over the years, but as trees get replaced they violating fences and walls will be removed and replaced with compliant fences.
#3 – Don’t Do Anything to a Street Tree Without a Permit
Even though the street tree is right outside your door, it doesn’t belong to you. You cannot just prune it or cut it down wily-nilly. Nor can you plant a new tree in an empty box without permission. You need to get a permit from the District Urban Forestry Administration. Any violation can carry a $1,500 fine.
There has been a problem with landscape companies flouting the permit rules (also those awful double-decker tour buses are known to take tree pruning into their own hands). If you see any landscape company doing anything to street trees you have a right to ask to see a permit. If they don’t have one, call DDOT at (202) 673-6813 and ask for the UFA inspector. Make sure also to take photos of the workers and try to get the name of the company (from the truck) in the shot. They can be fined quite a lot.
The fines get particularly high if someone cuts down what is known as a special tree. These are trees more than 55″ in circumference (which according to GM’s rudimentary geometry means a tree with a diameter of over 17″ or so). When a special tree is cut down without a permit, the fine is $100 per inch of circumference (i.e., the fines start at $5,500 and go up from there).
The important thing to remember about the special trees regulations is that they apply to all trees, not just those on public property. So if you want to cut down a mature tree in your backyard, make sure you either get a permit or you are sure it’s not 55″ in circumference. If the tree is certified to be hazardous or is one of the species identified as invasive (tree of heaven, mulberry, or Norway maple) the permit is free. Otherwise it’s $35 per inch of circumference.
Enough with the don’ts; do buy a ticket to Trees for Georgetown’s annual fundraiser on May 26th by calling the CAG office at 202-337-7313.