Droopy tree subsists on a no-man’s-land

By Eric Ferreri, Staff Writer
Durham, NC (July 14, 2007)- When it’s hydrated, the crape myrtle in the small traffic circle at Knox Street and Dollar Avenue is a grand and colorful sight for folks wending their way through the Trinity Park neighborhood. But when it doesn’t get enough water? Blech.

That was the scene recently when Ellen Dagenhart, who lives on Dollar, passed by. Durham hadn’t seen rain for a while, and the tree was droopy and wilted, not at all a neighborhood pick-me-up, she said. “It’s a real pretty traffic circle when everything looks good,” said Dagenhart, a real estate broker. “But the leaves are all crispied-up. The blossoms are gone.”
Dagenhart was struck by the swiftness with which this bright, cheery tree- with a canopy so broad it covers the perimeter of the circle- seemed to dissolve into a dried-out shell of its former self. It got Dagenhart to wondering: Whose job is it to maintain trees and bushes planted in traffic circles? Turns out there’s no simple answer.
In one sense, traffic circles are in a public right-of-way, so the city doesn’t technically own them, said Phil Loziuk, the city’s traffic operations engineer. Thus, they generally become a public- or neighborhood- responsibility unless there’s a safety issue, he said.
“We look at the function of vegetation in the circle with respect to safety,” he said. “We don’t want anything in there that blocks vision or is so large that it could kill anyone if it’s hit.” The care of plantings in a traffic circle can fall to the city if it did the planting, or a developer if it bears the responsibility.
In the Trinity Park case and others, neighborhood associations agreed to maintain traffic circle plantings, and it thus becomes their responsibility, said Alex Johnson, the city’s urban forestry manager. But practically speaking, the city will provide water if trees and bushes need it, he said.
Once planted, trees generally need a few years of continuous care and watering until they take root. After that they are generally fine without regular watering, Johnson said.
Johnson inspected the Trinity Park crape myrtle Thursday and found it healthy. He praised the neighborhood for choosing that variety of tree. “It really takes a severe drought to affect these trees,” he said. “The only thing that will kill a crape myrtle is a severe freeze.”
For the full article, visit the Raleigh-Durham News Observer.