Large Trees are Losing Place in City

By Rhonda Stansberry
Omaha, NE (October 25, 2007)- Trees have surrounded Gene Perrin wherever he’s lived, except in his new home on the western fringe of La Vista. Homeowners are increasingly choosing to plant smaller ornamental trees, like those on the ConAgra campus. But many arborists worry that the trend will lead to a smaller canopy of trees over the metro area.

A smaller canopy can mean less shade and windbreak. Canopies also add to the city’s beauty. So soon after he moved in earlier this year, Perrin planted two trees: an Autumn Blaze maple, a midsize hybrid; and a flowering plum, an ornamental tree. He kept it simple because he didn’t want to contend with fruit and nuts on the ground. Like many who move into new housing developments carved out of farm fields, he likes the smaller, ornamental trees as well as varieties similar to others in his neighborhood, near 96th Street and Giles Road.
The canopy in the neighborhood took a beating a decade ago. On Oct. 25 and 26, 1997, a snowstorm took a swipe at trees in eastern Nebraska. In Omaha, about one-third of the trees were damaged or destroyed. The weight of the 9 to 14 inches of snow crushed limbs.
The landscape healed- and changed. Many of the destroyed and damaged trees were big shade trees, a canopy that sheltered homes from wind and sun. Meanwhile, as the metro area grew, homeowners were building in former fields. And they’ve turned to ornamentals such as the flowering pear and the “Prairie Fire” crabapple, said Lindsay Hanzlik of Lanoha Nursery.
Justin Evertson of the Nebraska Statewide Arboretum said homeowners don’t want the big shade trees mainly because they don’t want to deal with fallen leaves and branches. “People have come to expect a golf-course style lawn,” he said. Nor do homeowners want trees that put leaves in the gutters, which can lead to water in the basement, said Jay Moore of Jay Moore Landscaping. They also worry about storms. “They’re gun-shy, seeing so many trees like the silver maples come down in bad storms,” he said.
Dan Mulhall of Mulhall’s Nursery, president of the Nebraska Nursery and Landscape Association, said homeowners also want their trees to grow fast. Evertson called it instant gratification: “People are more mobile. They’re not wanting to live in a house 40 to 50 years. They don’t put down roots, so they don’t put down (big, slow-growing) trees.” Budget is a factor as well. Ornamentals typically are cheaper, in the $100 to $150 range.
Eric Berg, community forestry program leader for the Nebraska Forest Service, said another problem with today’s landscapes is a lack of diversity. If a community plants mainly one type of tree and disease hits, it wipes out nearly everything.
Nationwide, Dutch elm disease took the canopy out of entire communities. Silver maples fell to storms and extremes of weather. Pine wilt disease is already affecting Scotch pine trees. And the emerald ash borer is the next threat. Ash trees make up about 8 percent of the shade canopy in Omaha, Berg said, but they could be wiped out by the emerald ash borer.
Evertson said he worries that Nebraskans are planting too many maples, and a variety that is a hybrid of the silver maple. He would like to see more new varieties of elms and oaks, especially the sawtooth oak. Correctly planted, about a foot deep, those trees grow as quickly as some of the popular maples and ornamentals but live longer, grow taller and add variety.
When he moved to his new house, Perrin, who previously lived in the Hanscom Park neighborhood near Woolworth Street and 32nd Avenue, steered clear of the trees that came down in the October snowstorm. It is the mess he remembers when he thinks back to that day. “I thought of it then as nature’s way of pruning,” he said, adding that he lost a Bradford pear and most of a big cottonwood. “A storm like that makes you think twice about what you plant.”
For the full article, visit the Omaha World Herald.
Related Resources:
Benefits of Trees
Right Tree for the Right Place
Elm Watch
My Elm Story