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Miss Floribunda: What to do with all those trees

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Posted on: April 17, 2018

Dear Miss Floribunda,

I’ve heard a lot about urban forests, and I seem to have one in my backyard. I didn’t mind so much till I retired and thought it might be nice to remove them and start growing tomatoes in the resulting sunshine. A neighbor tells me that I can’t have the trees cut down without permission from the city. Why not? What do you think?

Not a Tree Hugger on Hamilton Street

Dear Not a Tree Hugger,

I am wondering just how much you have heard about urban forests. You are aware, I hope, that those trees in your backyard cut down on your heating and air conditioning bills by buffering your home from wind in the winter and shading it in the summer. They purify the air you breathe, and muffle the noise of traffic. It is even possible you might miss the songs of birds if your garden were bereft of trees.

However blasé you may have become to it, arboreal beauty increases the sale value of your home. On the community level, tree-lined streets improve the morale of all who live on them and even of those who pass through town. Extensive studies have revealed some amazing health advantages of living near trees. For example, according to studies cited in Jill Jonnes’ Urban Forests, pregnant women who live in treeless urban settings bear smaller, less healthy babies than those who live in areas graced with trees.

This doesn’t mean you should not have a vegetable garden, of course.

Not only are the benefits of the urban forest now recognized, but so also are those of “climate victory gardens,” to use the latest term. The Hyattsville Horticultural Society supported the creation of the Hyatt Park Community Garden, and is hoping that other community gardens will develop, too, especially in West Hyattsville. If there really is no place in your garden that has enough sun to grow vegetables, you can arrange to rent a plot here

Now, about whether you can get a permit from the municipal Shade Tree Board to have any of your trees removed, you will need to make an appointment to have the municipal arborist come out and evaluate them. If any of your trees are diseased or are the kinds of trees that could be said to be detrimental to the neighborhood, they can be subject to the axe. A willow tree that is going to invade a septic tank, or a Bradford pear whose branches are likely to fall on pedestrians or parked cars would be cases in point. If any of your trees are so close to the house that their roots threaten your foundation, you have cause to remove it. If you have a large, shallow-rooted tree that is leaning dangerously over your roof or your neighbor’s, you could ask permission to take it away. Trees that block motorists’ vision could also justifiably be cut down. Some trees, such as the invasive Paulownia, are actually illegal in some states. Here is the best site for information about Hyattsville tree codes, which includes a permit form and the address to which to send it. Don’t even think of bypassing the permit process, because you could be fined from $300 to $1000 if you remove a tree without permission.

It shouldn’t be difficult to understand that if you have a dawn redwood or some other rarity in your backyard, the Shade Tree Board would not let you cut it down. However, less rare, but beautiful trees are also are protected. I am among those who believe that chopping down the mighty oak is comparable to regicide, but don’t take it from me. Here are guidelines straight from the Hyattsville code that specify what types of trees are to be preserved: “Trees on private property with trunks that measure at least fifty (50) inches in circumference at four and one half (4-1/2) feet above ground level, if located less than fifty (50) feet from a public street or sidewalk.” Additionally, “Trees on private property with trunks that measure at least seventy-five (75) inches in circumference at four and one half (4-1/2) feet above ground level, if located more than fifty (50) feet from a public street or sidewalk.”

The next meeting of the Hyattsville Horticultural Society will take place on Sunday, April 15, at 1 p.m. at the home of Joe Buriel and Dave Roeder, 3909 Longfellow Street. It will be followed by a plant exchange you won’t want to miss. Dig up and bring some plants that may be spreading too much, and swap them for plants you don’t have at all.

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