What’s in a name? Suburban Acres, Suburban Park, and Glen Echo Shores were some of Norfolk’s first suburban neighborhoods. The words “acres,” “park” and “shores” in these names attest to the developers’ marketing of large lots in a lovely suburban setting. Trees were planted on lots that had been farmland, and now, over sixty years later, these neighborhoods are graced with some of the largest trees and prettiest yards in the City of Norfolk.
However, like many areas throughout Hampton Roads, large, historic trees are being removed by property owners. Tree removal is done for a variety of reasons – some people don’t like to rake leaves, others become scared their large trees may blow down in a storm. While numerous trees did come down during Hurricane Isabel in 2003, many were street trees that had poor root structure due to the surrounding asphalt and concrete or had never been pruned properly. Most healthy trees can stand up to high winds and actually serve as a wind screen to deflect winds up and over houses during storms.
Urban trees provide many benefits in addition to being good wind screens. Trees are the “green lungs” of our communities, helping to clean the air. Trees and shrubs reduce heating and cooling requirements by shading homes in the summer and deflecting cold winds in winter – cutting energy costs by up to 50 percent. Trees also reduce stormwater runoff and flooding by absorbing up to 30 percent of rain through their leaves and another 30 percent through their root systems. Landscaping, particularly with trees, can increase property values by 20 percent. Trees provide all these public services for free, while also providing habitat for birds and wildlife. In short, neighborhoods are better because of the trees!
Every now and then, a tree can be seen as a “problem.” But unless a tree is unhealthy, removing it should be the last option. A qualified tree arborist can provide recommendations on pruning and other actions to keep a tree healthy. Topping – cutting out the top – should never be done as this actually harms the tree. If raking leaves is the problem, then create a bed of azaleas or other shrubs around the trees for a good place for the leaves to fall. Fallen leaves will decompose and provide an organic, free source of fertilizing for your flower beds.
If you have concerns about a tree on your property, contact your local extension agent not the tree cutting company! An extension agent can help you identify and solve a variety of problems in your yard, including a problematic trees. If you can save a tree you will surely be doing yourself and your community a favor!
Blog post contributed by Karen Mayne. Karen is a biologist retired from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service who resides in Norfolk and enjoys writing about environmental issues.