Tree-planting ceremonies and volunteer opportunities have taken root across Queens in recent weeks in honor of Earth Day and Arbor Day. But as advocates have long said, it seems that less attention has been paid to existing trees throughout the borough.
Among those neglected are 11 trees on Fresh Meadow Lane and 174th Street in Fresh Meadows, which recently had their roots severely damaged at the hands of a sidewalk maintenance project.
The project is a routine curb repair, carried out by the city Department of Transportation. In instances when such work is within 50 feet of a city-owned tree, however, the Department of Parks and Recreation needs to sign off on the project in order to protect the tree.
Flushing-based arborist Carsten Glaeser is far from pleased. “If there’s damaged roots caused by construction, there’s an arborist reaction to that to correct and repair what’s been damaged,” he said.
At the site — outside 56-07 Fresh Meadow Lane — it appears that not only have the roots been damaged during excavation, but that concrete used for the curb has made its way into the remaining cavity. According to Glaeser, the alkaline present in the concrete is harmful to the roots; often, it — and whatever street debris has made its way there — remains in place even after topsoil has been added.
“They sweep it from the street and they just throw it in the tree pit and they bury it over,” Glaeser said.
There are ways to avoid that, Glaeser says. One of those methods is already in place: The Parks Department’s Tree Protection Best Practice and Protocol guidelines specify that when construction occurs within what’s known as a tree’s “critical root zone,” a certified arborist must be present.
Glaeser says he has done that kind of work on numerous projects over the years. When the Chronicle asked why an arborist was not at the site, Glaeser said that’s the point.
“It’s not that DOT doesn’t know that they’re supposed to have an arborist on the job,” he added. “There’s no excuse for this.”
Asked the same question, a spokesperson for the DOT said, “DOT has met with Parks on this project to discuss best practices for excavation. We are continuing this work with careful consideration of the trees in the area to ensure they are not damaged.”
Pressed again on why an arborist wasn’t there, the spokesperson did not comment.
The Parks Department also avoided the question. “Following an inspection of the trees at Fresh Meadow Lane, we have met with DOT’s Sidewalk Improvement Maintenance unit to review their sidewalk repair practices around trees,” a Parks spokesperson said. “DOT’s SIM unit has agreed to consult with us to avoid root conflicts moving forward.”
Curbs can be updated while keeping tree roots safe, Glaeser said. For one, the curb can be moved out toward the street to avoid the space around a tree. While any project of the sort will lead to some exposure to concrete, that method lessens the amount significantly.
Glaeser noted that in some cases where the torn roots are not particularly large, pruning may be used to repair the damage — but that’s not guaranteed.
“When you prune a tree root, like you prune a tree branch, it allows the root to regenerate,” he said. “The bigger roots are a different problem.”
Such is the case for several of those 11 trees outside 56-07 Fresh Meadow Lane, including one Norway maple.
“Some of these larger ones — like this one, with a 3-to-4-inch diameter — it’s been ripped and shredded. Nothing to do about that,” Glaeser observed. “That will eventually impact this tree even further.” He added that it already had some decay and that its crown was damaged; he expects it would “probably go in short time.”
None of the 11 trees have been there for very long, either — they were all planted as part of the 1 Million Tree Project, which launched in 2007. The homeowner, Robin Kraut, didn’t think they’d been planted until at least 2013. Though she assured the Chronicle that she “loves plants,” she was concerned about how many trees had been planted along her property.
“They start to get crowded and bigger and rip up the sidewalk,” she said. “I really think they over-planted them here.”
Glaeser also argued that damaging such recently planted trees is a waste of money.
“There’s a cost to install the tree,” he said. “These trees were installed for the public benefit, as a public asset — an investment.”