How sustainable tree planting was integrated along Roncesvalles

With a distance roughly a kilometer and a half, a dateline spanning close to 150 years, a strong Polish lineage but a Spanish birthright;  Roncesvalles Village, attracts more Arts Cultural Urbanites per capita, than any other Toronto Neighbourhood.

Radiating off every heavily tree canopied street are “redone Four Squares” that are highly sought after by perspective home buyers. Eventually, the Roncesvalles commercial district will become a leading example of how community and urban planning had combined resources and ideas. This collaboration helped create a long term strategy for sustainable tree planting. The street’s trees used to be in concrete coffins which restricted the natural growth of the roots (see  Root and crown structure), and now they are all in continuous soil trenches.

Sustainable urban tree planting is all about:

  • planting native species that easily thrive in the local environment;
  • growing them  in a continuous soil trench which enables root expansion;1
  • enabling the expansion of the overhead canopy, which serves as a climate control regulator by providing deciduous shade in the summer and solar heat in the winter;
  • and finally, during daylight hours, the trees serve as environmental lungs because they consume a multitude of carbon gasses, including carbon dioxide2, which is one of the most acknowledged contributors to climate change.

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Signing on

Sign posted on tree identifies species and elicits gentle care

If at first you don't succeed, use bigger staples.

Despite some pranksters pulling down a number of signs posted on the new trees along Roncy’s east side, our volunteers have received enthusiastic approval for the signage from passers by. Our thanks go to Martha Goodings and Bill Montague for their three hours spent on this today.

The signs not only serve to identify each tree’s common name, but we’ve added the Polish name to the replacement signs. They also highlight the planting and maintenance efforts. Looks like the tree guards and grates won’t arrive before next year, so for now the signs are the only thing protecting the trees against bikes and territorial dogs — other than common sense, of course.

Why the tree planters along our streetscape were removed

They once populated the route along Roncesvalles. Those squared concrete tombs of solidified soil that deprived tree roots of growth, by converting them into strangled cubes of chaos. Seasonally they either exposed tender roots near their perimeters with life threatening frost, or frayed sensitive growth potential with increasing climate change patterns of urban heat effect. Concrete is a reactive mass that either holds or radiates outdoor conditions.

Continual cycles of freeze, drought, overwater, bake, traffic exhaust, trash littering, ashtrays, dog territory marking posts and yes, the occasional whiz from the post 1:00 pm bar patron… put great stress on the life expectancy of each tree.

City trees do not fair well in concrete planters.

Boxed mass plantings was an urban planning strategy from the 60’s & 70’s when the concept of even possessing a Carbon footprint was not a consideration.

Basic gardening fundamentals tell us; spread of root mass equals width of canopy. Boxed in tree containers defeat this goal. Unless you are a bonsai enthusiast or a miraculous pine clinging, wind swept Georgian Bay icon, you will not succeed with this look.

In order to encourage the eventual overhanging tree canopy, that will one day grace Roncesvalles Avenue, respect and consideration for life sustaining root spread is a must. So the boxed tree planters were eliminated. Trees, plants and all vegetation are carbon consumers. People, places, traffic and even the asphalt itself are carbon emitters. Being Carbon Neutral is all about balancing these effects.

That’s why our community’s tree canopy needed to be expanded, that’s why having trees imprisoned in concrete boxes works against this goal.

By being an innovative Toronto neighbourhood, Roncesvalles will become known as one of the first renewal projects that utilizes a newer urban street tree planting approach. Becoming pro active now, ensure a healthier tomorrow. Baby Steps!

Growing the Roncesvalles tree canopy

After two years of construction, new trees were planted on both sides of Roncesvalles. The trees on our main street were part of a new approach to planting boulevard trees in the city of Toronto. Every new tree on Roncesvalles was planted in conditions where it will thrive and flourish for generations to come. Together with the existing trees, a hundred new trees will form a beautiful shade canopy.

Tree Campaign and Plantings

local volunteers plant a young Red Oak on a property along Roncesvalles Avenue in Toronto

Community tree planting volunteers dig in

On the west side, where most of the properties are privately owned by individuals or institutions, the City contributed free trees wherever conditions were suitable and an owner was willing to accept one. Our volunteers visited all property owners on the west side to see if they would take a city tree on their property, explain the program and help them choose a variety on our recommended list. The planting of 18 new trees began on west side properties on May 14, 2011.

On the east side, trees were planted in the specially prepared soil trenches at the end of May.

Planting Conditions

Typically, most trees planted along a main street only survive around 10 years because the roots do not have enough space to spread. Each new tree on Roncesvalles was planted in soil trenches – long pits of at least 15 cubic metres of good soil below the sidewalk. Happier tree roots spreading out under suspended sidewalk sections to prevent compaction will help trees live for generations.  In areas where there wasn’t enough room for trees because of underground infrastructure, such as gas lines and sewer mains, soil beds were planted with shrubbery and perennials.

Tree Watering

The Roncesvalles Village BIA is maintaining trees on the east side, where the new beds are equipped with watering stations.  On the west side, new boulevard trees are being watered by hand by property owners and community volunteers.

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