The Biscayne Times

Mar 23rd
Die a Slow Death PDF Print E-mail
Written by Jeff Shimonski, BT Contributor   
March 2018

City landscape work is a waste of taxpayer dollars

IPix_YourGarden_3-18m sure everyone has heard the phrase “right tree, right place,” but I think by now it has become an admonition more than an encouragement.

We hear, don’t plant your trees, palms, or bamboo underneath power lines, or don’t plant trees that get large into ridiculously small planting islands. This goes for all plants, of course, including shrubs and grass.

Recently I gave a two-hour horticultural program to a large landscape architecture firm. One of my major points was the importance of learning the profiles of plant species. Where is it native? What are its natural growing conditions? Does it flourish best in shade or full sun?

Take a look at the photo that accompanies this article. It’s too bad the photo is so small, but this is one of the large banyan trees in the median along Coral Way.

It is getting new foliage on it, as these trees do every year. There are some gaps in the canopy from foliage loss and small branches that blew out during Hurricane Irma, but the tree is doing well. It will soon have a dense canopy completely covered with large leaves, making the ground much darker underneath. When you normally see these trees, you don’t see anything growing beneath them because it’s so dark; our intense sunlight stops at the canopy.

Now, if you look closer at the photo, or if you drive along this section of Coral Way, you’ll notice some newly installed plants. And now tell me, where would you normally see plants like these in a landscape? They do best in almost full sun, yet here they’ve been planted below trees that grow dense canopies.

What do you think is going to happen in a couple of years to all these plants?

Hint: At Parrot Jungle we had several large banyan trees, and three or four times a year, we’d change out beds of colorful bromeliads because they just couldn’t grow well in that heavy shade. Also, a couple of times a month, the grounds staff would go through and pick off all the fallen leaves that ended up lying on top of the bromeliads.

Look at the leaves in the canopy of those trees. All those leaves are going to drop onto the shrubs below.

These newly installed plants are going to die a slow death. What a waste of taxpayer dollars.

What really caught my attention, though, was the installation of these plants. Over the course of many months, I would drive down Coral Way and see a crew slowly digging the holes for these plants with an auger attached to a front-end loader. There seemed to be a pattern for the way the plants were laid out, and I couldn’t see any indication that the digging crew was trying to avoid cutting the roots of the adjacent banyan trees.

Banyan trees this size will have filled up these medians with large roots. How else do you think these large trees stayed up in Hurricane Irma? They are very well anchored.

So I am sure that many, many significant roots were damaged or cut completely through for this project.

Did you see many trees fail in Hurricane Irma? Did many trees fail because of excessively cut root balls?

What happens when a large root is cut? Just as when a branch is cut, the vascular system cavitates; water in its vascular system gets pulled away from the cut, and oxygen and carbon dioxide replace the water. This is often the trigger that initiates the rapid growth of fungal pathogens that will begin to decay the tree. When roots are cut, the fungus follows the root and eventually enters the base of the trunk to create basal stem rot.

It destabilizes the tree structurally. Have you ever seen photos of large trees that have fallen over with their canopies still full of green foliage? That is because the decay often doesn’t affect the vascular system -- it may only affect the heart wood in the center of the trunk.

This kind of root damage, which would be known as damage to the critical root zone, is absolutely against all international tree care standards. The critical root zone standard is included in most municipal ordinances, including that of the City of Miami.

I hear lots of complaints from developers who aren’t allowed to build within the critical root zones of trees. And they shouldn’t, because these trees will just die a slow death -- unless, of course, they get blown down in a hurricane.

So why is city staff cutting into the critical root zones of these trees? What department approved this tree damage and poor selection of landscape material?


Jeff Shimonski is an ISA-certified arborist municipal specialist, retired director of horticulture at Parrot Jungle and Jungle Island, and principal of Tropical Designs of Florida. Contact him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

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