The Biscayne Times

Aug 15th
They Doomed This Tree PDF Print E-mail
Written by Jeff Shimonski, BT Contributor   
July 2020

Shame on cities that ignore their own rules

I Pix_YourGarden_7-20don’t know what is worse, seeing my taxpayer dollars wasted and thrown away by some municipality because it’s performing substandard work, or working in a municipality, and while I’m following its ordinances and best management practices, I come to find out that its own departments don’t follow those same ordinances.

Don’t even talk about best management practices and standards. Almost every day I see municipalities or their subcontractors who don’t follow basic ordinances and laws.

Check out the photo that accompanies this article. I noticed this tree and its recently installed companions while I was working a few weeks ago on a project across the street from the tree. I’d walked across the street to take some photos of the property I was working on, and I noticed that these newly installed trees had been planted in the right-of-way median.

My first though was: Who approved this tree installation?

The newly installed trees are Hong Kong orchids (Bauhinia purpurea), a favorite of mine. These trees produce prolific, colorful, and fragrant flowers that are always enjoyed by the hummingbirds as they pass through South Florida in the winter. I also know these trees are weedy, fast growing, their seeds are always viable, and their branches are soft-wooded and prone to decay -- which means that if not properly maintained, they’ll end up with lots of broken branches.

These trees need to be planted in the proper location. And, actually, since this species is considered “invasive” by Miami-Dade County, they aren’t even supposed to be utilized in new landscapes.

Now take another look at this photo. There are lateral branches extending into the roadway and sidewalk. Who was the genius who planted this tree? This neighborhood is full of warehouses, and the street has large trucks driving up and down it every day.

Tree branches are supposed to be clear of the roadway and no lower than 15 to 16 feet above grade. The standard allows high-clearance vehicles to pass underneath the branches so the tree won’t be damaged by impacts. Yet these branches are growing directly into the street. That makes lots of sense, right?

Look at the branches over the sidewalk. Some of the lower branches are no higher than three feet above the sidewalk. That of course will safely accommodate some really short children. Did I mention that this is a fast-growing species?

While I was working nearby, a number of trucks passed by on the street, and numerous pedestrians were walking on the sidewalks so they wouldn’t be run over by the trucks -- except, of course, where they had to walk out into the street to navigate the canopies of these trees that were blocking the sidewalk.

Now, aside from the fact this tree species should not have been installed in this right-of-way for a number of reasons, there’s more! There are still tree stakes attached to the trunk in several places.

The Florida Grades and Standards guidelines state that tree stakes attached to trees when they come from a nursery shall be removed upon installation. This makes a lot of sense. If the trunk of the tree is being supported by a stake, then the tree will put its energy into producing canopy branches and foliage, instead of producing a thicker and stronger trunk. Tree trunks with the stakes left on them eventually become vulnerable to breaking in high winds.

Why did the tree not receive formative pruning upon installation? At least the branches growing directly into the street and sidewalk could have been pruned off, thereby reducing potentially hazardous conditions.

The very best time to prune a tree is when it is young. Pruning cuts made to a young tree are small and will heal readily, and there is an opportunity to create a structurally sound main branch structure that will reduce the need for massive pruning cuts in the future. From a municipal perspective, this will save money on tree, roadway, and sidewalk maintenance.

Large pruning cuts on semi-mature and mature trees are one of the main reasons we have short-lived urban trees. Large pruning cuts may be needed to remove or reduce hazardous conditions, or to add a few more feet to a gigantic new house, but they create other hazardous conditions on account of the stress caused to the tree.

Formative pruning of newly installed trees should be required and codified by all municipalities. This will reduce hazardous conditions, make nicer-looking trees, and save money by reducing maintenance costs.

So who approved this crappy tree installation? Was it a lowest favorite bidder? Is this company even qualified to work with trees and their installation? Did they even follow standards or ordinances?

Obviously not.


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


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