by: Merry MacKinnon, Urban Forestry Division education specialist Karl Dawson clips suckers off a street tree across from  Woodstock Library. Dawson inspected Woodstock Boulevard’s street trees  recently, in preparation for teaching a class on pruning November  11 at Woodstock Community Center.

Carrying a pair of clippers, Portland Parks and Recreation representative Karl Dawson examined Woodstock commercial district's street trees in October, looking for suckers and waterspouts.

'Fruit trees are notorious for suckers,' observed Dawson, as he snipped off a twig on a flowering pear tree in front of The Joinery. Woodstock Boulevard's flowering pears were generally selected for their seasonal display of non-fruit bearing blossoms, tolerance, and relatively un-intrusive pyramid shape, but they haven't always had the best care over the years. Some have periodically had their branches ripped off by passing trucks.

An Urban Forestry Division education specialist, Dawson was informally inspecting the boulevard's street trees in preparation for a class on pruning he will be teaching on the morning of Saturday, November 11th, at Woodstock Community Center.

The class is open to the public, and offers an opportunity for property owners to learn how to care for their own trees, as well as for the trees in their parking strip. For example, Dawson will explain how to avoid getting waterspouts: Twigs which shoot up rapidly. And, he says, it's wise to avoid taking a weed whip to root suckers, because they whack against the tree's trunk. 'A lot of times those electric weed whips damage the bark.'

After the indoor class session on the 11th, Dawson will distribute clippers, and the class will go outside for hands-on pruning of the boulevard's trees.

Educating the public on the care of street trees is part of an Urban Forestry Division strategy to raise awareness about the importance of Portland's urban greenery, and to remind the public that street tree maintenance is the adjacent property owner's responsibility.

Nonetheless, the trees are city property and, therefore, protected. A property owner can be fined for cutting down a street tree without a permit. But since Portland tree inspectors are few and far between, with only one for all of Southeast Portland, such laws are only irregularly enforced.

Thus, another city strategy is to encourage property owners to care for street trees in front of their property is to educate them about the importance of street trees and their care, said Dawson pointing out that 'Street trees are valuable urban assets that shouldn't be taken for granted. They provide shade in summer, soak up water that would otherwise inundate storm drains, create wildlife habitat, and help mitigate global warming by absorbing carbon dioxide.'

He continued, 'There are three reasons to prune a tree: Aesthetics (a well-pruned tree should not look like a hedge), safety (branches should not block vehicle and pedestrian traffic), and the health of the tree.'

For example, in his recent inspection, Dawson found one sapling maple on Woodstock Boulevard tightly girdled with decorative electric icicle lights. Cutting away at the unplugged cord, Dawson pointed to gashes revealed on the tree trunk where the garland of lights had scarred the bark. 'Decorative lights need to be loosely draped,' he advised, as he snipped off the wires.

Perhaps the worst fate property owners can inflict on their trees is to top them, revealed Dawson. 'One thing we work on is preventing people from topping trees, so you don't have something that looks like a hat rack.'

Not only does topping ruin the treescape appearance, topping can introduce disease and, even, kill a tree. 'If they top a street tree, they can get fined,' he warned. And, if the tree then dies, the adjacent property owner is required to replace it. 'Street trees are part of the city's green infrastructure,' advised Dawson. 'It's the property owners responsibility to maintain them.'

For more information about the pruning class at Woodstock Community Center, 5905 SE 43rd, on Saturday, November 11th from 9:30 to 11:30 am, call Karl Dawson at 503/823-1650.

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