The remnants of tinsel and other holiday finery on the evergreen corpses now destined for the city’s wood chipper are a forlorn testament to the attention lavished on Christmas trees each December.

Imagine if the living, breathing — and often suffering — urban trees in our midst all year round received some of that same loving care.

City council moved in that direction last month when it adopted new green development standards that require developers of larger scale projects to plant one tree for every six to eight metres of their street-front property.

To improve the odds of survival, each tree must have a minimum amount of soil around it and developers must water saplings for at least three years.

The city, which aims to double Toronto’s urban tree canopy to 35 per cent of territory from 17.5 per cent, is taking other steps to curb tree abuse.

At the most basic level, this involves ensuring city workers and residents understand how trees grow.

For the record, roots spread horizontally near the surface, rather than deep and down.
To know this is to know that tree roots are damaged whenever the upper layer of soil is disturbed by a home renovation, sidewalk renewal or driveway improvement.

The average tree’s need for at least 15 cubic metres of loose, good soil has forced designers to rethink the treatment of sidewalk trees in particular.

The days of plopping saplings into tiny patches of arid dirt or into those ubiquitous cement boxes that dismayed arborists call tree coffins are gradually coming to an end.

Streetscape improvements along downtown Bloor Street, for instance, include a system of plastic grates installed on support pillars.

New sidewalks are laid on the plastic grates, ensuring that the soil underneath remains loose and accommodating to meandering tree roots.

Many Torontonians are already fierce tree advocates.
Others, however, still don’t get it.

They complain bitterly about shade on their gardens, mountains of fall leaves or trees that “eat” sewer pipes, causing smelly backups. The latter complaint is particularly unjust. Trees seek out water and nutrients.

If the aged clay pipes in older neighborhoods weren’t deteriorating, tree roots wouldn’t go near them. So don’t blame the tree.

Hug one instead. Or better yet, water it and protect it.

A thriving tree cleans the air, blocks winter wind, offers summer shade and is much more than a one-off holiday delight.
It’s a year-round blessing.

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